Indonesia’s urban development challenges

Tommy Firman, Bandung | Sat, 02/05/2011 12:50 PM |

According to the 2010 census the total population of Indonesia is 237.5 million people, about a half whom, or 118 million people, live in urban areas. This implies that urban development will become a more pressing issue in the country.
Urban development issues should be understood not only in recognizable everyday problems, such as traffic congestion, slums and crime, but also needs to be viewed within the broader context of socio-economic and political dynamics, as well as geographical/physical conditions, at the global, regional, and local levels.
Cities play an important role in the national economy, as more than half of the national Gross Domestic Products is generated from the cities. There are some issues of urban development in this decade which the central and local governments, as well as other stakeholders, have to address.
First, the global economy has greatly affected the development of big cities, such as Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan, which have been integrated into the global urban system in Asia, or even the world, centered in Tokyo and Singapore, New York and London, which is driven by global capital.
Wellerstein coined the term “World Capitalist System”, which divides the world into three major categories: The Center, Semi-Periphery, and Periphery. Cities could also be divided into these categories due to the advancement of information and transportation technology, which no longer imposes geographic boundaries on the flow of people, goods, capital and information.
Moreover, the development of industrial production technologies has paved the way for production of components in various locations to be finally assembled in a particular location. In turn, it has created efficient division of work and labor.
Central to this division of work is competitiveness of the cities which is a function of the availability of infrastructure, facilities and amenities and the level of livability. Those in the periphery can actually improve the status to the category of semi-periphery if they can improve the level of competitiveness.
However, many urban experts argue that the large cities in developing countries only serve the global capitalist system, with very weak linkages to the national economy.
Second, from a national perspective, urban development of cities in Indonesia also reflects regional disparities. Urbanization and development of urban economic activities are still heavily concentrated in big cities, particularly Greater Jakarta, Surabaya and its buffer cities, and Greater Bandung, while the development of cities outside Java remains slow, with the exception of Medan, Palembang, Makassar and Manado.
The disparities are not surprising because the infrastructure and facilities for the development of economic and business activities are concentrated in large cities.
Issues of national urban development also include urban poverty, rural-urban migration and the informal sector. These problems have been recognized in Indonesia’s explicit urban development policies, such as the National Urban Development Strategy and the National Spatial Plan, but in reality these policies are ineffective because they are not elaborated systematically into more detailed programs and not used as a reference for sectoral development, both at national and regional levels.
On the contrary, even the implicit policies, or sectoral policies that do not have any intention to intervene in the development of the city, in reality has greatly influenced the development of cities and worked very effectively, such as deregulation packages that were launched in the mid-1990s.
Third, climate change will have a significant impact on urban development, including floods due to abnormal rainfall, and floods from rising sea levels that occur more frequent on the north coast of Java for instance. The impact of this in turn can cause severe damage to infrastructure, human settlements, and adversely affect the urban and national economic activity. It is imperative to conduct necessary mitigation, i.e. physical control over these impacts, and adaptation efforts.
Fourth, in a broader environmental context, the issue of urban development is sustainability.
Environmental problems facing major cities and medium and even small towns include ineffectiveness and inefficiency in water resources utilization, massive and uncontrolled land conversion, land subsidence due to heavy building construction and uncontrolled underground water pumping, solid waste and liquid waste management which is beyond the ability of most city and district governments and inadequate green open spaces.
The pattern of ribbon development (sprawl) in urban areas has resulted in traffic congestion along the main arterial roads as well as a longer vehicle trip, which could emit more gas.
Fifth, the urban development has to deal with the inadequate infrastructure and urban facilities.
Meanwhile, development of new towns, luxury apartments and super malls is increasingly sharpening the dualistic socio-economic conditions in the cities, which in turn will lead to segmentation of urban space. Another problem to address is violations of urban spatial planning for development of these activities for several reasons, including an increase in regional revenue.
Sixth, the spatial planning law requires that the planning, utilization and control of urban space involve all stakeholders in the process, by applying the principle of efficiency and effectiveness, transparency and accountability, which are principles of good governance. This will be a new exercise for most of the local governments. There is also a need to enhance the capacity of the city government to improve the provision of public services and to deal with poverty.
Seventh, in the euphoria of political reform many city and district governments suffer from the syndrome of “regional egoism”. This includes inward looking, in which they do not see the city as part of the wider region. Such a narrow viewpoint would be a constraint for urban development.
Today the need for the presence of inter-city cooperation for development purposes is even more pressing, while their experience remains very limited. There is an urgent need for good transformative leaders who can translate their broad vision into applicable development programs. Fortunately, there are only a few regional heads with such qualities.

The writer is a professor at the Bandung Institute of Technology


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