Parks and re­cre­ation

How Jakarta's largest red light district be­came one of its most vi­brant pub­lic spa­ces

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents -

De­spite be­ing des­ig­nated as a new ‘green space’, there’s hardly any green in sight at Kal­i­jodo pub­lic park, save for some patches of grass and a row of palm trees on the very edge. There are tree seedlings that will grow in time, but no mat­ter. The well-kempt flow­ers and fo­liage of parks in Jakarta’s more well-to-do neigh­bour­hoods would be a waste of play space here.

On a re­cent over­cast Satur­day af­ter­noon, the sky matches the 3.4-hectare con­crete land­scape of what used to be Jakarta’s largest and old­est red-light district. The hills and bowls of a skate park, wide walk­ways lined with street food push­carts, a pav­il­ion, a large wall cov­ered in part by a street art mu­ral – all are still a snowy grey, not yet streaked by the pol­lu­tion that pre­ma­turely ages so many buildings in the city. Opened in late Fe­bru­ary, Kal­i­jodo is a bea­con of some­thing rare in Jakarta – a sin­cere ef­fort to re­spond to a pub­lic need.

De­spite the threat of the in­cum­bent driz­zle es­ca­lat­ing into a down­pour, the park is packed. Women wear match­ing head­scarves to in­di­cate which tour bus they came in on, while dou­ble-decker pub­lic buses tem­po­rar­ily run­ning a free route to the park empty like clown cars with never-end­ing streams of pas­sen­gers.

Set by the Cili­wung river in north­ern Jakarta, Kal­i­jodo was, un­til the 1950s, a neigh­bour­hood home pri­mar­ily to In­done­sians of Chi­nese de­scent. In In­done­sian, kali means ‘river’ and jodo ‘mate’ or ‘soul­mate’. It’s iron­i­cally fit­ting for a red­light district, but the name stemmed from a match­mak­ing rit­ual that de­vel­oped there as part of the Chi­nese Peh Cun hol­i­day in which young­sters would ride on boats down the river and throw bean cakes to mem­bers of the op­po­site sex who caught their eye while float­ing by. It wasn’t un­til the 1960s that the area be­came a bas­tion for more car­nal re­la­tions, when drug, gam­bling and pros­ti­tu­tion rings be­gan form­ing a thriv­ing in­for­mal econ­omy.

The vices of Kal­i­jodo were no se­cret, and the city gov­ern­ment has talked of clean­ing up the area for just about as long as it’s ex­isted. In Novem­ber 2014, then-gover­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama, com­monly known as Ahok, an­nounced that he was se­ri­ous about mak­ing sweep­ing changes. By then, the river­side was lined with karaoke bars marked by neon-lit beer lo­gos, pay-bythe-hour guest­houses and tents blast­ing In­done­sian dan­g­dut pop songs to fuel all­night gam­bling. Clean­ing up Kal­i­jodo would take not just force­ful action, but also the courage and po­lit­i­cal back­ing to tackle the en­trenched gangs.

Like nu­mer­ous gover­nors be­fore him, Ahok’s prom­ise to clean up Kal­i­jodo seemed to be fall­ing by the way­side 15 months af­ter it was made – un­til 9 Fe­bru­ary 2016, when

a 24-year-old drunk driver speed­ing at 100km/h af­ter con­sum­ing ten al­co­holic bev­er­ages killed four peo­ple and landed in prison for six years. This spurred Ahok to fi­nally act, fast. De­mo­li­tion be­gan within three weeks; the rede­vel­op­ment project was as­signed two months later to Si­nar Mas Land, one of In­done­sia’s largest prop­erty de­vel­op­ers; and the park was in­au­gu­rated nine months af­ter that.

Ahok’s gov­er­nor­ship, which is set to end in Oc­to­ber af­ter he lost the city’s gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion on 19 April to Anies Baswedan, has been marked by his rapid-fire re­forms and a level of ef­fi­ciency rarely seen in In­done­sian pol­i­tics. And while it’s not of­ten that a con­stituency di­rectly links the changes they see to a specific leader, Kal­i­jodo is filled with peo­ple wear­ing and selling blue plaid shirts – Ahok’s pre­ferred at­tire.

“For me, this is phys­i­cally one of Ahok’s big­gest suc­cess sto­ries,” said Ah­mad Alam­syah Saragih, a mem­ber of state mon­i­tor­ing agency Om­buds­man of the Repub­lic of In­done­sia. “It’s the first big slum cleanup in Jakarta that I’ve ever seen.” How­ever, he added that Ahok might have been too ef­fi­cient, lead­ing to high hu­man costs that be­came the tar­get of back­lash from so­cial wel­fare groups: “He didn’t want to give much time to slum cleanup, and that’s a prob­lem.”

On 17 Fe­bru­ary 2016, ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 Jakarta Po­lice of­fi­cers raided the neigh­bour­hood for il­le­gal al­co­hol, drugs, weapons and the crim­i­nals selling them. The next




day, warn­ing let­ters were dis­trib­uted to res­i­dents that they had 11 days to get out be­fore de­mo­li­tion would be­gin on their homes and busi­nesses. By early March, some 500 buildings had been razed and turned to rub­ble.

Ac­cord­ing to Om­buds­man com­mis­sioner Adri­anus Meliala, the raids were planned only a few weeks in ad­vance, dur­ing the rush to re­spond to the deadly car crash, in an af­ter­noon meet­ing be­tween Ahok, na­tional po­lice chief Tito Kar­na­vian, and then Jakarta mil­i­tary chief Teddy Lhak­samana. “That’s Ahok’s im­pul­siv­ity,” said Meliala. “He re­alised that some­thing rad­i­cal could be done in other sit­u­a­tions, so why not do that in Kal­i­jodo? It was him say­ing: ‘Here I come. I got this.’”

