Bringing urban space back to the people through public fairs

The decision of Jakarta governor Jokowi and vice governor Ahok to start the people festival in Monas Park reflect their concern to reclaim public urban space for Jakarta's people. The event, called Local Creative Products Week, ran from 14 to 16 June 2013 and attracted more than 75 thousand people, truly becoming a people's festival.

The event included 125 kiosks selling locally-made handicrafts from all over Indonesia. While ethnic Betawi is considered the original ethnic group for the city of Jakarta, but as the capital city, Jakarta has become a destination for people from all ethnic groups. The event was therefore a celebration of being Indonesian.

This event was organized alongside many other events to commemorate Jakarta's anniversary, but it should not be seen merely as a people's festival or a handicraft market: it had deeper meaning as a critique to the long-established Jakarta Grand Week, the alternative event which has become heavily commercialized and controlled by a business group close to the palace.

Jokowi and Ahok are rising political leaders that were elected with a new mission that the government should serve the people. So far, we have seen these new leaders demonstrate this mission by advocating various major policies that will improve the social welfare of Jakarta's poor, including free health services and housing for the poor.

The Jakarta Grand Week, known as Jakarta Fair, began in 1968 by the legendary governor of Jakarta Ali Sadikin to boost the local economy and to put on an enjoyable event for the people. Until 1991, the event was help in Taman Monas (National Monument Park). The event consists of entertainment shows and displays of small- and medium-size industrial products, and takes place annually for a full month in June-July. In 1992, the event was relocated to Kemayoran in the former airport of Jakarta. In 2004, the Jakarta provincial government gave the execution rights to PT JIExpo, owned by businesswoman Sri Hartati Murdaya, a political patron of Democratic Party.

The Jakarta Fair was originally a festival for the people, but it recently has become more business-oriented. It has become more expensive for the people to attend: this year, a ticket cost is 25 thousands rupiah on weekdays and 30 thousands rupiah on the weekend. Many small and medium business owners have complained that the rent for the kiosk space is unaffordable. Considering that the event is no longer for the people, Jokowi and Ahok revoked the deal between the government and PT JIExpo, and decided to return the Jakarta Fair to Monas Park in 2014.

The Local Creative Products Week clearly shows the desire of Jakarta's common people for a free urban public space. The Jakarta Fair did originally provide such a space, but it has been controlled since 2004 by a business group that is politically connected to the palace. The city government's move to return public space to the people is the right decision.

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