Soapbox: publisher's perspective |


Soapbox: Publisher's Perspective | 3 July 2020

alistair speirs

Well it took precisely one day for the traffic to get back to ‘normal' after the easing of the PSBB regulations! But honestly what is ‘normal' and what is the point in a ‘new normal’ when the old normal was so bad across so many facets of life? Let us be brutally honest and re-examine the old normal before we try to create the new! Let's stick to traffic for the moment to argue the point.

Traffic management in Jakarta is simply terrible, these just isn’t any way to praise it. It is far behind any reasonable schedule and is unfocused , not integrated and not actually managed on the street level where the action happens, or actually doesn’t happen ! The MRT is 30 years too late and is about 120th the size it needs to be serve the greater Jakarta population of over 24 million. ( London , which is smaller than Jakarta has 400 km of track compared to Jakarta’s 20km) The roads are so congested and that we are often forced to use tiny, single car, roads through residential areas to get anywhere ( jalan tikus) . Motorcycles rule the roost and are noisy, polluting and gas guzzling. Please tell me the ‘new normal' will be better. And how?

The city put in huge pedestrian pavements at considerable expense in a city that doesn’t walk, but forgot to ‘round' off the corners of access roads to actually make ingress/egress easier. To be fair they look good. It drew white lines on busy streets and called them ‘cycle lanes'. Suicide lanes would be a better description. The old normal was again not good enough. What is the new?

Now let’s turn to waste management. Here it’s honestly even worse. Both the technology and the methodology are readily available, with countries like Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and UK all lining up to help. But the willpower does not seem to be there. We need mandatory recycling in every office building in town, then in every hotel and restaurant, then in every mall, and eventually every house. No excuses. Why haven’t the authorities used this “covid” five months to get ready ( March – July ) so that the ‘new normal' can be launched by the end of the year. Please remember that unlike the rest of us, all civil servants (including the waste dept) have been fully paid by taxpayers money during this period. There is no excuse for not progressing their work.

Then there’s the water crisis. What you didn’t know there’s a water crisis? Well there is, in fact there are four interlocking crises : the exhaustion of the artesian wells under Jakarta from which many buildings still draw their (only) water supply, the intrusion of sea water from the north, the polution of the feeder rivers from the south and the treatment of sewage and waste water. What has been done to mandate a total change to these crises? Not enough. The old normal is the new normal.

For me the problem lies in the lack of vision for what ‘the new normal’ should be. The current short term, knee-jerk-plastic-separator-plastic-face-mask-hand-washing-sanitizer-squeezing-fifty- per-cent-occupancy-obsession is just temporary ( ok necessary) but irrelevant and distracting. The ‘new normal' needs big vision about how we should live in the future –after Covid -with no motorcycles, no pollution, no waste, more parks, free flow fresh water, always fresh air, less noise, more nature, less chance of dying because we are healthier and our environment is healthier, and…our attitudes are healthier. That’s the new normal I want to see. If we don’t have that vision for the future all we'll have is a plastic wrapped sad version of the old. And that wasn’t good enough.