How Jakartans Built an Entire Village on Top of a Mall

August 5, 2019

It’s Thursday and the residents of Jakarta’s Cosmo Park are out jogging, watering their plants or walking their dogs along neat asphalt roads.

Neighbourhood kids pedal their bikes under frangipani trees and peach-coloured bougainvillea to the pool and tennis court. Apartments, comfortable and modern, sit side by side, with barbecues and toys stacked outside.

Quiet and orderly, it feels like any other suburban idyll – but there is one difference. Cosmo Park is a village in the sky, perched 10 storeys up on top of a shopping centre and car park, a world away from the heaving megalopolis below.

It is a surreal urban bubble, where normal life unfolds at an abnormal altitude. To access ground level, resident drive their cars down a ramp. A tall metal fence runs around the perimeter to make sure no one falls or drives off. Peer beyond the fence and you can spot the city’s landmarks below.

Cosmo Park was built 10 years ago but was largely unknown outside Jakarta until last month, when a drone photograph broadcast its oddness to the world.

In June, Twitter user @shahrirbahar1 posted a bird’s eye view of the complex, 78 two-storey, cookie-cutter units on top of the parking lot with Jakarta’s immense urban sprawl in the background. It was a photo that captured both the scale and incongruity of the project.

“Good morning Jakarta,” he wrote. “What type of person thinks about developing a housing complex on top of a building?”

Retweeted almost 27,000 times, the post spawned a long thread of incredulity and wisecracks (how do food delivery drivers find it?) but also serious questions about the wisdom of the city’s urban development, such as how might a complex like this fare in an earthquake?

Home to 10 million people and almost three times that including the greater Jakarta area, the Indonesian capital is buckling under the weight of its problems, from chronic floods and unbelieveably bad traffic to severe pollution, overcrowding and the fact that it is literally sinking.

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