From Saudi Arabia’s 106-mile long megacity structure to an entirely solar community in Florida, societies across the globe are looking for innovative housing solutions to the problems posed by climate change, as populations boom and available habitable land mass shrinks.
Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is facing its own plethora of problems as a result of poor planning for a rapidly expanding city. The government has proposed one radical solution – starting over on a new island – but another solution generated by the residents themselves is gaining ground.
A tale of two cities: The old and new capitals of Indonesia
Jakarta is a city of extremes. Within the archipelago of Indonesia, it is located on the island of Java, which is the third-largest, but most populous, island in the world. The city of Jakarta is the second largest urban area in the world and home to over 30 million people.
The city has functioned as the de facto centre of government, economy, and culture for the archipelago since the colonial era. It has also been growing rapidly in recent decades, with twice as many people living there now compared to 1975, but the city’s infrastructure hasn’t improved in line with this population growth.
Jakarta is also the fastest sinking city in the world. North Jakarta, which lies directly on the coast of the Jakarta Bay, has sunk 2.5 metres in 10 years. At 25 centimetres a year, this rate is more than double the global average for coastal megacities.
This sinking is partly due to uncontrolled use of the groundwater beneath the city to serve the city’s water needs, since large parts of the population don’t have access to any other form of clean drinking water or sewage systems.
This exploitation of the underground water reserves is causing most of the subsidence, but this is compounded by sea levels rising simultaneously. Right now, around 40% of North Jakarta sits below sea level, but models estimate that 95% of North Jakarta could be fully submerged by 2050.
Jakarta is situated on swampy land that is criss-crossed by 13 rivers and bordered by the Java Sea, so extreme flooding becoming more and more frequent within the city limits. As the city itself sinks into the ground, the sea around it is threatening to spill over the concrete walls that have been built to keep flooding at bay.
VIDEO: Prolonged torrential rain has caused flooding in different areas in Jakarta. At least three people have died in the Indonesian capital after a flood surged into a school and caused a wall to collapse pic.twitter.com/Dr1Mu6ff0A
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) October 7, 2022
The solution that Indonesia has proposed to the existential peril currently facing its capital is also extreme. The government is planning to move its capital to a new purpose-built city 1,300 kilometres away on Borneo, which will be erected in stages between now and 2045. The new city is known as Nusantara, and the government is planning to relocate its first government offices and officials by 2024.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who proposed the new capital in April 2019, chose the site of Nusantara because he wished to move the capital closer to the nation’s geographic centre and spur economic growth in the archipelago’s east.
Some have welcomed this change, recognising the potential benefit of decentralisation away from Java and the significance of giving other Indonesian islands an opportunity for increased economy and development.
The island of Borneo, or Kalimantan in Indonesian, is widely considered “the lungs of the Earth.” It is the third largest island in the world and densely covered by tropical trees. As Asia’s last great rainforest, Borneo’s importance as both a carbon sink and source of oxygen for the planet and is well-established.
Many critics of the plan to move Indonesia’s capital to Borneo have pointed out that intense deforestation will be necessary to cover the city’s footprint, which is planned to cover 2560 square kilometres in its final form, about twice the area of New York City.
Critics are also sceptical of the other “green” promises for the new capital. Indonesia hopes to create a city that is modern and rationally planned with net-zero emissions, but the nation’s renewable energy sector currently provides just 11.5% of its national energy. Environmental groups are concerned that Nusantara will rely on power from Borneo’s numerous coal-fired power plants until renewable energy gains greater ground.
Additionally, although the plans for well-designed public transport are meant to discourage cars, there will likely be extensive air travel between the new capital and Jakarta.
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Whilst the ideal of offering better economy and infrastructure to other Indonesian islands is worthwhile, this isn’t the reality for many of the locals who currently live on Borneo. Ironically, locals from Borneo are beginning to be displaced by the construction of the new capital, even though its ultimate purpose is to provide refuge for Indonesians. Locals have pointed out the increasing value of property where the new capital will be, but current landowners of the now-valuable real estate are being offered ridiculously low sums to sell.
This is one facet of the greater tension surrounding the controversial project – the age-old gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Although bureaucrats and other well-to-do Indonesians might be willing and able to make the transition between island cities, the bulk of Jakarta’s millions of residents will not. Initially, only 200,000 are expected to move to Nusantara.
