Jakarta to transform riverfront from shantytown to entertainment hub

Authorities hope the future resettlement of the affected squatters along the canals in Pluit will be another "success story" like Kalijodo's eviction.
Authorities hope the future resettlement of the affected squatters along the canals in Pluit will be another "success story" like Kalijodo's eviction.PHOTO: B.B. HALIM
Authorities hope the future resettlement of the affected squatters along the canals in Pluit will be another "success story" like Kalijodo's eviction.
Authorities hope the future resettlement of the affected squatters along the canals in Pluit will be another "success story" like Kalijodo's eviction.PHOTO: B.B. HALIM
Authorities hope the future resettlement of the affected squatters along the canals in Pluit will be another "success story" like Kalijodo's eviction.
Authorities hope the future resettlement of the affected squatters along the canals in Pluit will be another "success story" like Kalijodo's eviction.PHOTO: B.B. HALIM

NORTH JAKARTA - The clear-out of Jakarta's infamous red-light district of Kalijodo is the first of many steps being taken to transform the riverfront in North Jakarta from a sleazy shantytown to a vibrant attraction for all.

City officials told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the development plans for the precinct is modelled after how neighbouring Singapore managed to clean up the Singapore River, and turned the area into a popular entertainment hub for both tourists and locals.

Besides Kalijodo, officials also hoped to develop nearby Pluit Reservoir into a riverside entertainment strip, said Mr Suntono, a city council member overseeing the precinct.

The reservoir is the estuary of a dozen rivers and canals and is prone to flooding, especially during the rainy season.

"We are learning from Singapore," he said. "We will demolish all the illegal and rundown shacks on the waterside and bring businesses there so that Pluit can look like Clarke Quay in Singapore."

Mr Suntono is aware that sprucing up the area will be challenging, which is why Dutch consultants have been engaged to conduct a feasibility study.

He also hopes the future re-settlement of the affected squatters along the canals in Pluit will be another "success story" like Kalijodo's eviction on Monday, which went by without much resistance from residents.

A majority of the 3,000 residents were relocated to low-cost flats, while those who did not have Jakarta identity cards and the 450 sex workers were sent back to their hometowns.

"Kalijodo was not only a nest for prostitutes and thieves, it was always flooded," said Mr Suntono. "So we had to clear the illegal squatters to solve the drainage problem and make North Jakarta a cleaner and more livable place."

Following the demolition of Kalijodo, the North Jakarta authorities are now looking to shut down several other businesses that are allegedly fronts for vice activities, he added.

These include Alexis Hotel, an adult entertainment centre in Ancol township, which is described on its website as a "dreamland for men".

North Jakarta Mayor Rustam Effendi told Jakarta Globe news that if there are vice activities at Alexis, "the police and the Tourism Office may take action against the establishment".

Mr Suntono added that owners of the Alexis Hotel will be questioned later this month as part of an official probe. "It's an open secret that there's prostitution there and the sex workers are not only locals but also from countries such as Uzbekistan and China," he said.

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, also said he will evict more illegal settlements which stand on state land, as he pushed for the city to develop 30 per cent of green open spaces.

"I have asked mayors to actively support evictions in green areas," he told Tempo news. "Don't buy land which is on a green area; you will pay the price."