Anita Othman, WEEKENDER | Wed, 07/11/2012 4:05 PM |
I am a city girl. No question about it. I love the bright lights and the shiny designer stores. I love watching well-heeled shoppers, visiting museums and, well, just being in the center of the hustle and bustle. But through no fault of mine, I invariably end up living in the suburbs, regardless of which I’m country in.
I guess price has a lot to do with it. Housing in the suburbs is way cheaper than in the city. In my teens, my parents could only afford an apartment in the suburbs, but everything was within reach: train stations, schools, shops, cinemas, clinics and parks. There was no reason to go to the city except to “waste money” as my parents used to say. It was convenient and almost everybody knows everybody in the local markets. You would even see your family doctor in line with you in the supermarket.
After we married, my husband and I decided to live in the suburbs so we could be close to our families. That took the convenience level up a notch because we could get wonderful home-cooked meals easily from either mother and at the same time drop off our daughter to their care before flying off to work.
But I used to look forward to Friday evenings, because that’s when I headed downtown and immersed myself in the sights, smell and sounds of the city. I could check out the latest fashions, trends and events. The posh restaurants with their white tablecloths and nouvelle cuisine too were a lure.
However, suburban living took on a different meaning when we were in Europe. On top of all the modern amenities a stone’s throw from home, we could also do a whole host of exhilarating activities: sledding down a hill in winter, picking berries in summer, cycling to a nearby beer garden or taking a walk in the forest. Our joie de vivre was palpable and infectious. There was no pressure to dress up or to compete for the latest gadget in the market. More time and money were spent on pursuing hobbies, whether carpentry, boating, gardening or baking. The pace was unhurried and mellow.
But there were moments when the quietness became too disquieting and I desperately needed a city fix. I longed for the vibrant feel of city life, the ethnic diversity, the infinite number of restaurants, the cacophony of buskers performing along the cobbled streets and yes, even the sound of the cash register going cha-ching ever so often in my favorite stores. I wanted to dress up, complete with red lipstick and high heels. I wanted to stay out late and, as the famous song “Downtown” by Petula Clark goes, “linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty”. So I made it a point to go to the city at least once a week. It satisfied my cravings, put a smile on my face and even my loved ones heaved an audible sigh of relief.
Fast forward to 2009. We found ourselves back to the Far East – in Jakarta to be precise. We were shown many houses but as fate would have it, we fell in love with a house in suburban South Jakarta. It was about an hour to the city on a busy day and my significant other had to make the tedious commute five times a week. But as Sam, our teenage daughter reasoned, it was near to her school and was centrally located to all the necessary conveniences. So we caved in.
It is convenient. There are malls, schools, hospital, supermarkets and restaurants. The suburban life here is a tad different from Europe. For one, access to nature is somewhat limited despite the sprawling landscape. Public parks are few and far between and sometimes we do miss being at one with nature. Sports activities are concentrated in gyms or clubs. In a strange way, I don’t miss the city as much in Jakarta, as the suburban life in our town has many trappings of city life. People do dress up even if the mall is only five or ten minutes from home. There is a good variety of shops and restaurants to choose from and the cinemas screen similar movies to the ones in the city. There is a good mix of people from different backgrounds and ages.
However, as a dynamic city with growing wealth and population, Jakarta is struggling to cope with its share of environmental and infrastructure issues. Much can be said about the advantages of encouraging city dwellers to relocate to the suburbs and more importantly to remain in the suburbs. Traffic, for one, would be much better if people had less of a need to go to the city – not just for a “city fix”, but even for work.
Some large local companies and multinationals such as Nestlé have already made the move out of the city to South Jakarta. New suburbs such as Alam Sutera, Bintaro and Cibubur are increasingly popular with young middle-class families because there are newer and better facilities. Judging by the prices and speed at which new developments in these suburbs are being snapped up, there is certainly a pent-up demand for high-quality suburbs in greater Jakarta. Will it usher in a change in Jakartans’ attitude toward the city?
Not for me. I love the city. It will always appeal to me no matter how modern, self-sufficient and convenient my suburb is. But I guess the magical quality of city life would be somewhat lost on me if I had to live in it permanently. It’s like a child being allowed to eat ice cream every day. It just loses its appeal.