Husni took a deep breath before carefully stepping on a reflexology walking path in Langsat Senior Citizen Park in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta, enjoying the pressure on his feet.
There was no sign of pain on his face as he was used to doing the therapeutic activity.
“I have visited this park almost every day in the past nine months. If my boss’ child didn’t study at a high school nearby, I would not have found this greenery,” the 58-year-old private driver says.
Husni, who resides in Depok, West Java, said the park was one source of happiness and a stress buster for him in a job that requires him to wrestle with traffic jams.
Jakarta’s rapid development has not only changed the face of the capital city, but also the walking habits of its people.
The man, who used to live in Simprug, South Jakarta, recounted the good old days when he was still young and cars were far from commonplace — the time when he had fun walking together with his peers without having to worry being hit by passing motorists.
“Back then, there were becak [pedicabs] and andong [horse carts],” he says.
Becak have been banned in Jakarta since the 1980s although a few can still be found in parts of the city. They were replaced by noisy bajaj (three-wheeled motor taxis), which were later replaced by gas-fueled bajaj.
According to 2011 data from the environmental group the Committee for Leaded Gasoline Phase-out (KPBB), Jakarta has the worst air quality in the country, with residents getting only 27 days of clean air per year.
The NGO said some 70 percent of air pollution is caused by motor vehicle emissions.
The finding was denied by Jakarta Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD), which preferred to cite another survey that described the overall air quality in Jakarta as “good” compared to other big cities in Asia.
Landscape architect Nirwono Joga said it would be difficult for people to love public parks if they barely visited them, urging the city to make clean, neat and interesting parks to lure visitors.
“A good design or public activities can make people come to parks. Music in Taman Suropati, Central Jakarta, or a park-visiting event by Greenmap community, for example, can introduce the parks to people,” he said.
Not all people get easy access to green areas near them.
Amnes, a teenager who lives in Radio Dalam in South Jakarta, says her house is actually near a small park located in a housing complex, but she barely visits it because the security guard forbids teenagers to hang out in the park.
“The guard said we could not hang out in the park for too long. I wish Jakarta could have a park every 500 meters at the most, so everybody could enjoy their free time there.
“There are numerous buildings and vehicles on the roads. If we have enough parks, then we can breathe some fresh air,” she said.
People around the country have various reasons for coming to Jakarta, but many settle in for a better life, as the capital city may offer more working opportunities and higher salaries compared to their small hometowns.
Despite a bad experience of being robbed on the street, entrepreneur Jeffrey Himawan Sutanto said he would remain in Jakarta.
“I consider the crime as a lesson to be more alert. I like it in Jakarta because there are new things to discover everyday. I’ve lived in Semarang and Bali, but I don’t like the monotonous life there,” he says.
The most exciting thing he liked to explore in Jakarta, he said, was the food.
The city serves as a melting pot for many cultures and nations, giving him a chance to try new flavors each day.
The 28-year-old man admits he is frustrated with the traffic, as he often has to pass Kelapa Gading when he meets his clients.
“I will wait for the traffic jams to ease while having dinner in a mall or a restaurant,” Jeffrey said.
Jakarta’s residents are not only challenged by the small number of good public parks, crime and traffic jams, but they also have to deal with high living costs.
A 2011 annual survey conducted by London-based Mercer, a human resources consulting, outsourcing and investment services firm, ranked Jakarta 68th out of 214 cities.
In the Southeast Asia region, Jakarta came second only to Singapore, which was ranked eighth in the world.
Nieke Agustina, a resident of Cinere in Depok, said she left her car and moved to public transportation to cope with higher living costs. The secretary of the Suara TransJakarta community parks her motorcycle at Ragunan Zoo’s park-and-ride facility in South Jakarta and takes TransJakarta to her office in Kuningan.
However, waiting for buses on Corridor 6 of TransJakarta plying Dukuh Atas-Ragunan during peak hours can be exhausting, so she usually takes a reverse route to a shelter near the Four Seasons to find a place on a bus. The trip to Ragunan can take some 40 minutes.
In the end, every resident has their own compromise.
Arjanto S.Witjaksono could not stand waiting for TransJakarta bus for a long time while enviously watching his co-workers directly going home by bicycle.
He started riding a bicycle three years ago after finding out the speed of the environmentally friendly vehicle could surpass his car during the busy hours.
“Besides the savings, I can also work out as I used to have no time to exercise after arriving at home.”