Why live in one of the world’s most populated capital cities if you continue to get evicted because the local government says you are occupying its land illegally?
Despite being there since the 1970s, how can you live there comfortably knowing your children’s future is at stake, with no fair access to primary life services?
These are some profound questions for those living in Kampung Akuarium (Aquarium Village), Penjaringan, north Jakarta, one of the 21 kampung prioritised for revitalisation under Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan.
Kampung Akuarium has two interesting histories.
First is the Indonesian independence 76 years ago. During the independence commemoration, the village was known as a meeting place for founding fathers Soekarno and Muhammad Hatta, after returning from their exile.
Second is the conflict between residents and the government in the past five years that began under former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok.
Watch this video on Kampung Akuarium:
On April 11, 2016, residents who have been living by the sea since the 1970s were evicted as Ahok planned to build sheet piles and embankments in the coastal area to prevent flooding in Jakarta. This forced some of the residents who were evicted to move to unwanted places, while others chose to survive among the ruins of their former residence.
Yet construction was not carried out until Ahok stepped down in 2017, when evicted residents returned to live there in makeshift tents and pursued legal action to sue the DKI Jakarta provincial government.
Visit the Kampung Akuarium Instagram Account (click here).
During the Jakarta governor election in 2017, Anies Baswedan won 58 per cent of votes to Ahok’s 42 per cent. In his campaign, Anies promised to reorganise Kampung Akuarium as he believed eviction was not a good solution.
Immediately after becoming governor, Anies began dialogues with Kampung Akuarium residents, implemented regulations that complemented the community action plan and involved residents in the new design for their home.
After struggling for four years, on the 76th Indonesian Independence Day on Aug 17 this year, Kampung Akuarium residents felt the true meaning of freedom when they received the “keys” to the new building that was constructed a year earlier.
Some residents moved into their new homes a week after Anies inaugurated the first phase of the new Kampung Susun Akuarium. The management of the building is handled by residents themselves under the coordination of community cooperatives.
Built on 1ha of land, the first phase consists of two five-storey towers with 107 units, while the three towers still under construction will bring its total capacity to 241 units. It will be home to 700 residents and work is expected to be completed by year end.
The project, with a total cost estimated at 62 billion rupiah, is financed under a developer obligation fund from PT Almaron Perkasa, a subsidiary of PT Lippo Karawaci.
Based on the governor’s decree, permitted developers must build and finance the conversion of buildings for some public projects.
Residents agreed on a split-level vertical building design, with staggered floor levels. It was designed with the help of a professional consultant to allow people to live in close proximity, like a kampung.
Residential blocks take up 40 per cent of the total area, with the remaining dedicated to green spaces and common areas, like a park, basketball field, amphitheatre, mosque and urban farms, including a waste management system.
Each block has a basement dedicated to public services, such as clinics, libraries, local cooperative offices and warung.
The design meets fire safety standards of Jakarta’s Building Experts Team, including having emergency stairs. Located near cultural heritage sites such as the Maritime Museum and Hexagon Fish Market, the project is designed to blend in with its surroundings, which can emerge as a new tourist destination.
The restoration of Kampung Akuarium can be an example for efforts to restructure villages with similar problems, especially in a city as dense as Jakarta, which has 10.5 million inhabitants.
In terms of historical or cultural heritage, I believe Anies thinks the Kampung Akuarium community will work with the government not just to preserve the village, but also to bring economic benefit through good environmental stewardship, which can help locals support themselves.
With the government facilitating the development of the village for the local residents, Anies believes the principles of unity and social justice were fulfilled. He said this during the inauguration on Independence Day.
Gembong Warsono, head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle faction of the Jakarta Regional Parliament, said Anies had violated a regional regulation as the village was in a red zone and should be used for government affairs.
He believed that integrating residences into historical tourism areas and giving them “cultural heritage” status was a form of deception and could lead to issues in the future.
In 2019, Gembong asked Anies to return to the original plan for Kampung Akuarium, which was to make it a historical tourist site.
Is Kampung Akuarium a cultural heritage area or a historical tourist site?
The head of Jakarta’s Human Settlements, Land and Spatial Planning Department, Heru Hermawanto, said the Kampung Akuarium land was owned by the Jakarta provincial government and could be allotted accordingly.
