Monday, May 07, 2007

The Green Revolution

This week, two new city initiatives have been hitting the headlines. Firstly, the great Jakartan transport crisis is about to be solved once and for all by the imminent arrival of commuter boats on the city's rivers. Have no fear readers, I will be donning a gas mask and enjoying the delights of one of these sewage cruises when they materialize. Last week however, I had to be content with checking out the newly opened park in Menteng. The park has been hailed, with typical Jakarta Council hubris, as the start of a re-greening revolution in the city. Whether they'll ever get round building any more parks in less affluent areas of town only time will tell.

Anyway, I hobbled up to Menteng last Sunday for a stroll around the new public space, which has been constructed on the former pitch of local soccer team Persija (who are understandably less than thrilled by the whole thing). There's been a big hullabaloo surrounding the park's opening which is indicative of just how rare an event this is. This is the first park I can remember opening in town in 10 years. Compare this with the multitude of plazas which have sprung up in that time and it's hard to say how the re-greening of Jakarta will fare against the mighty beast of commerce.

The park can be found at the top end of the Menteng strip, which for years has been a popular hangout for late-night motorists looking for a meal to eat in their cars. The hawkers have now been banished to a side road however. Yes, the fried rice and baso (meat balls) brigade may have infiltrated every single nook and cranny of this huge metropolis but if there's now a public space in which it is possible to sit without your eyes streaming from satay smoke and decaying food leftovers being dumped everywhere then,”Bravo” I say.

The park houses a multi-storey car park with spaces for 150 cars. This end of Menteng however is not connected to a busway. Once again the bigger picture evades Jakarta's leaders and the park and ride option goes begging. This is pretty much par for the course here though. Look up the word piecemeal in the dictionary and you'll find a little aerial photo of Indonesia's capital. Menteng is also just about the only area of town that already has parks in it, so maybe the district is a slightly strange choice of location from this perspective as well.

I was in a positive mood though and full of Sunday cheer as I ambled into the park after consuming a huge pizza next door. Upon entering, one is initially confronted with two vast neo-Bauhaus, hyper modernist greenhouses. They look sensational but were alas empty when I visited. They will supposedly be full of flowers soon though and to be fair, the city does plant a few good displays of blooms from time to time, although they are usually confined to the streets abutting the National Monument, Monas.

The areas around the greenhouses were absolutely jam-packed with Jakartans when I visited. The park's newness and comparative cleanliness ensured, however, that the ambience of the place remained just the right side of a Palestinian refugee camp. There is a children's playground, a large concrete play area incorporating two basketball courts, an elegant fountain and some pleasant lawns to sit on. All very commendable, although the park is still tiny in comparison with city parks in other countries.

One thing that my colleagues and I noticed immediately however, was the lack of dustbins in the place. There wasn't a single one and the rubbish was already starting to be trampled into the new grass. It's all very well accusing Indonesians of being bad litterers (which I frequently do... because they are) but if there are no rubbish bins then what do you expect?

Despite a few misgivings and a depressing lack of ducks to feed, I hope that the park survives and isn't bulldozed over in 12 months time to make way for a branch of Starbucks and a spa and brothel complex. Let's hope the government doesn’t get cold feet over their re-greening plans when they realize how much money they are losing by turning vacant plots into parks instead of selling them off to the highest bidders. Maybe the parks will even foment a revolution. I have a dream of hordes of people stumbling out of the plazas en masse and marching, blinking in the sunlight, into the peace of their nearest park. There, they will sit around on park benches discussing Marx and Chekhov, like some William Morris workers’ paradise, whilst their mobile phone atrophied brains wake up to their own common humanity. They will then march on Parliament and seize control. Er...sorry, it was labour day this week comrades and perhaps I'm getting a bit carried away. Vive le green revolution.

Simon Pitchforth