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Menteng Park: Jakarta’s Green Shade… Finally!

Published 02 August 2007   

FRV’S NAUVAL YAZID has a stroll in Jakarta’s new “luxe” park, hoping it to be the starting point for the city going green.

Being one of the world’s most populated cities, it’s incredible that Jakarta lacks decent parks filled with greenery and plants. Cleanliness, safety and comfort in public spaces are all elements that are taken for granted in most of the world, but until recently, not here.

Compared to its foreign neighbours, the town looks pale. In comparison to fellow metropolitan cities like Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, which manages to carve out an ample green view behind KLCC Shopping Centre, or to smaller capitals like Yangon in Myanmar with its spacious park around the renowned Inle Lake or even Singapore’s tree greening projects, Jakarta has appeared to be falling behind for many years.

As such, Jakarta and its residents have been left with very limited choices – principally inhaling air-conditioned CO2 in malls, before heading to the parking lot there to inhale another lungful of carbon monoxide. At least, this could be safer than strolling along most of the town’s public open spaces with the possibility of crime and general safety issues rearing their ugly heads at every corner.

With the above considerations in mind, the Municipal Government of Greater Jakarta started the development of Menteng Stadium a few years ago. The football stadium, which was initially constructed by the Dutch in 1921, was the home of local team Persija, the town’s national football club, until July 2006.

The re-building did not come easy. As is the case with many other development sites in Jakarta—complaints began from the outset from organizations and neighbours alike.

Environmentalists questioned the park’s ability to absorb water, considering the increased height of the park from the street level and the use of a concrete cement platform that didn’t appear to address local environmental considerations. Corporations wondered about the business feasibility of the new park. Surrounding residents were annoyed by the increasing noise of the drilling in the construction phase.

But, when the Governor of Greater Jakarta, Sutiyoso, finally raised the curtain on the 3.4 acre Menteng Park on April 28, 2007, the resulting space was met with an enthusiastic reception.

What was once a stadium that could seat 10,000 soccer fans had now become a park with an abundance of facilities: three basketball courts that can also function as pitches for sepak takraw (traditional soccer with a rattan ball), volley and mini soccer fields, two Louvre-inspired glass halls that soon will be used as venues for painting exhibitions, larger-than-life soccer player boards that serve as a reminder of the park’s previous existence, and two fountains filled with soon-to-blossom lotus flowers which have been located on the side and front entrances, complete with benches to enjoy the freshness of the waters.

At the four entrance points, small security buildings have been erected with security guards present in a much more relaxed manner compared to the scrutinizing and almost over-zealous ones found in office buildings.

The presence of a four-storey parking lot at the corner of the park is a tad shocking. Towering way above the courts, the parking lot arrogantly challenges the clean air exuded by some newly planted species of plants and flowers, and obstructs the view of the blue sky. However, as the lot is completely surrounded by skyscrapers, in the end, this multi storey car park is not exactly out of place.

The park offers a rarity in the present Jakartan urban life. Housewives are no longer rushing to watch daytime talk-shows on TV when they can meet their counterparts to share tales at the park after shopping at both traditional markets and supermarkets like Hero in the nearby ex-Menteng Plaza area.

In the afternoon, maddening traffic jams that still infuriate travel in the capital’s streets can be beaten by donning running shoes and jogging across short specifically-built tracks in the park. Owners or their helpers walk their dogs. And when the sun has set, high-school students are ready to trade their grey trousers with basketball costumes in apparently fight-free basketball matches, since the park’s security guards are in attendance.

The growing population of the world is an increasing problem that must be met at a governmental level before the situation becomes too immense. With all the cheers and shouts heard at the park, it is a relief to know that amidst the chaotic streets, Jakarta has made a step in the right direction for a better future. It makes me think that once again this city has become a place worth living in.