23 January 2007

City of Everything

Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (2)


BOTH BANGKOK and Jakarta are the same metropolitan cities that have nine millions of population. Apart from being dubbed as “Krung Thep” (city of angel), Bangkok has many epithets: ‘the happy city’, ‘the eternal jewel city’, ‘the impregnable city of God’, ‘city of everything’, etc. Guinness records Bangkok as having the longest multi-word place name in the world. Jakarta has meanwhile no epithet at all but formal label as ‘city of BMW’. This abbreviation has no connection with the lavish BMW car but represents an Indonesian acronym of the so-called ‘clean, human, and having authority’ (bersih, manusiawi, dan berwibawa). Is it not curious that they took such acronym insinuating the elite officials who created it as if paving their ways to easier embezzle public funds to have those Germany-made cars, a symbol of the elite groups? As metropolitan cities, both face similar problems, i.e. over-urbanization, over-population, excessive land commercialization, spatial difficult conflicts. However, they have very different responses in dealing those problems. Once you come to each city, you may sense it at once.

As compared to Jakarta, Bangkok is more comfortable and more organized. You find traffic jams in Bangkok, but not as serious as in Jakarta. Either pedestrians, public transportation user or private car owners hold the same rights over city spaces. Street sidewalks for pedestrians, parks, and street vendors are the same important parts of the city. The city maintains the traditional character attached such as to markets, buildings, and transportation means but also develops those modern ones like malls, hypermarkets, plazas, etc. Even though land commercialization could not be stopped, the people’s understanding over city's history and its values has hindered the city from being ravaged by unrelenting economic liberalization that has caused many public spaces sold up. In this country you can find ‘millions’ of Buddhist worship houses, state lands and royal lands cannot be put up for sale. Apart from that, in all city corners you can find different historical places or spaces represented in rivers, old buildings, open spaces, communities, traditional markets, street vendors, hawkers, etc.

It is indeed hard to find real, open sidewalks, or parks and streets that the public can freely use, in which the street vendors and hawkers are really accounted for as parts of the city development. In fact, Jakarta is not a friendly city for pedestrians. Many public spaces have been destroyed or barricaded by high fences. The street vendors and hawkers are routinely driven away. Public space and land commercialization have barred all having traditional and historical characters. Although the adage is “clean, human, and having authority”, physically Jakarta has never been hindered from floods and waste. It is appallingly poor of public spaces and disrespects its inhabitants as human being, and it treats worse the poor. It is also difficult to say that the city administration has properly exercised its ‘authority’ toward space and land commercialization. In Jakarta, you may sell nearly anything, including state land and even ‘regulation’.* (to be continued)

See Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (3)
See Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (1)

See Indonesian version.

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