Disty Winata
Feb 16, 2017

Living the mall lifestyle in Jakarta

Today there are more than 170 malls in Jakarta, and they have evolved into much more than retail spaces. They are an inseparable part of urban life.

Disty Winata
Disty Winata

For most people, a word that first comes to mind when asked about Jakarta would be malls. Indeed, the mall has perhaps been the city’s most prominent feature of the past few decades and its evolution in many ways has reflected that of the city itself.

The first ones opened in the 1980s following Indonesia’s oil boom, including Ratu Plaza, Jakarta’s first upscale mall. These offered an alternative to traditional markets and quickly became the favourite destination of upper class families to spend their weekends. Malls at that time looked pretty much alike: located in a multistory building, spacious, brightly lit and air-conditioned, but somewhat impersonal.

The '90s then saw the emergence of several opulent new luxury malls like the iconic Plaza Indonesia in the city centre, marking an era of conspicuous development in Jakarta, with skyscrapers, luxurious housing estates and golf courses catering to the elites and significantly changing the spatial order of the city. Behind this development was the government's policy of deregulation, which encouraged the active involvement of the private sector in urban development.

Today there are more than 170 malls in Jakarta, and they have evolved into much more than retail spaces. They are an inseparable part of urban life.

Malls have become a refuge from the city’s congestion and pollution. Home to 9.6 million inhabitants, Jakarta has suffered from infrastructure challenges and also a high volume of urbanisation. Parks today only account for 9 percent of the city, and an influx of 1.5 million people come to Jakarta every morning from the suburbs, making traffic gridlock almost inevitable. In response to this, several malls have focused on offering green spaces, like Central Park Mall with its 1.4-hectare Tribeca Park.

Malls have in many ways also compensated for the lack of civic spaces, and now house everything from church congregations to art galleries and award ceremonies. A few notable examples include Grand Indonesia with its Galeri Indonesia Kaya, which has become a favourite destination for local art exhibitions, and Transmart Carrefour with its indoor rollercoaster. No wonder one can spend an average of three hours per visit.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series

More recently, however, we are seeing interesting developments happening outside of the mall. Neighborhoods such as Panglima Polim in South Jakarta and Puri in the West are emerging as trendy new retails spots.

New multi-purpose spaces around the city are also emerging, like The Buya, an elegant small building with a café, barbershop, clothing store and yoga studio under one roof. Or Aksara in Kemang, which started off as a bookstore many years ago and has now expanded and reinvented itself with a mini-cinema, record store, artisanal coffee shop, a children’s painting studio, and even a small skate park in its backyard.

At the same time, the government is increasing its investments in public amenities and new green spaces all around the city, and also completing massive infrastructural projects, including Jakarta’s first subway system, aimed at drastically reducing traffic in the next few years.

Might a new retail era be upon us in Jakarta, where people become less reliant on the mega structures of the past? Time will tell, but what is certain is that malls might very soon need to reassess their role as the city and its people evolve faster than ever.

Disty Winata, Flamingo Jakarta

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