Sunday, February 24, 2013

A New Hope for Jakarta's Kota Tua

Batavia was once revered as the “Queen of the East.” But this old dame is showing her age. 

Jakarta’s old town center, known as Kota Tua, is now a crumbling relic. Many of its heritage buildings are in a critical state of disrepair, some sprouting treetops through their broken roofs, evidence of years of neglect. 

A legacy of colonial rule, the old town has been left behind in the new Indonesia. But support is growing for Kota Tua to be revitalized to serve as a tourist attraction and public space to be enjoyed by all. 

Last week, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo announced a new master plan to transform the area into a cultural tourism center. His administration pledged Rp 150 billion ($15.5 million) in 2014 to implement the changes. The Dutch government has also expressed its support of the new plan. 

“We are ready to spend a budget of Rp 150 billion to fix this area and make it better. If that is not enough, I will add to the budget,” said Basuki Purnama Tjahaja, Joko’s deputy. 

The focus of Joko and Basuki’s plan is to establish a creative public zone, with spaces provided for creative industries such as fashion, food and handicrafts to flourish. At the same time, the pair aims to give the neighborhood a more exclusive feel, by attracting investment from high-end hotels, restaurants and galleries. 

Vision for the future 

The master plan for Kota Tua aims to return cleanliness, security and order to an area of the city notorious for criminal activity and seedy nightlife. 

Basuki said it is this negative image that has scared off investors in hospitality and tourism. 

“Kota Tua is too valuable. If it is left to waste away, there will be no community to look after it,” he said. “Even business owners won’t want to invest there because it’s too dirty.” 

Basuki and Joko plan to sit down with spatial planning stakeholders and develop an action plan to be implemented starting in 2014. 

For 2013, the budget remains at only Rp 12 billion, but with more than 10 times that much in 2014, the administration believes it can make a real change to the area, transforming it into a tourism hub. 

In the meantime, the city administration plans to work together with the West Jakarta government to clean up the area from waste left behind by food vendors. There are also plans to improve the condition of Kali Besar, the canal that runs through Kota Tua, with sights on developing water attractions. 

Joko aims to replicate his success in Solo as mayor by creating special zones for small traders to operate in. 

The food vendors now trading in Taman Fatahillah by night will be allocated 260 places in four distinct trading clusters. 

The first cluster will be dedicated to cooked food, and will be located in front of the old post office building. The second cluster will be parked at the other end of the square, near the popular Cafe Batavia, and will be set aside for vendors selling non-food items such as clothes, goods and accessories. Snacks will make up another cluster, while pre-made food and drinks will be sold near the canal. 

Traders will be charged Rp 3,000 to Rp 5,000 per day. In return, they will receive a trading spot, equipment and uniforms. 

Gathut Dwi Hastoro, the head of the Kota Tua Management Unit, lauded Joko and Basuki’s efforts to restore the historic area. His hope is that the plans for the changes can be consolidated in the coming year, ready to be executed in 2014. 

“The biggest share of funds will go to fixing the area around Kali Besar. That area is the most important,” Gathut said. “Those funds can be used to create comfortable sidewalks, bicycle lanes, lighting, sanitation and greenery.” 

Challenges past and present 

Joko and Basuki are not the first leaders of Jakarta to come up with a master plan for Kota Tua. 

Jakarta first began to focus on restoring its urban heritage in the 1970s. At that time, the old Town Hall in Kota Tua’s town square, Taman Fatahillah, was restored to become the Jakarta History Museum. Managing to both preserve the historical building and find a modern usage for it, the restoration work at the time was considered a triumph of town planning. 

But in the decades that followed, several plans to revitalize the entire area failed to get up and running as they were tripped up by a tangle of red tape. 

Of the 182 heritage buildings in Kota Tua, about 70 percent are privately owned. 

The Jakarta government owns 18 percent, while the central government owns 12 percent, including the post office building and Beos station. 

State-owned enterprises in 2009 were responsible for 23 unused buildings, among them Indonesian trading company Perusahaan Perdagangan Indonesia with 16 buildings, Bank Mandiri with three buildings, insurance firm Asuransi Jasa Indonesia with two buildings, as well as pharmacology group Kimia Farma and insurance firm Asuransi Jasa Raharja with one building each. 

Despite laws stating that owners can be fined Rp 50 million to Rp 5 billion for neglecting their caretaker duties, few have braved the bureaucratic hurdles to obtain permits to restore the buildings. 

During his term from 2007 to 2012, Governor Fauzi Bowo managed to install lighting to highlight key attractions in Kota Tua and draw visitors at night. About 2,041 lights were installed around Kota Tua, including at the Jakarta History Museum, the Wayang Museum, the Ceramics Museum, the Beos station and in pedestrian areas. 

A total of about Rp 39.7 billion was spent on constructing a pedestrian tunnel at Beos station to connect it to the Kota TransJakarta busway shelter and the Bank Mandiri Museum. The tunnel was also equipped with toilets, air conditioners and small parks. 

At the same time, the West Jakarta government established a night food market that aimed to preserve the area’s history while providing an income for the surrounding community. 

One plan that went unfinished after the handover to Joko and Basuki was the creation of bicycle lanes, due to begin in October last year. 

Robert Tambunan, chairman of the Jakarta Heritage Trust and manager of PPI trading company, hailed the new master plan for the area, saying that the biggest obstacle would be restoring the old buildings. 

He asked for a one-stop service to be provided to ease the bureaucratic process of renovating the historic buildings. 

With the buildings restored, he said, Kota Tua will spring to life once more. (Jakarta Globe)

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