With a population of 15 million and a traffic situation that could be described as an eternal jam, it’s easy to consider Jakarta as a city that moves slowly. However, when we visit Indonesia’s massive capital, we discover that nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a place where an enterprising spirit and a can-do attitude will get you far, with a government that is equally progressive and ambitious.
Here are six reasons why Jakarta should be ranked among the world’s top progressive cities.
If you have a bit of Del Boy about you, Jakarta is certainly the place to pack up your suitcase and head down the market; although instead of hawking hooky microwaves and dodgy Rolexes, you’d be better off setting coordinates for Pasar Santa, a traditional market-turned-hipster hotspot where entrepreneurs meet to discuss ideas and action plans. Chow down on a vegan hotdog and artisan coffee while discussing business enterprises with your fellow go-getters.
Predictably, Indonesia’s gas and oil industries are fairly lucrative, but there’s also a lot of money in the culinary sector. With fine dining restaurants aplenty as well as unique street food vendors making a name for themselves on a global scale (watch out for the gorgeous Reenee Tandjung, aka Chef In Red, who opened her own eponymous restaurant and currently hosts top-scale private dinner parties around the world, complete in red and black leather attire).
The government is behind this push for entrepreneurship 100%, with events hosted all over the city including financial management for start-ups, digital marketing workshops and the recent METal Jakarta ‘Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Disruption’, as well as various tax breaks for the self-employed.
Come on, Rodney; you know it makes sense…
Turning Trash Into Cash
As the capital of a developing country, Jakarta needs to be ahead of the game if it is going to compete with its Western peers; one way in which it does this is by monetising its recycling.
Visit the Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall and you’ll find all sorts of innovative upcycling, including a shopping basket made of flattened jelly drink cartons, wrapping paper fashioned out of a cement bag, copper pipes turned into ornaments and a stylish laminated bag pieced together out of empty coffee sachets…trust us, it works.
In the centre of town, the excellent five-star Hotel Borobudur is leading the way in environmental awareness on a luxury scale; its eco-garden and butterfly conservation area are renowned for their beauty and sustainability ethos.
There’s even a Car Free Day each week to alleviate the pollution problem caused by traffic; every Sunday morning from 6:00 to 11:00 a.m., Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Thamrin are closed to all private cars and instead there are street performers, food stalls and pop-up stores. A step in the right direction? Call it a giant leap.
It Lives In (Relative) Religious Harmony
Indonesia has the biggest population of Muslims in the world and Jakarta has the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, with the ability to house 100K worshippers and boasting a whopping 9.5 hectares. Considering its close proximity to Aceh, the only Indonesian province that applies Sharia law in full, Jakarta’s Islamic presence is notably tolerant.
Visitors to the Istiqlal Mosque used to split into genders, with the women having to pray two stories up from the men on the ground; this rule has since been changed and although there is a barrier between the two sexes, all worshippers now pray at the same ground level. Tying into the city’s technological progressiveness, Muslims who want to pray at places other than the mosque can download a smartphone app that points them towards Mecca.
Women seem to wear whatever they want; some choose to wear the hijab although there seems to be no judgement against those who don’t, and I see more burqas in an average day on Oxford Street than in Jakarta’s city centre.
Other religions are freely practised here too, with a neon-lit Catholic church in Chinatown being a must-see; the governor himself is a Chinese Christian, although certain comments regarding Islam have recently landed him in hot water (the general gist that we got was that this is a stitch-up by his political opponents, using religion as an excuse to attack him).
In this political climate, in which it’s very easy to get caught up in the sloppy anti-Islam sentiments propagated by certain Western media outlets, Jakarta is truly inspiring and a model for Middle Eastern countries to follow if they would like to assimilate peacefully and prosperously into the global political and business landscape.
Jakarta Invests In Jakarta
One of the most impressive elements of the Jakartan government’s progressive attitude is the fact that it was the first government to make Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandatory. Essentially, this means that a percentage of a Limited Liability Company’s profit has to go towards government schemes to help the general public.
One particularly visual outcome of this is the 64 tourist double-decker buses that are deployed around the city to show visitors the various sites and attractions. The buses are painted with advertisements for the company, Mpok Siti, making it a win-win for everyone. Interestingly, Mpok Siti were the first company to allow women drivers, in a strong move towards gender equality in the workplace.
Even The President Is Switched On To Social Media
Smartphones are ubiquitous in Jakarta, with millions of social and arrangements being conducted every day via these tiny devices. So it should come as no surprise that when the Indonesian President Joko Widodo met the King of Saudi Arabia, he documented the occasion in a vlog, broadcast out on various social networks.
President Widodo is famous for his lunches, visiting Saudi King or not; his ‘lunch principle’ means that if he and a diplomat, foreign or domestic, have a disagreement, he does not argue with them but simply invites them to lunch again and again until a compromise is met. Whether this actually encourages politicians to hold out on deals in the hopes of more free meals is open to speculation…
Education, Education, Education
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (or Ahok, his Chinese name), the Governor of Jakarta, is known as a ‘media darling’ and for very good reason; his progressive principles and anti-corruption stance make him an icon for liberal leaders the world round.
Ahok has proposed that education up to high school is free, as well as offering student subsidies in a hope to fuel the younger generation with ideas and a passion for innovation. Changing parties several times over his political career, in 2008 the charismatic technocrat published a book called ‘Merubah Indonesia’ (‘Changing Indonesia: Not Always Forgetting the Poor’) in which he lays out his aims for developing Indonesian politics and helping those most in need.
Improving public housing, healthcare, pollution and education have won Ahok many admirers throughout Indonesia and the rest of the world. With him at the helm, Jakarta’s future looks very bright indeed.
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Hotel Borobudur and Jakarta Tourism