Lisa Siregar & Tasa Nugraza Barley
Three massive construction sites in Jakarta’s Casablanca area serve as a prominent reminder of the city’s rapid pace of development. Next to Mal Ambasador and ITC Kuningan, the new shopping centers Kuningan City, Kota Casablanca and Ciputra World are gradually taking shape. A bit farther, the new mall Kota Casablanca is also jostling for space in the city’s skyline.
These new shopping centers are poised to turn Casablanca into the most mall-concentrated area in Jakarta, according to Stefanus Ridwan, chairman of the Indonesian Shopping Center Association.
Jakarta already sports an estimated 170 malls and has recently been dubbed “the city with the most malls in the world,” by urban planning expert Yayat Supriatna.
South Jakarta has the highest concentration of shopping centers, while East Jakarta has the least. According to Stefanus, developers are not so keen on building malls in East Jakarta because of its proximity to Bekasi, a city with four giant shopping centers.
The discussion over the number of malls recently gained traction when numerous government officials, organizations and members of the public questioned the planned construction of a new shopping center in Taman Ria Senayan area, just across from the House of Representatives complex.
Due to its location, however, several members of the House have said that the 10.5-hecatare area should be merged with the existing legislative complex, putting the mall project on hold.
According to Teguh Juwarno from the National Mandate Party, the mall development plan violates the presidential decree, which specifies that the area should be preserved as a national heritage site and only be used to benefit the community.
“So [if the area is] used for a shopping mall, then it’s not for the sake of the people,” Teguh said. “It’s better if it is designated as a green area. If the government cannot do that, then let the legislature use it for an office building complex.”
The central government has recently agreed with the House of Representatives that no shopping center should be built in the area until the project passes an environmental-impact assessment and the developer, Ariobimo Laguna Perkasa, secures a building permit.
Numerous organizations have expressed concern that the growing number of shopping centers is reducing Jakarta’s already limited green space and contributes to the city’s traffic problem. Many have also complained that residents have no other alternative than to spend their free time at shopping centers.
Irvan Pulungan is the brains behind Koalisi Warga untuk Jakarta 2030 (People’s Coalition for Jakarta 2030), which provides a forum for residents to air concerns about the capital’s rapidly changing cityscape. The coalition was originally established as a response to the perceived lack of public input into the drafting of the spatial plan proposal for the capital, as required by the 2007 Spatial Planning Law.
With the help of Bappeda, the Regional Planning Agency, the coalition managed to delay the process and has recently been granted three months to get input on the draft from the people.
Irvan, who works as a researcher at the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, said there are four common problems when it comes to urban planning in cities: inconsistency, corrupt implementation, city spatial lawmaking without people’s participation and unclear supervision systems.
“Rapid construction is seen as the only evidence of prosperity,” he said. “This is very bad for the future generations.”
According to Irvan, mall developers justify their actions by saying that people choose to go to malls because of the conditions in the city, which include congestion, pollution and crime.
“Those are different things. It can’t be used as an excuse to build more malls,” Irvan said.
He added that what the city needed was more places where people from different socioeconomic backgrounds can interact, reducing the gap between income classes.
Another community group, Wiken Tanpa Ke Mall (Weekends Without Malls), was founded in 2009. It aims to provide alternatives for people looking for ways to spend their leisure time other than the mall.
The community feels uneasy about Jakarta’s growing consumerist culture and the fact that malls have become the main destination for residents seeking entertainment.
“We thought that we needed to have alternatives to spend [days off work] in creative ways,” said Syaiful Azhar, the group’s co-founder and spokesperson.
“It’s very frustrating. Try to go to the Senayan area and you’ll see a bunch of malls everywhere.”
But Glenn Marsalim, an advertising freelancer who views shopping centers as places to meet people and relax, thinks that malls are a good place to spend time.
“Sometimes, I work at the mall, write some stuff and do layouts,” Glenn said, adding that he does this an average of three or four times a week to meet clients or just to have a cup of coffee.
“The problem with Jakarta malls is they are boring. Almost every mall has the same things. Let’s say if there’s a concert hall in a mall, or if they build something creative, people won’t find malls so boring.”
Currently, only 9.6 percent of Jakarta’s 665-kilometer area is classified as green space. The city hopes to eventually increase green space to at least 13.9 percent.
However, with the current rate of development, this is starting to seem increasingly unrealistic.
“We’ve lost so much green zone in this city, we can’t afford to lose more,” Irvan said. “It’s not a secret that Jakarta doesn’t have enough water catchment areas.
“If the government doesn’t do anything to fix this problem, by 2012, the people of Jakarta might suffer worse floods than ever before,” he added.
“I just think that we need to have a more friendly city with lots of green areas.”
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Lisa Siregar & Tasa Nugraza Barley