Putting Jakarta into perspective
When one looks at a map of the island of Java, Jakarta seems so small compared to the rest of it. The land area of Jakarta is not even 1 percent of the land area of Java. But that is all that is small about Jakarta!
The population of Jakarta is more than 7 percent of the population of Java and the even more startling is the population of greater Jakarta, approximately 25 percent of the 120 million people of Java.
If Java Island was likened to a seesaw with Jakarta on the end and East Java on the other end, then the seesaw would always be tilted heavily toward Jakarta.
From an international perspective Jakarta is the 12th largest city based on its population and is also the 11th Megacity in the world.
Despite all of its problems, Jakarta is still a favorite investment destination and as a city it has gained a foothold in the international arena.
Managing Jakarta does not just mean focusing only on the 10 million people in the city, but also taking into account the rest of the people of Greater Jakarta (Jabodetabek), that is 28 million people, who come into Jakarta for work or other needs either every day, once a week or even once a month.
Jakarta and Jabodetabek, despite being different administrative areas cannot be separated, as people move in and out of these boundaries daily.
The local governments might be different but to the people concerned they are all the same, like water they flow from one area to the other.
Jakarta is the oldest child among Jabodetabek with its parents, the Central Government, trying to keep an eye on the development of the other children. Jakarta being the economic locomotive for Jabodetabek and the wider area has meant that Jakarta bears the brunt of this responsibility.
Bekasi, Bogor and Tangerang enjoy the fruits of development in Jakarta, as its residents make a good living in the capital city without these siblings really doing much to contribute to this development of Jakarta.
One never reads about concern for Jakarta from its siblings in Bekasi, Bogor or Tangerang. The main challenge for Jakarta is to ensure that intra regional cooperation between Jakarta and its siblings takes place in a sustained manner.
A good example is that Jakarta needs a large reservoir up in the mountain areas of Bogor to hold back the heavy rainfall in Bogor so that it does not come rushing down and flood Jakarta.
The water needs to be released by stages to give it time so that it can flow to the sea without inundating the residents of Jakarta living near the major waterways in the city. This, however, is apparently nearly impossible to implement.
Another example is traffic. There are 20.7 million trips made in and out of Jakarta every day either by car, motorbike, bus or train. Forty eight percent of these trips are people going to work and 30 percent students going to school.
Not to mention the increase of 320 new cars and 1,700 new motor bikes every day in the greater Jakarta area.
Who can stop this kind of economic development and tell motor bike factories to reduce production of motor bikes? Who should pay for the building of the transport infrastructure?
The growth in new vehicle ownership is 9.5 percent while the growth of roads is only 0.01 percent. Even if the Central Government decided to pour money into building news roads, the fact remains that there is now no more land in Jakarta to build these roads on.
The only way out of this problem, as we are seeing at the moment is to build elevated expressways on existing roads. Shanghai, the largest city in China is famous for this.
Whatever is said about the traffic of Jakarta today, the truth is that none of the previous managers of Jakarta prepared the transport infrastructure of the city to be able to cope with the 20.7 million daily trips.
Jakarta’s city planning has had a checkered history with many debates along the way about what should be done but in the end not much was done.
The idea that traffic jams will disappear overnight through good management is a fallacy. Past complaisant policy is part of the inheritance which Jakarta has to live with today.
Despite all the problems the city faces, there is perhaps another perspective worth thinking about.
An annual report released by The Brookings Institution in Washington called Global MetroMonitor 2011: Volatility, Growth and Recovery ranked Jakarta 17th out of 200 metropolitan areas in the world.
This rank was based on the fact that in the last five years there has been a 5.5 percent increase in income and 3 percent employment growth.
When compared to other international cities around the world the other side to Jakarta starts to emerge.
In this ranking, Sydney ranked 88th because its income increase was only 0.9 percent and employment growth 1.8 percent.
Paris is ranked 136th with an income increase of 0.9 percent while employment growth was 0.5 percent. Los Angeles ranked 144th with an income increase of 0.7 percent while employment growth was 0.4 percent.
Most interestingly, is that between 1993 and 2007 this institution ranked Jakarta 171st because income growth was only 0.6 percent and employment growth at 1.5 percent.
Thus between the years 2007 and 2011 Jakarta climbed the ranks from 171st to 17th. The question which needs to be asked is what happened?
Why did Jakarta make such a huge leap despite the traffic jams and the many other problem the city faces?
Jakarta’s ranking is also reflected in the fact that the Human Development Index of Jakarta is 78, while the national level of HDI according to the National Bureau of Statistics is 72.27.
The HDI speaks volumes as its measurements include health, education and many other factors which also reflect the fact that poverty in Jakarta is only 3.75 percent, way below the national levels of 12.49 percent.
As a famous wit once said “The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.”
The writer, a former journalist, is secretary-general of the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID). She was a recipient of the Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard University, in the class of 1994.