President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo surprised us this week when he revealed the plan to move the capital city. The idea is not new, but the fact that Jokowi, who is on course for a second term, discussed it at a Cabinet meeting as the administration prepares next year’s budget suggests that he might be serious this time around.
The plan has never been completely off the table, although the discourse has only emerged whenever Jakarta, the overcrowded, congestion-riddled city that suffers from seasonal floods, shows signs of failure as a city.
But the options laid out have not convinced the public that it will happen in the next 10 years. The government singled out provinces in Kalimantan and Sulawesi as a way to break free from Java-centric development.
This has raised eyebrows for several reasons. Central Sulawesi was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, which was followed by soil liquefaction, in September last year and the province is still rebuilding.
Kalimantan might be a better choice. Geologists have said it has avoided earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but its vast tropical forests have continued to be burned to make way for plantations, producing haze. The extractive industry has caused the death of hundreds who fall into abandoned pits, while other forms of environmental degradation have raised more doubts on the restoration of damaged areas to allow for the development of a functional new capital.
Infrastructure development on both islands will be costly as roads and rail networks struggle to link villages, cities and regencies. The government will need Rp 450 trillion (US$32 billion) to build the new capital, not to mention resettle workers and their families from Jakarta.
More cost-efficient plans for a new capital may be available in places closer to Jakarta, where infrastructure does not need to be built from scratch and where land banks are available. The experience of the Sunda Strait tsunami on Java’s western tip and seasonal tidal floods in Jakarta mean coastal areas are not among the options. Neither are sites near active volcanoes.
The massive development of railways in Greater Jakarta and a high-speed train that will link Jakarta and Bandung may provide the government with some options. Not only have the areas been connected with toll or rail roads, they will be served by the LRT that is expected to run above the Jagorawi toll road. The areas are also closer to industrial zones in Karawang and Bekasi, as well as other cities in West Java.
By designing more cost-efficient plans, the government can still allocate funds to build more growth centers outside Java, which later should be conveniently linked to the island.
The government should make sustainability a priority in developing the new capital. Without considering access to water, sanitation systems and proper drainage, the government will only repeat its mistakes in city planning.
Another task will be rebuilding Jakarta, the country’s commercial hub, as a better place to live.