The street is a room by agreement, the architect Louis Kahn wrote. A brilliant statement and a well spot on observations on urban phenomenon by this architect, one of the heroes of architecture of the 20th century. Streets or paths, aside from functioning as platforms that helps their users to move from and to places in their daily life cycle, also acting as a place and space where many urban activities take place. Streets and paths have the capabilities to enliven the urban vitality.
Imagining on what is Out There
Imagine us being in the middle of a bunch of New Yorkers, busy with their own matters and problems; they walk briskly, sometimes run, along the pedestrian paths, bust their ways to get into the subway just to get to their work place on time. Not that different, although half the world apart, in Tokyo, belong to the baby boomer generation, the one infamously known by the world as the working bee of Japanese society, (sarariman, the way they are called in Japan), seen crowding the subway stations every morning. Or when we are among the people of
On the other side of Tokyo, groups of young people, a product of shinjinrui generation, setting their own moral codes and values, trying to be different from the generations that precede them, are all smile and laugh hang out on the corners of small alleys dominating the urban spaces of Shibuya, providing a unique view for the passers by. They are dance following the beat of J-pop music, wearing the fashion named under their hang out place, Harajuku style, or cos-playing –a slang referring to costume playing, expressing their style by wearing the clothes and accessories from characters of manga or anime. They are drown in their own world they create.
In another place, somewhere in Paris, just next to the neighborhood street, I imagine myself drinking coffee in a by-street cafe while reading the morning edition of a local newspaper, watching the neighbors walking their dog around the neighborhood. What a chance to get away from the weighing burden on my shoulders, one might think.
Brazil, although it is known as one of the country with quite high poverty rate, it capable of developing and launching their football players to the top of the world, from Pele, generations later to Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, an many more to come. Ask Ronaldinho where he played football before he becomes a world class player. Not in a football academy, but on the streets. Football in Brazil is a ”religion” born out of the streets famed by the players that then shine at the world stage. It was intellegently hilarious when Nagabonar asked to some of his son’s staff about a company’s facilities, ”Where is the football field?”
Banksy, a graffiti artist, mentioned on why he chooses graffiti as a medium to express his ”artsy” opinion on the streets of London, if it is government’s duty to keep the environment clean, or stay in shape of beauty by developing a slum into a different, ”better” environment, a graffiti artist’s portion is to beautify the real neighborhood, to keep it real.
” Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever they liked, where every street was wash with a million colors and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a living breathing thing which belonged to everybody, not just the estate agents and barons of big business.” –Banksy
Streets on those cities and countries gave a clear image on how streets can be a medium to gather, to play and to express what is inside the heart of the people.
Seeing and Enjoying What is Right in Front of Our Eyes
Let’s see what is happening in our country, in our capital city of Jakarta. Jakarta that I know of, is a city busy trying day and night to lift herself as a city among cities reigning on the top of the world. Or, at the very least, trying to be known as one city trying really hard to be one. Shopping centers, entertainment centers, any kinds and forms of centers are built in this city, Jakarta, a city where money circulate more than any other cities in Indonesia, a branding that has been known since the era of New Order, the metropolitan of Indonesia –maybe now developing into a new megapolitan?
Jakarta is a city that i visited once or twice during my lifetime, up until now. And those are short visits, leaving me less clues and issues to notice by person. Jakarta that I depict from television explains that HI Junction is a public road, yet it is the most strategic location to express the grass root’s opinions, or so it seems. In Jakarta, a definition of streets can be broadened as a place to demonstrate, to protest, a place to fight over some same old problems, can be aplace to sell and buy things, and for sure, can be a ”path” which forced to take the responsibility to flow the water of yearly floods sent from Bogor.
Now we take a look on the city of culture, the city of students, a city where I spent my time learning architecture, Jogjakarta. Jogjakarta is among the small numbers of cities trying relentlessly to keep her image as a city of culture, as a city proud of her Javanese root, fight not to drown on the current of modern development, to be one of another example of metropolitan cities, a modern cities, or in Koolhaas’ language, generic cities. A new cities taht built based upon effectivity and efficiency, ignore the identity and local characters that a city has, becoming another no-identity city, those are generic cities, which days to days become more common coloring the surface of our earth.
Realized or not, and identity or image of a city more or less can be contributed by the streets that go through its parts. If Bandung has Braga, or Dago, and Surabaya has its newly found Kya Kya on the part of Old Surabaya, then imagining Jogjakarta is the same as feeling the atmosphere of Malioboro.
