Last year I contributed a section to Thoughts Outside The Indonesian Box outlining what I would do if I were Governor of Jakarta. This is how it began: Traffic, floods, H5N1, dengue fever, inappropriate land use, rapid urban expansion, air and water pollution, corruption, crime, street brawls, kampungs, and evictions appear like clockwork in the Jakarta news.
One year on I cannot see that there is any change in the pattern.
In a Jakarta Post article published on 31/1/2009, it was reported that while Governor of Jakarta, Fauzi Bowo, was out jogging near MONAS (formerly Merdeka Square with Sukarno's "last erection" and now Jakarta's logo), he was furious to find damaged park lights, dead trees, puddles of water and piles of garbage in some spots in the Monas park…
The article states that… he claimed it was not the first time he had noticed the shabby condition of the park but said he preferred to keep silent and hope for an improvement.
"But until today there is no such attempt [from Monas management] to improve this [messy] condition. I’m very disappointed,” Fauzi said, adding that there were too many institutions involved in the maintenance of MONAS.
When I visited Jakarta in February of last year I noticed the same things and I have the photographs to prove it. Mr. Bowo should get out and see his city more often. It’s not just MONAS that is in need of attention.
Mr. Bowo is also fond, apparently, of mega projects such as the Jakarta Subway and the reclamation and development project for high end housing and recreation along the North Jakarta coast. All the while people wade up to their knees in flood water.
Mr. Bowo is representative of a symptom of the “blinkered short-termism of nearly every Indonesian city”. His policies are reactive rather than proactive while Jakarta survives by its wits and through “typical ‘third world’ ingenuity” of its informal economies.
In Christopher Silver's Planning the Megacity: Jakarta in the Twentieth Century, he notes that the planning vision for Jakarta states as its overriding objective the creation of ‘a humane, efficient, and competitive capital supported by a participative, prosperous, well behaved and civilized society in a safe and sustainable environment’.
But like the traffic in Jakarta these guiding planning principles are gridlocked and where they are not they appear to be tilted toward the moneyed interests.
Such was the case that through the 1990s there was actually an 'ungreening' of Jakarta. For example, Silver notes that up through the 1990s there were banana trees growing along Jalan Sudirman, the main thoroughfare of the business district. In the 1970s open and green spaces represented - I know it is hard to believe - between 40 and 50 per cent of Jakarta’s surface area of 63,120 hectares. By the 1990s 246 of the city’s 412 public parks had been converted to some other function.
To compound all of this the Singapore-based Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) ranked Central, North and West Jakarta at the top of a list of administrative regions most at risk due to climate change due to the rise of ocean levels. A World Bank study noted that unless action is taken much of the coastal city of 12 million will be submerged by sea water by 2025.
This is further compounded by the fact that Jakarta is sinking under the weight of out-of-control development exacerbated by factories, hotels and wealthy residents drilling deep-water bores to bypass the city's shambolic water grid, sucking out the groundwater and causing further subsidence.
Of all the apparently intractable problems of Jakarta one that stands out to be me is trying to get a handle on just what is meant by ‘Jakarta’. Is it the city proper? Is it DKI Jakarta? Is it Jabodetabek? Demographia now ranks Jakarta as the second largest urban area in the world with a population of over twenty-million people. How is this to be managed, if at all?
Traffic, air pollution, green space, poverty, crime, police corruption. There is a long litany of problems which face Jakarta. Most everyone knows something that is in need of being done or being fixed in the city. The easy thing to do is to point at the problems. The harder thing to do is to try to fix them.
This year I propose the following:
That the managing budget of Jakarta be devoted to investment in its people and the re-greening of the city.
The health, education, and welfare of the citizens of Jakarta must be the priority of city government: clean air, water, sanitation, schools, affordable housing; investments in kampung improvements, open green space; restoration of the North Jakarta mangrove forests; urban agriculture, sustainability, alternative energy, recycling programs and environmental protection; extension of no car days, large scale mass transit and the return of the bicycle and becak at the expense of the car; support and investment in the informal economy; zoning laws which support people over property; progressive and enforced taxation by representation; preservation and restoration of Jakarta Kota; city planning from the bottom up not the top down; and reformation of the judicial system and police.
All of these issues can and must be addressed at the local levels of neighborhoods, kampungs, and districts. As Governor of Jakarta I would turn Jakarta over to the people who live in it. My job would be to assist them with the finances, the information, and the skilled personnel they need to organize and create the livable city they deserve.
In short, I would grow banana trees along Jalan Surdirman.
And as usual my guiding principles are:
1. Democracy: A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly.
2. Transparency: It is essential to the democratic process that citizens have the right and ability hold government officials, elected and appointed, accountable for their actions.
Of course, if the business-as-usual option continues, nothing of significance will be accomplished. This does not mean that Jakarta will implode or fall into the Java Sea. Jakarta will find its way regardless. But this ‘do nothing’ option does speak to the lack of creativity and the political will to make choices from opportunities and options that are out there by the score.
It is the difference between thinking inside or outside of the Indonesian box.