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Jakarta Post

In elections, cities matter

  • Astrid Haryati

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, July 5, 2014   /  10:12 am

In a few days we will define the course of our nation by selecting the top pair. This exercise in democracy is expected to drive our economic growth through channels and hotspots across the country. Along the coastlines and the mountainous regions, cities '€” small and large '€” matter as economic acupuncture spots. They either work wonders or break our backs.

Why should we care about our cities during this election time?  

Statistics point to an undeniable picture of urban movement that exposes our savvy political trick-bags, or lack thereof. If led well, cities can enlighten us with action-driven initiatives and forge real consensus. That means investment. Real rupiah and dollars. Real and committed professionals. And also the real faces of families and children.

But first of all, the overall key performance indicators for attracting investment to Indonesia should be an organic and comprehensive relationship between regional economic leadership and domestic capacity building and redevelopment. Infrastructure rebuilding efforts should inform our educational priorities to produce skilled professionals. Livable communities within acceptable transit distances must support industrial added-value strategies. And so on.

How do we do that with some under-skilled and under-supported urban managers around the country?

 For once, renewed national leadership on city redevelopment could break open the corrosive and shut gate of progress toward a better quality of living for urban dwellers. Economic priorities connecting a network of different sized cities could put the engine back under the car'€™s hood from the back of a raging bull. An urban rural network would then form a fishnet effect that would bring sustained currents to all points. This should be done with care and fairness for fellow Indonesians from Sabang to Merauke.

We all should desire vibrant cities with clear priorities and commitments on public transportation, with brave and resolute hands on transforming gray to green infrastructure, with real people-oriented social and cultural facilitations beyond the rhetoric and cosmetic layers, and with responsible insights.

We can have such cities, and should start with this presidential election.

'€œStart'€ is the key word. Either pair elected by the power of our people must work with all of us to regain credibility as a dependable partner, to each other and to friends of the country. Leveraging partners are a must in the 21st century, where public-private partnerships mean sustainable societal support and a glimpse of a possible economic '€œgreat leap forward'€.

The most desirable cities socioeconomically may be the most well-balanced ones that offer both resources to businesses and livability to residents. Wise eyes are always on the horizon, where Indonesian intellectual capital leads the region to transform an economy based on raw materials into one that offers innovation and enhanced products and services.  

Quality of life becomes a critical vessel in retaining the required capital, not only to sustain a reasonable push forward but, most importantly, to commit to an incremental investment in future generations.

Indeed, intellectual capital is at the core of a nation'€™s appeal. And cities do the job of attracting, retaining, and helping to advance their contributions.

Therefore, a more conducive business environment should be emphasized. A combination of forward-thinking and practical approaches to sociopolitical landscapes of opportunities in our cities should be nurtured and optimized.

 From the cities'€™ old towns to the latest blooming regions, our country'€™s leader should place clear priorities on proven components of a better quality of life for residents and visitors alike. We should combine sociopolitical insights with urban economics and data-driven city management strategies.

Do not mistake surgical and selective intervention into the urban environment as a low-return investment strategy. A more nimble and legible scale of action could bring real texture to meaningful progress on behalf of the large-scale infrastructure projects necessary for the country.  

We will not fail to choose our leaders in a few days. We must choose to start progressing.

The writer is an award-winning architect and CEO of Terra Lumen Indonesia, former deputy to leading green city mayors of Chicago and San Francisco and former Cabinet special staffer.

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