The benefits of relocating will largely be available to those who already have the means to insulate themselves from the negative effects of living in Jakarta, like newer flood-proof buildings built in less polluted zones of the cities.
However, most of the Jakartan poor will be left to the mercy of the rising waves.
Additionally, although the seat of government will have been relocated, Jakarta is still expected to function as the centre of Indonesia’s economy for the foreseeable future.
The fantasy of an island escape will remain just that to many, a fantasy, and in the real world, the many problems facing Jakarta and its residents are going nowhere.
Vertical Villages: A local initiative lifting Jakarta out of the rising sea
Some residents have taken action into their own hands, tired of listening to threats of impending doom.
Elisa Sutanudjaja, an architect in Jakarta, is one of these people. Speaking about the elitism inherent in the Nusantara project, she said:
“Building a new capital doesn’t do anything for the current capital city. [The residents] will stay here…We have to find creative solutions and adapt to the new realities.”
In Sutanudjaja’s view, saving a city begins with saving those who are most vulnerable to disasters — the poor.
The architect, unsurprisingly, has chosen to tackle the issue of adequate housing for the city’s residents, many of whom live in shacks that are routinely ravaged by flooding.
In 2016, authorities cleared the Akuarium neighbourhood of North Jakarta by evicting residents to the outskirts of the city and offering social housing as a replacement.
According to Sutanudjaja, these people, who have lived all their lives in tiny, single-story houses, tend to be accustomed to the strong sense of community that underpins these neighbourhoods. Generally, they adapt poorly to the isolated high-rise apartments that comprise most social housing.
Sutanudjaja, along with local residents, protested the evictions in front of the Presidential Palace and, after discussions with residents, proposed a different style of purpose-built housing, one that takes from the compact nature of high rise apartment blocks and interweaves some more traditional elements of communal lifestyles.
She has dubbed these structures “vertical villages” and hopes the concept will provide a more practical solution for those who live in vulnerable housing, rather than relocating them somewhere new against their will, whether that be the outskirts of Jakarta or a different island altogether.
So, what is the difference between a high-rise of apartment blocks and a vertical village? It boils down to the essence of community. Many city dwellers will understand how a homogenous structure composed of identical single apartments can allow strangers to share stairwells and elevators without sharing so much as a name or a greeting.
However, in many societies, community is still inseparable from the issue of housing. The vertical villages in Jakarta, as the name implies, were planned with this aspect of urban development kept firmly in mind.
The success of a vertical village relies partly on diversifying the homogeny of an apartment block, which was done by simply including other elements that allow for activities that extend beyond the housing of individuals. A vertical village aims to provide the social coherence, spatial diversity and flexibility that apartment blocks lack by including facilities such as open public spaces and communal gathering areas fit for different purposes.
In Jakarta, Sutanudjaja’s vision for of vertical villages has come to life in the form of four-story structures that contain a total of 241 apartments. There are wide hallways where people can meet, laundry facilities, meeting rooms, and a library. One person has even set up a kiosk shop in front of his apartment.
The buildings were also built above flood levels, but able to withstand flooding nonetheless. Residents pay a fee to be part of a cooperative within the building, and part of this fee is set aside to pay for any future repairs caused by flooding or subsidence.
Although the original goal of the project was to avoid a high-rise style apartment block, this structure, which for all intents and purposes is still an apartment block at its core, was built to function as a traditional village and is able now to channel the benefits of compact housing for communal purposes.
Whether it is worthwhile to improve the habitability of Jakarta instead of simply letting it sink into the sea is a choice to be made by the people of the city. The success of the vertical village suggests that allowing the people of Jakarta to choose for themselves will help to prolong the life expectancy of this still vibrant city.
However, vertical villages would only solve one of the problems facing Jakarta, which still include a lack of infrastructure able to provide clean water, air pollution caused by vehicular congestion, and poor waste management systems.
But change always comes in steps rather than all at once. Hopefully, local initiative and innovation will continue to generate meaningful and solution-oriented projects in vulnerable areas across the globe.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A girl reading above Jakarta’s skyline. Featured Photo Credit: Satria SP.