Con­cur­rent with the evic­tion no­tice, the North Jakarta mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment an­nounced that Kal­i­jodo res­i­dents with Jakarta iden­tity cards could move to lowrent apart­ments, known as rusunawa, in an area called Marunda about an hour’s drive east. Then the mayor of North Jakarta, Rus­tam Ef­fendi, promised to pro­vide free skills train­ing at vo­ca­tional cen­tres to res­i­dents wish­ing to change pro­fes­sions, help res­i­dents with­out Jakarta iden­tity cards re­turn to their home­towns and, most im­por­tantly, find af­ford­able apart­ments for those who did have iden­tity cards. How­ever, of the 3,052 peo­ple liv­ing in Kal­i­jodo, this lat­ter group amounted to only about 200.

In the weeks fol­low­ing the de­mo­li­tion, hu­man rights groups spoke out, ar­gu­ing that such rapid evic­tion vi­o­lated the prin­ci­ples of in­vol­un­tary re­set­tle­ment as dic­tated in the UN’s In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Eco­nomic, So­cial and Cul­tural Rights, which was rat­i­fied by In­done­sia in 2005 and man­dates con­sul­ta­tion with those af­fected and pro­tec­tions en­sur­ing that no one will be left home­less or vul­ner­a­ble.

“Were the rusunawa good? No doubt,” said Budi Wahyuni, vice-chair­man of the In­done­sian Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Vi­o­lence Against Women (Kom­nas), of the apart­ments of­fered to the evictees. “But it’s like pulling plants away from their roots. If there’s an evic­tion process there should be proper di­a­logue and thought, es­pe­cially about women. Of­ten, de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses are more about hus­bands than wives, but women are the ones who stay at home more. They have

to get to know the new com­mu­nity; they may have new travel ex­penses to take their kids to school back near Kal­i­jodo.”

The or­gan­i­sa­tion raised par­tic­u­lar con­cern over the wel­fare of Kal­i­jodo’s sex work­ers (pros­ti­tu­tion is os­ten­si­bly il­le­gal in In­done­sia). “Pros­ti­tutes are ex­ploited enough,” said Mas­ruchah, a mem­ber of Kom­nas’ Divi­sion of Law and Pol­icy Re­form. “There’s no need to put more pres­sure on them and risk their pro­tec­tion by putting them out on the streets. They need to be moved to a new lo­ca­tion that’s also lo­calised.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wahyuni, Ahok com­mu­ni­cated over the re­lo­ca­tion of Kal­i­jodo’s sex work­ers with district-level gov­ern­ments in the Ja­vanese cities of Surabaya and Se­marang as well as the Pa­puan cap­i­tal Jaya­pura, all of which host dy­namic sex markets. Kom­nas has since been mon­i­tor­ing the re­lo­ca­tion of Kal­i­jodo’s pros­ti­tutes through its part­ners in those cities. “De­spite the pros and cons of such a process, the gov­ern­ment has a role to pro­tect cit­i­zens. I have seen that be­ing done,” said Wahyuni. Surabaya, for in­stance, of­fers bet­ter health and safety ser­vices to sex work­ers than was avail­able in Kal­i­jodo.

De­spite ar­gu­ments that these ef­forts just moved a prob­lem rather than solved it, there’s no deny­ing that Kal­i­jodo is vastly im­proved from just 14 months ago. Yori An­tar, direc­tor of In­done­sia’s renowned Han Awal & Part­ners ar­chi­tec­ture firm, was tapped to head the de­sign of the park, and while Ahok tasked him with mak­ing it a place where peo­ple could go to ex­er­cise, An­tar went a step fur­ther, en­vi­sion­ing it be­com­ing a land­mark on par with the city’s Na­tional Mon­u­ment. The skate park is one of the largest in the re­gion, and the mu­ral – a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort by 10 of In­done­sia’s top street artists – could cer­tainly hold its own in New York, Ber­lin or London.

Dhony Ra­ha­joe, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Si­nar Mas Land, said the com­pany spent about $1.5m on the park. “Kal­i­jodo was our first project of this sort,” he said. “It’s re­ceived a lot of pub­lic op­ti­mism and en­thu­si­asm.” Where one would have once headed for a night of de­bauch­ery, fam­i­lies now rent pedal carts, pose with cos­play icons, take their kids on pony rides and eat sa­tay by the river.

On a sec­ond grey af­ter­noon in the cap­i­tal, 20-year-old makeup artist Kar­tika Cahya came with a model for a photo shoot. “I ac­tu­ally wasn’t plan­ning on com­ing here,” she said. “But my pho­tog­ra­pher and stylist thought that Kal­i­jodo would match the clothes – the am­biance, the colours. It’s unique. There’s noth­ing like it in Jakarta.”




Many Jakar­tans have been tak­ing full ad­van­tage of Kal­i­jodo park (right) since it opened in late Fe­bru­ary, though the tran­si­tion has not been so easy for those pushed out to make way for the pub­lic project

Street art, skate­board­ing and self­ies have be­come a fix­ture at Kal­i­jodo pub­lic park (left); Dhony Ra­ha­joe, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Si­nar Mas Land (above); Adri­anus Meliala, com­mis­sioner of the Om­buds­man of the Repub­lic of In­done­sia (above right)

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