Reviving the Glory of Semarang’s Largest Traditional Market

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Prior to 2022, traders would describe the Pasar Johar market in Indonesia as a “hot, smelly place,” and “with rubbish everywhere.” Today, it is hailed as “cleaner”, “more organized”, and “with impressive architectural style.”

Truly, Semarang’s largest traditional market has fully recovered from a past marred by two incidents of fire and years of neglect despite being a cultural heritage.

The long journey to recovery

For nearly a century, Pasar Johar has been one of the biggest trading hubs in Semarang City, serving people’s daily needs from generation to generation. Despite its popularity, the market was in a dilapidated condition, highly exposed to climate elements, and lacked basic facilities to support its efficient functioning.

Committed to revitalizing the traditional market, the Semarang City Government (SCG) applied for a project preparation study (PPS) support from CDIA in 2013 to redevelop Pasar Johar and its surrounding area to enable it to continue serving as a major trading center while preserving its historic buildings.

As a result, CDIA proposed investment options for the revitalization and climate-proofing of Pasar Johar, taking into account the city’s redevelopment priorities and land use issues, as well as the needs of the vendors and other users.

In 2015, less than a year after the PPS was completed, a big fire razed the heritage buildings, prompting the relocation of vendors to other parts of the city. In 2016, another fire broke out, which altogether pushed 4,500 vendors to relocate to temporary market sites.

While Pasar Johar was in a state of disarray, SCG conducted a feasibility study and detailed engineering design for the reconstruction of Pasar Johar complex. It adopted recommendations from the CDIA PPS such as the revitalization and restoration of the original structure of Pasar Johar Utara and Johar Tengah, development of Yaik Pernai and Yaik Baru, and the restoration of Alun-alun (public square).

The actual redevelopment work of Pasar Johar complex started in 2017 utilizing funds from the national and local governments amounting to IDR 561 billion. The reconstruction of heritage buildings of Pasar Johar Utara and Johar Tengah were completed in 2019 while the redevelopment of Pasar Kanjengan and Johar Selatan, along with the restoration of Yaik Permai and Yaik Baru were expected to be completed by 2022. Upon completion of the rehabilitation measures, the new market is expected to bring significant socio-economic benefits as envisaged in the PPS.

Pasar Johar and the opportunities it now brings

CDIA conducted a tracer study in 2021, from which it derived positive impacts from the revitalization efforts. First, guided by the PPS, the city was able to realize its objective of restoring the heritage buildings to their original state, including the reduction of intensity of use in keeping with the original design. Not only that, it also incorporated climate-proofing measures to avoid flooding, such as installing new drainage systems and raising the ground floor elevation above the street level. Moreover, it made use of energy-efficient and green designs promoted in the CDIA study, such as taking advantage of natural lighting and ventilation.

The redevelopment of Pasar Johar along with the improvement of its support facilities such as open public spaces will also provide opportunities for the efficient utilization of space and the identification of complementary uses that can attract market visitors and tourists. Ultimately, this will allow vendors to diversify into selling products with higher value and profit margin, thus, increasing the market’s overall competitiveness.

The new market is also expected to sustain the livelihood of 6,896 vendors (80% of whom are women entrepreneurs) and support their 27,584 dependents. Indirectly, some 400,000 people, including buyers and retailers from other traditional markets, individual market goers, pedicab drivers, porters, and seasonal workers will benefit in terms of improved access to income and livelihood opportunities.

Finally, the new Pasar Johar will provide a more comfortable shopping experience for women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities (PWD) through the optimal use of available market spaces; installation of ramps for PWDs, generators, and CCTVs; and provision of toilet facilities, among other gender-responsive and inclusive market redevelopment efforts.

Lessons from the revitalization project

A number of key lessons can be derived from the CDIA-supported project. Aside from the importance of using validated field data as a basis for considering market redevelopment options, it also pays to work closely with various stakeholders such as national and local government agencies, vendors, and the non-government sector, etc. Their involvement from the PPS until project implementation was key to ensuring ownership of proposed interventions beyond the CDIA intervention.

Appreciative of CDIA’s assistance, BAPPEDA Semarang City Representative Bapak Safrinal Sofaniadi affirmed that they have received interesting inputs from the CDIA team in terms of planning for the revitalization of the historic buildings in a way that the city can benefit economically. He also appreciated the inclusion of open public spaces for people to use and enjoy in the redevelopment of Pasar Johar.

“In the past, when we went to a traditional market, the mindset was that it was a dirty and scary place. In contrast, the design has led to the concept of an open public space.”

With the revitalization efforts, Pasar Johar is expected to regain its popularity as Semarang’s economic center while showcasing one of the city’s treasured legacies.


This article is originally part of CDIA’s 2018-2022 Accomplishment Report.

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