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Improving an Old City: Jakarta, West Java

Jakarta’s Old City has been going through gradual transformation over the last few years. Thanks to the efforts of Jakarta’s Provincial Government and Jakarta Old Town Kotaku, the area has never been more pleasant.

My wife and I have been regular visitors to this historic district, especially the Jl. Pintu Besar Utara stretch which connects the Fatahillah Museum, Puppeteer museum (Museum Wayang) and CafBatavia.

One noticeable transformation is the new pavement which covers the adjacent streets and plaza in front of the Fatahillah Museum. The new gray andesite stone paving has created a pedestrian-friendly district through its rough texture which helps reduce the motorized vehicle traffic flow.

Previously, it was a struggle just to cross the street. Now — despite a few complaints about the technical details — the new pavement has successfully improved the character of this historical part of the city. The pedestrian-friendly environment increases accessibility of each of the buildings in the vicinity. People now can go “museum hopping” much easier and enjoy local cultural heritage.

However, the museums are not the only appeal in this district. Dilapidated buildings are popular among the photography enthusiasts. Buildings with sagging ceilings, chipped and decaying walls, and nearly collapsed roofs, add to the eccentricity of reference to the past.

It seems safety is not the most important aspect for the city. High property tax, stringent preservation law and unsuitable business opportunities are significant factors that discourage building owners from renovate buildings. The cost of renovation and preservation is far too expensive compared to new constructions. These are the reasons why most of the building owners left the buildings to deteriorate.

I wish there were some kind of financial incentives or subsidies that could help building owners to at least fix the decaying ceilings and roofs.

Preserving a deteriorating district is not just about fixing the buildings for beautification purposes. Cities need life. Ideally, social and economic activities should be injected into the preserved area to allow more people to live in the area.

People should be able to live and work within the preserved area with activities extending beyond business hours. In historical cities such as Quebec, Canada, or even Venice, Italy — where most of the population live outside the preserved city because of high cost of living — the city becomes lifeless at night and transportation issues cloud the preservation efforts.

To that end, preservation efforts can extend over so many years and can only be achieved through series of small achievements. The new paving is only a small initial achievement with high hopes for more future milestones. Hopefully the new improvements will bring more people in, not just tourists but residents, so new ventures can be encouraged.

Zenin Adrian can be reached at zenin.adrian@zadl.net