Astrid Haryati: Ambassador for urban spaces

>> Monday, July 26, 2010

Astrid Haryati: Ambassador for urban spaces
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Fri, 07/23/2010 10:19 AM | People

JP/J. AdigunaJP/J. Adiguna

For the past 15-years, Astrid Haryati of Bandung origin, an urban design expert currently working for the mayor of San Francisco, has lived far from home.

The 39-year-old is the San Francisco City and County’s director of greening, responsible for shaping policies and coordinating improvement programs for the city’s urban public spaces, which ranges from better design for storm watersheds to better open spaces and streets. Before joining San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s team, she worked for Chicago’s mayor in a similar position.

She is currently in Jakarta, visiting family and “investigating the opportunity to return”.

Although she was still unsure whether now was the right time to return, she said the last fifteen years would prepare her to come home. Having been involved in city planning of two famous American cities, she said the years in which she lived abroad was good experience.

“Over the last 15 years, I’ve been practicing to create the kind of environment that I’d love my family to live in,” she said.

“City planning is not about fancy recognition. It’s about simulating how I can create a wonderful livable city for myself, my siblings, kids when they’re born and for my parents. It’s like practice,” she said.

This “practice” involves projects that facilitate communities in San Francisco to transform parking spaces into plazas and mini parks. The result of the transformations can be viewed in

Her journey from Bandung to San Francisco began after she graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB)’s architecture program. She took a master’s degree in landscape architecture in Denver. “Not to become a gardener or landscape designer but simply to understand a little bit of the outdoor context to deal with placing the building within people’s needs — people’s environment,” she said.

Astrid said she chose the US because the country has made mistakes in its city planning and has been able to resolve those problems. “The best place to learn is from a place where there have been plenty of mistakes,” she said. “It’s rather simplistic to assume you’ll learn from a place that’s ideal. It’s too much of a jump between reality and a dream,” she said.

She moved from Denver to Chicago and started her career in a small office before moving to Teng and Associates, a large architecture engineering company. Within seven years, she has become the youngest principle designer in the company, working on projects in Asia, Europe and North America.

One of her clients while working for Teng was Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, for which she designed major public parks and development opportunities. At that time she was also active in advocating open space and green infrastructure in the state government.

One day, she received a call from Daley, summoning her to his office. “It’s a funny story because, you know, people don’t get a call from the mayor. Mayor Daley is a powerful person. He’s been in the position for, you know, more than 17 years. I thought I had done something wrong,” she said. “I walked three blocks in the winter time, sweating, thinking that I had done something wrong.”

To her surprise, Daley asked her to be his assistant for Green Initiatives.

“I come from a small kampung in Geger Kalong in Sarijadi, Bandung. It’s not the kind of opportunity that you find easily.” She said it was an opportunity for her to represent Indonesia in an international community.

When asked what she thought of the urban environment of Jakarta, she said that there was a chance for the city to transform itself. The biggest question that needs to be asked is: What does the city of Jakarta want to be?

“It’s never a good idea to copy other cities,” she said.

“You don’t need a big plan, I’m sure the city already has big plans. What we need to do is try it,” Astrid said. “Make model block strategies. Test it on three streets. Test it in one area of a community in Jakarta. Create what I call the ‘green envy’.”

“When you create certain things in some areas, other communities want it. They become envious of what the other community has. Make that sort of a way to actually work together.”

She gave an example of the kampung Widuri area, behind the World Trade Center in Sudirman. In a generic Jakarta street area, she said the people there could be approached to make the place orderly by arranging designated places for kiosks and ojek (motorcycle taxis). “We don’t have to make it fancy but we can see right away that it will look a little more orderly,” she said.

“Making examples like that will help the community to learn about themselves and how they actually work together.

“Then they will hopefully create this ‘green envy’ and the kampung next door can respond to that.”

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