The clock's ticking on Indonesia's preparations for the 2018 Asian Games. Two cities, Palembang, in South Sumatra, and Jakarta, the capital, are scheduled to host the international sporting event in six weeks' time. It's a big deal for any country to host the Asian Games. Sure, it's not the Olympics or the World Cup, but, on a regional scale, it's still one of the most important inter-country sporting competitions out there.
It's also the perfect time for Jakarta to flex. The Indonesian capital, a sprawling mega-city of more than 10 million, has a lot to be proud of recently. The long-delayed mass-transit projects, two of them, are finally nearing completion. New skyscrapers have gone up in recent years, and some of the rivers are cleaner (and even supporting new, deadly life).
I went over to Senayan's Gelora Bung Karno Stadium (GBK), the heart of the Jakarta part of the Asian Games, to see, first hand, if the city was ready for the international spotlight. The renovated complex is bigger, brighter, and far better than I ever remembered. It's got shiny, new facilities, freshly paved roads, and even a nearly finished statue of Sukarno himself, Indonesia's founding father and the stadium complex's namesake, right at the entrance.
“It’s 90 percent complete," Putra, one of the construction workers, told me. "The statue is finished, but we still need to complete the renovation for the plaza."
I pointed to a curved steel frame sitting unfinished nearby. What's that going to be, I asked.
“If I’m not mistaken, it will be used to lit the torch,” he said.
In all, the renovation project cost the city Rp 770 billion ($53.4 million USD) and took 16 months to get this far. The stadium complex was a hive of activity when I arrived, and you can really see how the workers are rushing to get everything done in time.
Too bad all this glitz ends the minute you leave the GBK complex. Back out in the city, the same city that should be showing off it's growth to the rest of the region, is far from ready. Construction along Jalan Jend. Sudirman is still making a mess of traffic. The street is supposed to be the site of one of Jakarta's first MRT stations, but that transit line won't be ready until 2019. The construction is going to continue right through much of the games, explained Ahmadi, a supervisor for the MRT project.
"The project will continue [during the Asian Games], but the materials will be unloaded at night," Ahmadi told me.
Meanwhile, the city has instituted a expanded odd-even traffic scheme that is, in reality, little more than a band-aid meant to temporarily reduce traffic in one of the worst chokepoints in the city. It's also added more TransJakarta buses to the street in a bid to get even more vehicles off the road.
The sidewalks are still narrow and only partially finished. Complete lanes of traffic are closed-off to allow the MRT construction to continue, with a row of steam rollers occupying a long stretch of road. It's not exactly the image of a modern, growing city many would like Jakarta to be in time for the Asian Games opening ceremony.
I called up Tubagus Hikmatullah, the corporate secretary of PT MRT Jakarta, to ask if they were going to do anything to make Jalan Sudirman look better in time for the Games.
“We’ll fix the alignment for Jl. Sudirman and Thamrin and put the Asian Games banners in the barriers to make it look better,” Hikmat told me.
The big problem with Sudirman, Ahmadi explained, was that the MRT construction schedule was never aligned with the Asian Games. That's why it's already July and the street near the GBK complex is still covered with construction equipment. Like many projects in the capital, the two things—the MRT project and the Asian Games—were operating independently of each other, despite the fact that everyone who attends the Jakarta leg of the games is going to immediately see the construction on Sudirman.
So what's the city going to do? These kinds of international events are often seen as a city's time to shine, a moment to show off your capital in front of all your neighbors, but, with only six weeks to go and no plans to halt construction of the MRT, it's doubtful Jakarta is going to be as impressive as the city's leaders probably hoped it would've been.
I decided to meet with an official who had to be as nervous as I was about the approaching deadline. Danny Buldansyah, the spokesperson for the Indonesia Asian Games 2018 Organizing Committee (INASGOC), was surprisingly calm. Maybe he knew something I didn't?
“Everything is on track," he assured me. "We expect that it will finish mid-July. And it will be ready for the competition in early August. We’ll make the construction site to look better. The traffic will be controlled too."
I don't know if he was being overly optimistic or if I was just overly pessimistic, but mid-July is in two week's time, max. Can the entire GBK area get cleaned up in time? I don't really have an answer to that question right now, but we'll all know soon enough.