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The intensifying campaign to become Jakarta’s next governor only serves to highlight the many severe issues which plague weary residents of the nation’s capital. Despite being home to over 10 million people and responsible for 16 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic products (GDP), unreliable water, electrical supplies, transportation and other services have led to frustration and anger. Indeed, CNN listed Jakarta 7th in the world’s 10 most-hated cities.
The sheer number of problems affecting the city means that any policy aimed at solving them will sound credible to anyone’s ears. As long as that policy has some degree of substance, it is as good as any. It can be observed, however, that the policies proposed by each gubernatorial candidate have one common theme: the desire to transform Jakarta into a modern, global city.
Each individual has a different notion of modernity. For some, it is a city which can adapt to reflect conservative and religious ideals. For others, it is a city liberal in its nature, filled with metropolitan structures of designs unseen anywhere else in the world. Therefore, how does Jakarta’s next governor balance the various visions of modernity while at the same time tackling the manifold issues affecting the capital? This article proposes three interdependent visions of modernity for Jakarta’s future.
First, modernity is the ability to satisfy the basic needs of the entire populace. For practical purposes, basic needs involve any public institution that deals with the day-to-day trivialities of human life such as turning on the lights, taking a shower and throwing away the trash.
It is immediately obvious that Jakarta’s infrastructure is wholly inept at dealing effectively even with the most basic of needs. Furthermore, the poor are far less able to access these basic requirements, since Jakarta’s ineffective infrastructure often means that expensive external suppliers are necessary to access these basic needs.
Hence, the new governor must immediately concentrate on improving Jakarta’s infrastructure. This could be done through more competitive privatization of public firms and strict penalties, rigorously enforced, on firms who fail to meet the requirements set by the government.
The government must also ensure that every resident of Jakarta, poor and rich alike, has access to these basic needs. A city administration should never boast about its modernity when slums and downtrodden areas are visibly present next to malls and skyscrapers.
Certainly, as the city’s administration becomes more able to fulfill the basic needs, the people’s standard for “basic” will creep higher. “Basic” in the future may include an effective public transportation system, free education and healthcare, and other requirements.
Thus, Jakarta’s next governor must always be attentive to the desires of the populace while focusing on the fundamental problems before he even thinks about tackling the more advanced issues.
Second, modernity is a balance between money interests and those of the general public. Taking corruption out of the equation, an increase in commerce within Jakarta will generate greater revenue for the city’s administration, while at the same time providing jobs for residents. However, money interests often come at the expense of the general public. This may explain why Jakarta’s roads are so poor, and its public transportation so ineffective: it ensures that residents continue to purchase increasing quantities of cars and motorcycles.
The construction of brand new malls comes at the price of green space. Only 9.8 percent of the city consists of green areas, far short of the 30 percent target set in Jakarta’s 2030 spatial plan. There is also a grave shortage of public libraries while the number of bookstores has increased over the years.
Surely any government must be aware that a city does not only belong to businesses but to its residents? Commerce keeps a city alive. Jakarta must constantly strive to improve its infrastructure and make the business environment more attractive, but the next governor must be committed to striking a balance between money interests and the general public.
More libraries, sidewalks and parks; better roads, and transportation must be the primary objectives of the next governor. These improvements will raise quality of life in Jakarta and will make the city more attractive to tourists and investors.
Finally, modernity is an acceptance of a city’s historical legacy. Jakarta’s Old Town, a legacy of Dutch colonial rule, remains neglected and dilapidated. Opportunities are being missed to utilize this historic area as a global tourist destination. As both the commercial and administrative capital of Indonesia, it is perhaps understandable that the city’s administration has greater concerns beyond a few historic buildings. The Old Town, however, is as much a part of Jakarta as any other, and the government must initiate active rejuvenation of the area. Current efforts have been halfhearted, to say the least. Long term, sustainable maintenance of the city’s past must become an immediate goal.
Jakarta’s next governor will face a series of daunting tasks as he attempts to fix the city’s pervasive problems. A modern Jakarta is something all of the city’s residents desire and the governor must balance the interests of all these residents as he works to transform Jakarta into a modern city.
The writer is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Canada.