Boasting a wide range of urban problems and tremendous population growth, the city of Jakarta is not quite the “greatest city possible” that first president Soekarno envisioned it to be (source). Along with the seven other cities that comprise the megacity of Jabodetabek, Jakarta is the largest metropolitan area in Southeast Asia. The rapid expansion of this city, from a population of 150,000 in 1900 to over 28 million in 2010 (Rukmana 2014), is an effective example of the rapid development culture that exists in Southeast Asian countries. However, if we examine these unique contexts, is the nature of rapid development that we so closely associate with Southeast Asia an integral part of their culture, or slowing destroying it? We look at the insights of Harry Gibbs, a backpacker who visited Jakarta for a month last year.
“They’ve got this crazy infrastructure being built all the time, like you can just see the city being build up everywhere, but there’s still no one really using it. It’s like the people haven’t adapted to the new lifestyle that is being pushed upon them by their urban environment”
– Harry Gibbs 2015
The development of infrastructure, such as government buildings, shopping plazas and sport facilities, began with Indonesian independence in 1945, and continued under the New Order Regime in 1967 (Rukmana 2014). Indonesia enjoyed steady economic growth during this period, along with a smaller percentage of the population living under the poverty line. By the mid-1990s, Jakarta was heading toward global city status, being the largest concentration of foreign and domestic investment within Indonesia (Firman 1999). However, the economic crisis that hit Indonesia in 1998 resulted in major disruptions of urban development, shifting the city from its global status to a state of crisis. It is this economic crisis that formed Indonesia’s economic dualism that we know today; its rapid development within a short space of time generated a dense metropolitan area, however, the sudden economic crisis resulted in the majority of the population living under the poverty line, unable to make use of it.
However, the economic dualism evident in Jakarta is not its only problem. The rapid growth of the city not only causes significant environmental problems, such as flooding, but also creates chronic traffic congestion. The high growth rate of car ownership, 9 to 11 percent annually, with little road development, less than 1 percent annually, causes severe traffic problems on the three highways from the peripheral areas to the centre of the megacity (Rukmana 2014). However, the solution is not quite as simple as building more roads, as this would only serve for the short term and create induced demand. Rather, the development of a Metro would be beneficial, and it is here where the main issues with rapidly developing cities becomes evident. While most metropolitan areas have had years to develop a framework for their city, rapidly developing cities do not have this luxury. Harry explains:
“I think the problem is Western countries developed over a very long period of time and we’ve got this kind of inherent infrastructure, like banks and mobile phone networks, and all this stuff that we’ve had time to build , and in a way I think they [Southeast Asian countries] are choking, culturally. They’re pushing all these developments at once, and you can see it because the city is just chaotic. There’s half finished buildings just popping up everywhere.”
– Harry Gibbs 2015
Written by Sam Watson
Firman, T. 1999 ‘From “global city” to “city of crisis”: Jakarta Metropolitan Region under economic turmoil’ Habitat International, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 447-466.
Rukmana, D. 2014 ‘The Megacity of Jakarta: Problems, Challenges and Planning Efforts’, Indonesian Urban Studies Blog, weblog, Blogspot, viewed 30th of April 2015 <http://indonesiaurbanstudies.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/the-megacity-of-jakarta-problems.html>
Unknown, 2010. Untitled, The Boston Globe, viewed 30th of April 2015 <http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/02/recent_scenes_from_indonesia.html>