Kemang Now and Then

“I remember riding bikes down these lanes”, Fauzi Arief, business owner and resident pondered, “nothing in sight, nothing that Kemang has now, but a landscape of rice paddies.”. His family runs a Sundanese eatery since the 1970ies, opening their first lembur kuring at Senayan, a second one at Kemang afterwards. Similar response given by also an elderly resident, Haji Nursit, “Back then, I farmed here, nyawah, then I worked for the hotel, first hotel around here.”. Haji Nursit, a Betawi native, is among the residents still remaining in the area over the years. The hotel he referred to is Hotel Kemang, now the Grand Kemang, a hotel built around 40 years ago.

As early as year 1959, construction of roads from Thamrin, Sudirman, Slipi, to Mampang had already begun, opening access from the central, where most civic activities taken place, to the southern part of Jakarta. Building constructions were scattered over main areas of the city. Two of the city’s most ambitious buildings constructed nearby were the Conference of New Emerging Forces (CONEFO) building complex, now the Parliamentary complex where House of Representatives is located, and Gelanggang Olahraga Bung Karno. Ali Sadikin, 1966-elected governor, soon brought in the buzz of economic and commercial trade in the capital, taking a firm step towards market-centered urbanity. This also has drawn in more urban dwellers to the southern part of the city, where one of the city’s busiest market, Pasar Melawai, is located.

It was the expansion of Kotabaru Kebajoran, now referred to as Kebayoran, shortly after the nation declared independence that has place Kemang on the map, quite literally. The expansion of 18th century suburban neighbourhood Weltevreden has just undergone its later stages at the time. Just as how Weltevreden was, Kebajoran is a satellietstad, a satellite town, originally intended for Europeans inhabitants during the Stadsgementee Batavia era, around late 1930ies. The concept was introduced by Prof. Ir. V. R. van Romondt, senior lecturer at the Technische Hogeschool at Bandung, and administratively governed by the Kebajoran Commissie.

World War II interrupted the ongoing project. By year 1949, the local government, which was then referred as the Kotapradja, under the command of Suwirjo as mayor or wedana, decided to bring the project back on the ground. Only at the time, Kotabaru Kebajoran was meant to anticipate and solve housing issues arising during the post-colonial era. It was also as far as 8 kilometres away from Koningsplein, considered the downtown during the era, which made it more strategic as residence for government employees.

Roads spanning from Thamrin, Sudirman, Slipi, to Mampang have created a linear development across the city from central point to the south, until it reached a lush, green village, Kampung Kebon. Kampung Kebon is a 600-hectares wide region, vast with vegetations, rice fields, fruits orchards, and farms. Later on, it had a change of name to Kemang.

Whilst Kebayoran was at large considered a suburb for the government elites, where diplomatic parties and terrace politics were the norm, Kemang was more as an accession to Kebajoran. Thus, local businesses spawned, mainly to provide basic needs of nearby residents. Hasyim Ning, an automotive industry entrepreneur, ran a hotel business, Hotel Kemang, to serve the increasing numbers of domestic and international visitors. Another well known entrepreneur, Bob Sadino, also bought a land in the area and established a farming business, Kemchick, started off by selling eggs door-to-door.

“It’s not the businesses. It’s not the expatriates. It’s the army.”, a loyal assistant for the family of Gen. S. E. Martadinata said, while flicking through the family’s old photo album. The general’s eldest daughter and her family lived in a house located at a marine force housing facility in Kemang. The exterior of the house seen as if it has never been renovated since the 1960ies—its striped summer canopy and marble-floored terrace portrays the old California influence, indicating the tightening of political bond between Indonesia and United States of America during the era, a change from the classic European style from its preceding colonial era.

The house used to be a medical clinic facility for army patients the eldest daughter inherited. There, in the family photo album, Soeharto was pictured visiting injured army patients. The marine force housing estate itself was built during the transitional period from Soekarno to Soeharto presidency. A certain top rank army general has been said to have invested quite much in the area as well. He was also a resident, and used to live at the site where now La Codefin is situated. The main Kemang road lining from Bangka to Prapanca was told to be paved under his favor and facilitation.

Expatriates residing in the neighbourhood also played a great part in Kemang’s socio-cultural refining. It is especially so back in early 1980ies when the area had been gentrified into an expatriate residential. A housing facility owned by a Dutch manufacturing company for executive level employees, which were then mostly Dutch and European expatriates, was one of its very first expatriate residential estate. Though most expatriated moved in only temporarily, some decided to become permanent residents. “Expatriates came, married local girls, opened businesses.”, Fauzi Arief explained. He also noted several pubs and discotheque he used to spend his nights out during his younger Poppy Lane days. Along the way, precisely beginning year 1982, Soeprapto, set a policy to propel more infrastructural development to the southern Jakarta more intensively. In effect, there was also a rise in demand for recreational and leisure services close by.

Monetary crisis hit the country during the late 1990ies to early 2000, initiating a stronger shift to the entertainment and culinary industries considered least likely to suffer its impact. Housing arrangements between locals and expatriates became less segregated and multicultural dialogues were encouraged. Governor from year 1997 to 2007, Sutiyoso, at the time presented the concept of Modern Kampong. It coincided along with the conceptualization of Jakarta as a “service city”, focusing travel and tourism in respond to its trade and commercial aspects. Book shops, cafes, art galleries, hobby stores to fashion boutiques soon flourished, adding a Parisian hint to the pedestrianized Kemang.

Kemang of the present day may still have to face numerous urban that consequently occur, such as traffic jam and excessive private land use. In regards to its socio-economic aspect, Kemang has become a self-sustaining neighbourhood. Perhaps that is why some, one to mention is Jeremy Allan, in his book “Jakarta Jive”, notes the seclusion of Kemang from mainstream Jakarta. Others regard Kemang exactly the contrary, that it’s the capital city in smaller scale–a melting pot of cultures, from the traditional to the sophisticated, from the retrospective to the visionary.

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