Malioboro is one of the streets that forms an imaginary axis connecting Mount Merapi and the Palace of Kesultanan Jogjakarta. It is also the main street where many public activities take place, enough to give a rough picture on how Jogjakarta wants to be portrayed.
The merchants selling batik clothes, Dagadu shirts, or many other handicrafts along the pedestrian arcade, angkringan –a traditional kiosk selling traditional snacks and food, cart, ricksaw, those are local traditional transportation modes which are more than willing to show people around the place. The pedestrians, among them are local and foreign tourists, busy taking pictures, sight seeing, bargaining prices, or trying to find the perfect item to buy, without concern about their social status or attributes. The streets that are quiet and lonesome in the morning, can be very lively in the afternoon, where a ”market” suddenly filled the spaces in front of the stores, the place become alive because of the people’s movements and activities. Those simple yet diversed activities are the pulse that make the place alive, full of energy. Activities that take place just right next to the street, a place where some people unwilling to take part in that ”dynamic actions”, the active people being there maybe are high-rank officers, young entrepreneurs, local celebrities, cultural elitists, everyone is being at the same status, and free to express themselves. That side of the street, according to Oldenburg, is a thriving third place.
Foreseeing the Future of this City (and others)
The growth of a significant civilization, and civilizations that wanted to be and called significant, cannot be detached from the meaning of their colossal architecture. Rome with its Colosseum, City of Babylon with its Hanging Garden, the Egyptian civilization with its Pyramids, the Greek with its Pantheon, and many examples during the course of the history of human civilization.
Now, or during the modern time, the range of time where we live, the development of cities is not far from the civilization before them. The city of Paris we know of today, is a mirror image of what its ”superior” wants from the city, a vast lane comfortable to pass through, architecture as icons spread around the perimeter, Louvre Museum, Parc de la Villette, Eiffel Tower, or Pompidou Centre, are results of collaborations between political leaders and architects. Or, as Germany experienced during the Nazi period, when Hitler has Albert Speer as his chief architect. Gaudi, the renowned architect of Spain and the world, gets many of his works from the noble, Guell. Singapore, is one of the first countries in South East Asia expressing its modernities in its cities. A strategic location, economy chances finely explored, along the thread of ambitious and tireless leadership, brought Singapore as, in Koolhaas’ language, an ecology of the contemporary, a mixture of things that are modern yet traditional, an eclectic result, an American city in the scene of South East Asia.
In Indonesia, Soekarno is the person who represents this collaboration and vision. Not only excel on the field of politics, Soekarno has this urge to build a new and emerging civilization, which the results can be traced from projects such as National Monument and Istiqlal Mosque, both of them take place in Jakarta. Architecture explains the vision of an institution, a city, a country.
What we see today is a mirror image of what the society looks like. Shopping malls, entertainment centers, and vertical developments are considered as aspects of modern civilization. When time and space then condensed, those forms of development are optimum solution, but is that a solid reasoning to ignore, reduce and finally destruct the space by agreement, space next to the streets, the ”sudden” market, angkringan, and the familiar spaces for the people?
Shanghai is one of the modern cities experiencing drastic changes, in its spatial programs and arrangements. This business city oriented horizontally, with lines of stores and houses along the strips of streets, before hurriedly changed its orientation to go up, along with the nation’s ambition to create the highest skyscraper, as a statement of a high-civilized nation.
Back to Jogjakarta, the relentless building of many shopping malls one after another, slowly but surely erase the familiar spaces which have been there since a long time ago. The spaces that belong to the people, used by people more than some who able to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, stay in and enjoy high-rise living, with capability to travel to Singapore once a week, started to get rid off, out of the picture, out moded. Traditional market operations, fence building around public properties, evictions done to merchants on kiosks, with reasoning such as centralization of the merchants, ”pollution” on the image of the city, and other government-sided reasonings, become the knives that send the death sentence to our public spaces. It may be a romantic, sentimental, or even unprogressive point of view, but places and spaces that make human a human, the kind that let persons to meet each other, the kind that set them free, that kind of places and spaces have more meaning to them, rather than those that are built based on ambitions, and predictive solutions. And the streets that we see everyday, with many people and vehicles passing by, filled with activities on spaces around it, is one of those spaces that has the qualities to define human as human.