The Jakarta Post
I was jolted by Desi Anwar's writing last year, lamenting Jakarta's lack of beauty. In her words, Jakarta lacks a pleasant balance of the senses ' the sights, sounds and smells that evoke finer feelings of awe and appreciation within us.
With a fresh look at our capital city, I couldn't agree more.
No doubt instant change to the basic skeleton of this city is out of the question. But instead of detailing how Jakarta is not Venice, Paris or London, we should look at how we can still positively shape our collective first impression. There lies the opportunity for positive, memorable experiences for residents and visitors alike.
There are effective recipes, most amenable to public private partnerships. Distressed downtown or waterfront areas have been resuscitated as economic development zones with strategic tax incentives.
They target regaining vitality with an underlying core of revenue sources the city can then depend on. The revenue is then invested back into needed improvements for that very area. Simple and straightforward accounting.
Such a thematic economic strategy has brought once unknown towns, like Park City ' home of the Sundance Film Festival, their progressive image. It has also relaunched 'bad boy' crime-ridden cities, like New York City, as culturally elegant.
What often works is not a big overhaul but strategic changes with lasting effects, regardless of size. What is always guaranteed to work though is the presence of storytelling that comes with those changes. It serves as a relatable experience we desperately need in this time of information-overload.
For a city that has plenty of master plans, instead, Jakarta should look into an effective 'urban acupuncture' strategy of global credence but with a strong local DNA. The result could be a positive ripple effect that helps build confidence in the city-building process.
We should look at public art more seriously.
Art is always contentious in any culture. But its presence would elevate Jakarta to a more desirable global scene. To marry art with economic development programs is to first accept art as a newfound, credible currency.
Public art has turned the downtowns of global cities such as Chicago, Sydney, Toronto and London, and even in its own way ' Detroit, into bustling, safe havens for after-work entertainment, eating and culture.
When opened, the 10-year outlook of Chicago Millennium Park, the city's chief art and cultural initiative, showed a 25 percent contribution to the surrounding area's economic growth ' close to US$1.4 billion in value. The 24.5-acre park, built with $270 million of public private investment, is essentially a giant free public art facility.
Millennium Park has showcased the works of globally renowned architects and artists with generous accommodation for local professionals as partners. It talks about respecting its historic reference, the way to introduce the future of experiences, and the most elegant way to incorporate environmental activism into it.
Its success wiped out earlier news of budget over-runs and delays, reflecting a change in how the park should serve its people. What originally was a brownfield redevelopment into a classical park, ridden by historical constraints, became a forward-looking legacy attracting the right kind of private investment.
A study also showed that the economic impact of tree-lined streets in large cities is at least 12 percent, while in small towns it is 9 percent. This means that buyers can happily absorb the extra premium for a cup of coffee sold on tree-lined streets.
For its lamentable lack of beauty, Jakarta should deploy new tactics. While debate and work continue to add more green spaces, a series of ceremonial, fragmented and off-limits public and private spaces fronting major corridors could host coordinated artistic displays.
Art DNA is already ingrained in our community anyway. The Jakarta Biennale 2013, hosted in November, proposes individual and collective collaboration ' local and international intervention in public spaces, and a thematic response to subjects and spaces.
The city administration should work with the civic community to adopt this permanently, one corridor at a time.
We have replaced an urban planner with a warm and friendly 'guy next door' as governor. Perhaps now Jakartans would be more willing to roll up their sleeves or change stilettos for work boots. We should do so not as mere cosmetic improvements but by employing sustainable strategies.
We certainly have an abundance of talent to fill those spaces with wonders. But when we are generous enough to host the works of the world in our own front-yard, we soar as a nation open to healthy discourse.
I could go on talking about how a beautiful and livable city attracts quality human capital and other needed investments to the country. But we should know that by now.
The writer is an award-winning architect, former deputy to leading green city mayors ' Chicago and San Francisco, former special staff to a member of the current Indonesian Cabinet and former commissioner for the Arts in San Francisco.
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