The Jakarta Post, Fitrian Ardiansyah, Canberra | Wed, 03/21/2012 9:59 AM
Recent news on the lead up to the Jakarta gubernatorial election has reminded people about the importance of the immediate future of this great big capital city and the people who live within its city limits.
Jakarta, for some, is considered as a source of economic opportunities, a stepping stone to living the “Indonesian dream”.
For others, it is a constant reminder of a harsh day-to-day life, facing the consequences of urban environmental mismanagement such as traffic gridlock, flooding, air and water pollution.
Yet, like a magnet, those who have left will likely return, new people will turn up and the majority who stay will continue to call this city their home.
Jakarta has a stunning history. From a small port on the estuary of the Ciliwung River around 500 years ago, Jakarta has significantly transformed itself into Indonesia’s economic and political hub.
The city is a busy and crowded melting pot and is now one of the biggest cities on Earth.
The latest statistics suggest that Jakarta’s population has reached 9.6 million (with a growth rate of 1.40 percent per year) — among the top 10 most populous cities in the world — while the Greater Jakarta Metropolitan Area is home to 27.9 million people (the growth rate is 3.6 percent per year).
Jakarta’s population density is estimated at around 14,500 per square kilometer, ranking 17th of 125 big cities in the world.
According to Prof. Tommy Firman of the Bandung Institute of Technology, the population growth in Jakarta and its greater area can be attributed to net migration and reclassification (i.e. change in rural localities to urban localities).
The accelerating growth in population in the city is due to, among other factors, its significant economic growth. It was recorded that last year, economic growth in Jakarta reached 16.5 percent, the highest in Indonesia.
Although having the highest economic growth in the country, Jakarta still falls behind other big cities in the world, particularly when it comes to personal earnings and purchasing power.
A report released last year by UBS reveals that Jakarta has the lowest rank (number 73 of 73 big cities assessed) in terms of domestic purchasing power, even compared to Manila, Nairobi and Mumbai. It is, however, slightly better (number 70) than these three cities in terms of gross wages.
Its iPod index — a calculation on how long an employee would have to work to be able to afford an iPod nano with 8 GB storage in each city — ranks 65 in 2009, which is lower than Bangkok (much lower than Zurich or New York) but higher than Delhi, Manila and Mumbai.
This means that an average wage-earner in Zurich and New York can buy an iPod nano after nine hours of work. Workers in Jakarta, however, need to work 93 hours (or 10 nine-hour days) to purchase the same gadget.
Regardless of these figures, the economic spectrum of Jakarta is still very attractive to millions of people.
This tremendous economic boost, combined with decades of land-use and urban management (or the lack of it), however, also brings about unwanted consequences.
Jakarta has been well-known for its seasonal but intensified flooding. Flooding in 2007 affected 80 subdistricts, causing traffic chaos and paralyzing the city. The Indonesian government estimates that losses amounted to Rp 4.1 trillion (US$450 million).
Every year, the city government promises to make various efforts to prevent major floods from inundating the capital city.
Last year, the Jakarta city administration had to allocate Rp 1.36 trillion to support these actions.
With only 9.79 percent of green space in 2010, continuous overdevelopment inside the catchment areas and nearby rivers that cannot discharge water into the sea since they are clogged with waste, the city will have little capacity to absorb a high level of rainfall and prevent flooding.
Another major but daily headache for Jakartans is the continuous horror of its traffic. A 2011 study released by the Jakarta Transportation Agency estimated that traffic congestion costs the city up to Rp 46 trillion a year.
Another figure from the Transportation Ministry claims that congestion costs Rp 28.1 trillion each year, accounting for wasted fuel, productivity lost and traffic-induced health problems.
Promises after promises have been made by the city administration to address these issues and the people of Jakarta have waited long enough to see if these are going to be put into action.
With the upcoming election of their governor, Jakartans now have a greater chance to demand more and push the incumbent and other candidates further to not only promise a better Jakarta but also to come up with ambitious and clear action plans to improve the city.
Impossible is nothing, says one ad. Jakarta can be changed into a better and livable place. Jakarta’s citizens can ask their government — and the future government — to learn from the success of cities in other developing countries.
Mexico City, Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro, for instance, as part of the commitment by their political leaderships to improve the living conditions of their citizens, have gradually changed their images for the better by establishing environmental policies, programs and actions, developing innovative and creative modes of public transportation, and instituting a high degree of public participation and engagement in environment-related issues.
It is now the right time for Jakartans to voice their concerns louder, by ensuring that they elect the right candidate for the position of governor.
Being apathetic is not an option, since the immediate and possibly long-term fate of Jakarta will be decided in this upcoming election.
The writer is a native Jakartan, doctoral candidate at the Australian National University and recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.
This article is reposted in East Asia Forum: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/04/07/jakarta-s-gubernatorial-election-a-time-for-change/