Menteng residents want
more say on heritage plan

The city administration’s plan to preserve Menteng, Central Jakarta, as cultural heritage site has been met by criticism from the area’s residents, who say the plan is highly problematic.

“If the authorities wish to make Menteng a cultural heritage area, then they should first carry out a public hearing with the area’s residents, since individuals with property rights should be treated as partners, and not subjects,” said Menteng resident Ibrahim Hubeis at a recent community gathering that discussed the administration’s plan to prohibit the altering of houses in the area. Menteng’s skyrocketing property taxes were also discussed.

Instead of burdening residents with taxes and rules, authorities should support their efforts to preserve their homes, Ibrahim said, “The administration should subsidize the maintenance of preserved houses.”

Menteng was built in the 1910s as a ‘garden city’ by the Dutch colonial administration. A 1975 gubernatorial decree declared Menteng a cultural heritage area, citing its distinctive architecture, which often includes high, slanting roofs and ample gardens.

“Most of us are retired and living on pensions,” Achmad Basuki Prawoto, a neighborhood head said, “Yet, the land tax continues to rise every year.”

The rise in land taxes, as well as the prohibition on altering houses, has resulted in some long-time residents decisions to sell their properties, Achmad said.

“Often, newcomers then buy the properties and renovate the houses thoroughly,” he continued, “Because they have not experienced Menteng history.”

Urban planning expert Bambang R. Yudhawan said that some property owners misinterpret the meaning of ‘cultural heritage”, and think that any kind of classic style is acceptable.

“A particular house owner actually re-built the house with a Roman style, pillars and all,” Bambang said, “That certainly does not fit the Menteng style.”

Not all renovations mean disaster, though, he continued, some are necessary to accommodate the residents need for more modern lifestyles.

Some longtime residents say the government’s attempts to preserve the area’s architecture were halfhearted and often unfair.

“The authorities often stop the construction of one building that appears to be violating the Menteng style, but a few months later the project resumes and soon the house is finished, but not in the proper architectural style,” Dewi, another resident, complained.

Head of the City Building Supervision Office, Hari Sasongko, who also spoke at the gathering, said the office was not entirely to blame for this sort of problem.

“Sometimes we get fooled by the architects,” he said, “They send us a blueprint that adheres to the heritage regulations, but then build the house in an entirely different way.”

Nevertheless, Hari admitted the office’s supervision of building projects is inadequate.

“In the future we will give sanctions to architects who commit such fraud,” he said.

Yuniartini Akbar, a resident who works as an engineering consultant, said she thought the authorities’ move to ban businesses in the area was too strict.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said, “I have many empty rooms in my house but I have to rent a place for my practice.”

Residents further demanded that if the administration insists on implementing the heritage site plan it should market Menteng as a tourist attraction, so they can profit from the regulations. (dis)

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