I went in search of green Jakarta this week, a task that required my full attention. The chance to enjoy a few trees and blades of grass, while riding my bicycle through the odd rustic dog dropping or two took dedication to the cause but I like a challenge.
Apparently Jakarta has a total area of green space that adds up to just 9.6 percent of its total area. The city administration, however, is determined to increase this figure to 13.9 percent by the end of this year.
I’m not quite sure how they are going to achieve this — possibly by demolishing a few cardboard shanty towns and then using their former occupants’ bodies as compost — but we’ll see.
And so I set out on a Sunday morning cycle to shake my hangover (every pothole felt like someone trying to jam satay skewers into my eye sockets) and rolled down to the recently renovated park just behind the Jalan Barito flower and bird market near Blok M.
Now this particular green area is actually of an almost decent size and features tall trees, cool shade, some rather distressed looking chickens, a few rather phallic looking sculptures (perhaps they hold Dionysian fertility rites down here after evening prayers) and a stream choked with a level of inorganic phosphate and ammonia that positively makes the eyes water.
It’s not a bad step toward greening Jakarta though and one can even just about get out of earshot of the city traffic (although the familiar bajaj chainsaw orchestra can still be heard through the gentle rustling of the leaves).
Next, I headed up to Lapangan Banteng, a large field just north of Monas, for a stroll around Flora and Fauna Jakarta 2010, an annual plant and pet show that always makes for a pleasant afternoon.
There may not be a lot of green space around the city but at least you can make your home a touch greener with a few plants and perhaps a nice fish pond, which will no doubt end up being a breeding ground for mosquitoes that will subsequently infect you and your family with dengue fever.
Nature is never easy, although it proved hard to believe that the natural world is unremittingly bloody in tooth and claw when I came across a stall selling fluffy bunny rabbits.
Alas, there were no tigers in cages for rich businessmen and regional government heads to buy, as many have done in the past, although I doubt I would have been able to afford one anyway.
In any event, I don’t really have the constitution for such a dangerous psychological crutch rattling its cage outside my bedroom window every morning.
There was even a chicken corner down at the show, despite the fact that letting poultry run loose in the city is supposed to be illegal due to the continuing threat of bird flu.
There were plenty of herbs on offer, including rosemary, lavender and ginger, although nothing that you’d want to wrap inside a Rizla. One stall in particular caught my eye.
It was called the Vega Vertical Garden System and included a whole raft of creative ways for covering bland concrete walls with cool greenery, vines, creepers and trellises. Imagine every office block along Jalan Sudirman looking like the clubhouse at Wimbledon, marvellous.
Finally, I headed back downtown to the now empty and abandoned Taman Ria. This huge complex and lake now lie dormant, but the site would make a superb park and a provide bit of urban breathing space.
Alas, we learned recently what plans are actually in store for dear old Taman Ria. Yes, you guessed it, another shopping mall.
No doubt they will also fill the lake in with concrete in order to provide parking space for a thousand SUVs, or perhaps erect some kind of all in one WiFi-roller-disco-net-burger-driving-range.
It’s a shame because at the moment Taman Ria is very peaceful. Ultimately though, parks and green areas are about more than just having a nice nap on a patch of grass in the sun, they also teach city slickers ecological awareness.
As people live in ever more artificial, man-made surroundings, they live in increasing ignorance of the natural processes that we owe our very survival.
Thus, I propose a new form of reverse eco-terrorism. We should infiltrate the new Taman Ria mall’s sterile concourses with seeds, soil and fungal spores and drop them in out of the way places: down lift shafts, in car parks and ceiling partitions and wait for a new Hanging Gardens of Babylon to emerge.
Simon Pitchforth is the editor of Jakarta Java Kini magazine.