He emphasised that the village’s construction did not violate the cultural heritage area, and the historical sites were still maintained.
“The development was permitted under one of the regional regulations concerning spatial planning and zoning,” said Jakarta’s Public Housing and Settlement Areas acting head Sarjoko, adding that “the village is in the sub-zone of the regional administration and such development is allowed”.
Another Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan team also asserted that Kampung Akuarium was not a cultural heritage.
In regards to finding several objects (building foundations, ceramics, plates and tiles) during the excavation, he confirmed that those were historical objects, not a heritage as a whole.
Jakarta Restoration Team head Bambang Eryudhawan clarified that the construction project was permitted by the Restoration, Cultural Heritage and Urban Architecture Expert Team after considering the heritage and public settlement.
He added that Kampung Akuarium’s cultural area was damaged during the evictions carried out during Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s enture, where buildings were demolished without involving cultural heritage experts or the city’s public housing and settlement agency.
Other critics pointed to Anies’ electability for the 2024 presidential election. So far, his is one the most popular names among citizens, according to the Indonesian Survey Circle, alongside Ridwan Kamil (West Java governor) and Ganjar Pranowo (Central Java governor).
A public policy observer from Trisakti University, Trubus Rahadiansyah, suspected a political motive behind this plan, taking the side of those evicted to augment his electoral chances. Some regional members of parliament claimed that the development sought sympathy, instead of professional considerations.
However, it seems Anies himself is not paying heed to what critics are saying. He said the project was not by outsiders, but a collaboration with the community. It will be a good example of how a community arranges its own villages, suited to the existing regulations.
The result is an effort that is in line with Indonesia’s independence promise. “It is a realisation of the fifth pillar of our ‘Pancasila’ (Five Principles, the official philosophical state ideology of Indonesia), which is a social justice for all Indonesian people,” said Anies.
Through the development, children in Kampung Akuarium can live comfortably and have a better future, he added. Anies also told parents to encourage their children to study well.
“The government is ready to facilitate them. Uplift their dreams, work hard as their parents did. Then encourage them to go beyond the dreams,” said Anies, who was the education minister.
Dharma Diyani, a resident and coordinator of Kampung Akuarium forum, feels grateful to the Jakarta government for realising residents’ dream to have decent home after a long struggle, leaving the “slum” to live better.
She said the design offered a different concept from the typical low-cost subsidised flats, which were usually inhumane.
Residents planned to allocate a mini gallery to showcase their struggles.
“Perhaps our grandchildren will see that and prove a sustainable kampung susun does exist. We are capable to manage and develop it for our better prosperity,” said Diyani.
One of the obstacles to housing development is that not all residents are accustomed to living in apartments. The private sector and the government build 16 floors or more of apartments whereas the middle- and lower-class residents are accustomed to living in landed houses.
Kampung Akuarium is expected to be an example of a transition to a vertical residence. The success of the people’s lives there will inspire residents in other urban villages that living in vertical housing is not as bad as living in a government-owned apartment.
In the future, the development of mid-rise housing, such as Kampung Akuarium, will encourage the transformation of Jakarta into vertical housing, making Jakarta denser upwards to create new public spaces .
Besides encouraging people to move to higher housing, collaboration is the key to encouraging people to want to live vertically. In planning Kampung Akuarium, the government should not pretend to know everything; community architects, non-governmental organisations, and the people of Kampung Akuarium are resourceful.
In rebuilding Kampung Akuarium collaboration is critical. The construction of Kampung Akuarium is a collaboration of three parties — the private sector, government, and citizens. Residents are involved. Develop basic designs with accompanying architects to create housing that follows the characteristics and habits of residents; the government arranges its bureaucratic agenda, and the private sector provides funds and expertise.
Collaboration is key to increasing a sense of belonging among residents so that development can run smoothly and the transition to a denser Jakarta can be carried out. When the pandemic is under control, Kampung Akuarium residents should be ready to receive tourists, as it was initiated to be another historical site, together with other popular tourist destinations such as Pasar Ikan, Kota Tua, and Masjid Keramat Luar Batang.
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