Opinion

The ‘Old Town’ makeover

Who says that attractive or beautiful tourist spots, along with the availability of comfort and safety, are the only reason for tourists to come to a place? In fact, many tourists also look for artistic and historical parts of the country or the city they intend to visit.

This is apparently the reason behind the Jakarta administration’s decision to beautify the oldest part of the capital city to attract more tourists — and subsequently to increase the city’s revenue from tourism. So far, tourism has contributed 16 percent to the city’s revenue a year for the past four years.

The capital city’s economic performance has been impressive. Jakarta’s gross domestic product (PDRB) went increased by 6.5 percent in the last quarter of 2012, beating the national growth rate of 6.2 percent in the same period.

The head of the Jakarta Statistics Agency, Nyoto Widodo, has predicted that the city’s PDRB would remain stable this year. A move to increase revenue from tourism is apparently part of measures to ensure the stable economic performance of the city.

As reported earlier, the Jakarta administration is now working on a makeover to turn the oldest part of the city, located on the western bank of the Ciliwung River, into a Venice-like tourist spot. The project will commence at the end of this month.

The area, known as Kota Tua or Old Town, is part of a 15-hectare complex built by the Dutch in 1620. It has now become an inexpensive tourist destination mainly for Jakartans.

However, many of its buildings are in need of renovation and the whole complex is untidy with vendors and squatters occupying every corner. The administration is now drafting a regulation that would effectively turn the area into a favorable spot for tourists — both local and foreign.

There are currently 700 street vendors jostling around the area. However, Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama said recently that the refurbished complex would be able to accommodate only 260. Those eligible to re-occupy the area will be those who have been operating there for a long time and hold Jakarta IDs.

The project will effectively clear out vendors occupying Fatahillah Square, thereby giving tourists unobstructed views of the classic buildings.

An outline for the new complex has been prepared by the Jakarta Small Business and Cooperation Agency, with agency chairwoman Ratna Ningsih describing the breakdown. She said that vendors who sold cooked food would sit on the sidewalk beside the Pos Indonesia building and next to the Bank Mandiri Museum, while non-food vendors selling items such as clothes and accessories would occupy the alley near Batavia Cafe and non-cooked food vendors would be located near the river.

The city administration has allocated Rp 12 billion (US$1.24 million) from the 2013 regional budget to restore the semi-slum once known as “The Queen of the East”. Funds in excess of Rp 150 billion will pay for the renovation of Kota Tua, including several historic buildings, in 2014.

All those figures and facts show that the Jakarta administration is serious in its plans to renovate and tidy up the Old Town area as a landmark of the capital.

The problem that might erupt in the process is the relocation of some 440 vendors who cannot be accommodated in the new Old Town area. But Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo demonstrated that he can peacefully relocate street vendors when he was mayor of Surakarta in Central Java. Resettling the vendors will unlikely be a problem for him here in Jakarta.

The next challenge is Old Town’s vulnerability to floods, as evinced by the most recent disaster last month. For the first time since Dutch Indies governor general Jan Pieterszoon Coen ordered the area built 370 years ago, Old Batavia was inundated by floods as high as 80 centimeters.

Restoration of the Old Town, which is situated close to the sea, should therefore be incorporated in the city administration’s flood resistance plans.

The author is staff writer at The Jakarta Post.

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