Seeking a governor to make us feel better

It’s pretty nice in East Jakarta. A pedestrian bridge conveniently connects a busway stop with a multistory market. It’s a touching sight — almost enough to make you feel human again.

A minimal level of respect and dignity is afforded to the average Jakartan. Favorable pedestrian conditions exist in few areas. Even if there is a footpath, many people would rather walk down the road instead. On particularly treacherous stretches of sidewalk — or deathtraps — pedestrians are forced to steer around an unfortunate number of obstructions, while taking care not to stumble into a pothole or be hit by a vehicle — which could conceivably be coming from any direction.

There is the sense that it’s you’re own fault because you’re not driving. If you want to cross a busy road, you could be waiting all afternoon. There are zebra crossings, but they are generally ignored, so walkers have ended up ignoring them too.

And the alternatives to walking are no more appealing. You can either ride on a crowded bus or train or plow through the dense traffic in you’re own car.

Once abroad in a developed country, the typical Jakartan might spend a moment or two in disbelief when a nice driver halts mid-block and waves them across the road. “He’s really stopping for me?” I thought one day in one such country (I forget which).

But when we’re in the driver’s seat we resort to the principle of reaching a destination in record time!

Pedestrians are the masses here, but it seems their voice is drowned out by alternative opinions on what a livable city is all about. Exploring the malls — and no attraction is more exciting than a recently opened mall here — can be educational. You get to know about all the stores and brands people have been yapping about.

But surely the city’s elite have been abroad — particularly those eyeing the top spot in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Surely they’ve enjoyed many other cities and gotten ideas on improving things back home.

Yet given what our city’s like, the impression is they haven’t. How do you feel in a city without easy access to clean parks — a city where for many families the air-conditioned malls and huge stores are the nearest, most convenient recreational sites?

New Zealand’s little town of Christchurch prides itself on its vast parks — we could dismiss such boasting, saying well we can’t afford all that empty space with our teeming millions.

True, enjoying the sunshine or evenings in parks is free, whereas the city needs it’s enclosed spaces for the revenue they contribute.

But the masses would surely appreciate a governor who tried to make life a little less stressful. The malls are nice for window-shopping and sweat-free rendezvous — until the rude awakening of stepping outside and remembering you simply don’t count if you don’t have a car or a driver!

That’s why, of course, you would have to be crazy not to applaud efforts to improve the public transportation system and put in more parks and sidewalks.

For all our lovely buildings, when we must pass mounds of trash or skitter past reckless buses, or navigate the gaping holes in the pedestrian bridge, this Jakartan has only one thought — how uncivilized those in power here must be.

–Ati Nurbaiti