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I love Bali: The regeneration of Sanur

It might be hard to imagine, but Sanur was once at the very forefront of the Balinese tourist industry. It was, in the early days, the premier resort on an idyllic island paradise and a playground for the rich and famous.

Sanur has seen many superstars, including Mick Jagger, wandering its streets and frequenting its bars. His monochrome photographs, along with hundreds of other stars, adorn hotel and restaurant walls throughout the town and serve as a reminder of the golden days lost in the passage of time.

Today, Bali still attracts many modern-day glitterati, but they tend toward the seclusion of lavish villas or the opulence of Nusa Dua hotels and, over time, Sanur has drifted into quiet and relative obscurity.

For those who live and work there, many consider this a desirable feature when viewed alongside the endless traffic of Ubud or life in the chaos of Kuta.

This can also be said of the tourists who sustain Sanur. Many are return visitors attracted by the calm, the safe streets and, of course, its reasonable prices. Sanur has, over recent years, inadvertently perhaps, positioned itself in the safe middle ground and while it might not have the visitor numbers some other resorts enjoy, or a single major tourist draw, judging by the longevity of many of its restaurants and hotels it clearly remains a viable financial commitment.

Sanur, unlike some places, is also quite unique, in that despite its tourism it retains a very Balinese look and feel. In hotels, spas and restaurants the staff are predominantly Balinese and often local. In turn, the lack of external influence means that daily Balinese life is on constant and open display.

The beach, for example, is a hub of ceremonial activity, the streets full of Balinese architecture and at the right times overflowing with religious symbolism, and almost every street has a warung (street stall) dedicated to the mass production of offerings. In many other resort areas this is simply not the case and the genuine Balinese influence has been displaced or severely watered down.

Although much of the Sanur beachfront is in good condition, there are several excellent regeneration projects underway. The most notable being the work at Mertasari Beach, where the once ramshackle huts used by sellers and warung are now replaced by sturdy, well built, permanent structures. Part of the scheme also sees locals taking responsibility for the cleanliness of the area and sands, and the overall impact has been a marked improvement in order and cleanliness; it is most welcome.

However, Sanur is also seeing quite a lot of large-scale development and several substantial hotel and villa complexes have recently been completed or are in the construction process. This is, of course, despite Governor Pastika’s moratorium on such developments.

The real issue with this style of regeneration is not the buildings themselves, or the employment they bring, although how some meet the regulations should raise questions, but the lack of existing infrastructure they are built around. The likelihood is there will be a detrimental impact on the surrounding dwellings and businesses as saturation of the existing roads, drains, water and electricity occurs.

The roads are simply unable to cope with a significant increase in traffic and here Sanur risks losing one of its key benefits. More hotels require more water, most, if not all, will use well water, thus placing further stress on an already strained supply.

So, in summary, while regeneration and improvements are generally welcomed, many of the existing tranche may actually have a negative impact on the local economy, the environment, pricing and the quality of life in general that is today Sanur’s biggest asset.

White beaches and safe seas: Built in the 1990s with sponsorship from the Japanese government to stop beach erosion, the breakwaters with open pavilions were added along with thousands of tons of sand to regenerate the beaches.

Building without infrastructure: If the tourists do come in large numbers to fill the new hotels then much of the attraction of Sanur as a sleepy alternative runs the risk of being lost. Land prices, already high, will increase and local residents may well be forced out, just as in other parts of the island.

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