As the Asian Games winds down on Sunday, residents of Jakarta and Palembang – the two co-hosting cities – are wondering what will become of their cities after all the hype and massive revamping and construction of sports venues and infrastructure leading up to event is over.
In notoriously gridlocked Jakarta, commuters have been enjoying reduced traffic and faster travel time as the odd-even licence plate policy has been expanded to more roads for the duration of the games, which end on Sept 2. Private cars with odd-numbered plates can only use those roads on odd-numbered dates, with even-numbered plates allowed on even-numbered dates only.
The policy was expanded to ensure that it would take no more than 30 minutes for Asian Games athletes to travel from the athletes’ village to the main sports venues in the city.
Some residents are happy with the significantly reduced traffic congestions, especially those who use public transport and are often stuck in buses and taxis with fast-running meters.
“It would be good to continue the odd-even plates restrictions and make them permanent. The traffic is much smoother now and we have much less congested roads and intersections, especially when traveling with Transjakarta buses,” Bernadetta Febriana, a resident of South Jakarta said, referring to the city’s main network of public buses.
The Indonesian capital has undergone a dramatic revamp with less than the usual amount of time to prepare to stage the 18th Asian Games, the second-biggest multi sports event after the Olympics.
Hanoi was awarded the games in 2012 but withdrew in 2014 citing lack of preparation and financial capability. The Olympics Council of Asia appointed Jakarta and Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province to co-host the games, although some venues are located on the outskirts of Jakarta in neighboring Banten and West Java provinces. This is the second time that Jakarta has played host to the games. The last time was in 1962.
Urban planning expert Nirwono Joga said the city needed the momentum that an event such as the Asiad can create as a spur to undertake a major revamp and speed up infrastructure development.
“Apparently it is doable, financially and time-wise but it needs a boost to speed it up such as hosting a major event like the Asian Games. We can do it in just a few years and even in months,” he said.
In preparation for the 1962 games, the Indonesian government started construction in 1960 of the Bung Karno sports complex, where the main venues are located. It also built the Selamat Datang (welcome) statue at the roundabout, in front of the Hotel Indonesia – the first international standard hotel in the capital, which was also built to accommodate the Asiad athletes, officials and guests.
For this year’s games, the number of Transjakarta buses has been increased to anticipate those traveling without private cars due to the odd-even policy. The city’s main thoroughfares now have wider sidewalks for pedestrians to encourage more people to get around by walking.
Joga said this would be the right moment to get more people walking from one point to another, reduce the use of private vehicles and increase the use of public transport.
“But we will need more expanded and walkable sidewalks for that. We can’t tell people to take public transport if there are no safe and comfortable sidewalks for people to walk on after they get off the buses,” he added.
“The city administration should continue revamping sidewalks in other parts of the city, and not just in the main thoroughfares for foreign visitors’ eyes,” he said.
Also noteworthy have been efforts to reduce the foul smell emanating from the Sentiong River – nicknamed Kali Item or Black River for its black, heavily polluted water – which is close to the athletes’ villages in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta.
The river was sprayed with an odour neutralizer in order to improve the atmosphere for the international athletes staying in the village.
“So apparently there is a technology to reduce the river’s pungent smell but we are only moved to use it just because we are hosting the games. Why didn’t we try to use it earlier?” Joga asked rhetorically.
“We should not stop here and instead use this event as a momentum to continue cleaning the river and make the city more livable even when the games are over,” Joga added.
Changes in the capital, in his view, could motivate other cities across the country to do the same to create a more livable environment for their residents.
What happens in the capital city reverberates all over Indonesia, he said, citing the news about the dismantling of a pedestrian bridge in downtown Jakarta and its replacement with a zebra crossing for pedestrians. President Joko Widodo tried out the crossing with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan as news camera clicked away.
“It is only a few meters long but it generated nationwide publicity, even though the original aim of dismantling the bridge was more for aesthetic purposes instead of promoting walking as a means to get from one point to another,” he said.
The governor said the bridge was dismantled because it blocked people coming from the city’s north side to view the Selamat Datang statue, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
“Let’s not stop making the city more civilised and amenable to modern living just after the games. It is time to view fixing the city’s problems with the perspective of a modern metropolis, instead of the perspective of a big village as we have been doing all this time,” Joga said,
The city has also built more sports venues to stage the games and rebuilt the outdated velodrome and equestrian park to meet modern, international standards.
Danny Buldansyah, the spokesman for the Indonesia Asian Games 2018 Organizing Committee (Inasgoc) said that despite the limited time available to prepare for an event as big and complex as the Asiad, Indonesia has managed to pull it off. The various sports competitions, which began on Aug 18, have been running smoothly so far with generally positive reviews from athletes, officials and spectators.
“We had to build more venues, such as hockey and volleyball stadiums, just three months prior to the games, because we had later confirmation of more participants in certain sports,” he said.
He acknowledged concerns about what will happen next to the venues for less popular sports such as the equestrian park and how to maintain them and keep them useful.
“They will be managed in a partnership with private entities for other commercial uses,” he said.
“We are also confident now that the equestrian park has met international standards, it could be hosting more international equestrian competitions in the future,” Buldansyah said.
According to him, Indonesia has experienced an influx of roughly 25 million people consisting of athletes, sports officials, VIPs and foreign journalists for the games in Jakarta and Palembang.
“We have more people visiting for the games compared to the number of people in the 2014 Asiad in Incheon. It is a sign of their trust in us to host the games,” he added.
Muslim residents living within a one-kilometer radius from the equestrian park in East Jakarta had to adjust their Eid Al Adha festivities, which fell on Aug 22. The Eid Al Adha celebration is a time when Muslims donate cattle or goats for slaughter as sacrifice and the meat is donated to the poor.
An order passed by the governor in 2017 put a restriction on the seasonal trade of cattle within the area, and 35 mosques within the restricted zone are forbidden to slaughter the sacrificial animals, in compliance with the international regulation that the area within a kilometer from the equestrian park should be an equine disease free zone.
A caretaker at the Al Hurriyah mosque in Pulo Asem neighborhood near the park said congregation members were aware of the restriction and have complied to it by donating their animals to be sacrificed elsewhere.
”For many of us here, the Asian Games is a once in a lifetime event, so we don’t mind with this restriction because we want to take part in supporting the games,” Purnomo said.
The story was first published in Bangkok Post