Jakarta : comment un village de 30 millions d’habitants est en train de devenir la locomotive d’une superpuissance économique émergente ?

Retranscription de la conférence du 19 janvier 2024 à Sciences Po (Paris)
Colloque Organic Cities



Date de publication

19 janvier 2024


20 mars 2024

Thank you very much for listening about Jakarta, a beautiful city. But if you read the headlines in newspapers, you will wonder if that city has got any future whatsoever. So it is very interesting to hear people discussing some of the issues of, for example, social housing. I thought, in particular, the comments on London were quite interesting because some of them would apply to Jakarta as well. I have a very different presentation. First of all, I’m not an urban planner whatsoever. I work for HSBC, a bank, and I’m an Asia specialist for them, you could say. I’ve lived in Asia for over 30 years. I am originally Dutch, but I hardly ever lived in this part of the world. I’ve lived in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Indonesia for quite a long time. We are going to talk about Jakarta which I wrote a book about “History of the Misunderstood City”.

Figure 1

I’m going to try to talk about Jakarta. I believe it’s an absolutely wonderful city. But most people that go to Jakarta, colleagues of mine, visit the place, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been there or if you’ve been to Bangkok or any of the other cities, they look horrendous on the first impression. And I’ll tell you a little bit why that is, but also why I think it is a very different city than what people believe it to be.

But it is also a very different city in the way it functions. Very often in some of the discussions that I was listening into, we’re talking about government policies. In Indonesia, city planning is almost absent. There are no government policies. So the city needs to deal with the problems in very different ways than what we are typically used to. And we’re going to talk about this as well.

1 Geography

Figure 2

So very quickly, where are we talking about? This is Indonesia, the archipelago. Jakarta is right here. I’m going to zoom in a little bit better.

Figure 3

This is the whole city. The greater city, Jakarta, is actually just a little bit around where that red dot is. That’s a large square right in the middle of the city. But actually, that’s an understatement. In Indonesia, people don’t talk that much about Jakarta anymore. They’re talking about Jabodetabek, because there are cities around it that have grown effectively into it. And that’s an agglomeration of about, give or take, 30 to 35 million people, depending on the time of the day you’re looking at. People move in and out of the city. So it’s 30, 35 million people that live in this particular area. Now, this is the city.

Figure 4

But now let’s take out everything human-made, and look at the natural circumstances of this particular town. There are mountains to the south and a lot of rivers going to the sea. If you want to build a city, that is not a good place. You’re stuck in the middle of the rivers. Actually, there was no plan to build a city here originally. It just happened over time. And I’ll explain to you how that occurred.

2 Massive flooding

The problem is, of course, if you get a little bit of rain… And this is a tropical country, right? In the rainy season, you have massive downpours. All that water pours down the mountains, trying to reach the sea.

Figure 5

This is called “Banjir”. I’ve had my feet wet myself, or I have been in taxis when the water comes in. There is massive flooding. This is not only an infrastructure problem. It is also a political problem. There are waterways in the city, but they can’t deal with it. So there are people that need to make a decision at some point in time. There’s a deluge coming. What part of the city am I going to put under water? And of course, it’s the poorest parts that always are under water, and the richer parts that are taken care of.

3 Traffic jam

Figure 6

You also have other problems, such as traffic jam. This is your normal traffic jam in Jakarta. It takes, on average, for a lot of people, about two hours to get to the office, and two hours in the afternoon to get back. My brother-in-law leaves at about 4.30 or 5 in the morning. That sounds very early, but in a tropical climate, it is cooler. Also, Muslims start to pray early in the morning, and then they simply go to the office. So they make a living around this. A subway has recently been constructed too. It is about 25, 30 years late, but at least we have one subway line in the city now. A second one is coming soon. So some infrastructure is actually being put in place. This is the second problem that we have in addition to the massive flooding.

4 A sinking city?

Figure 7

And this is the biggest problem. This is the northern part of Jakarta. If you read the news about this city, you wonder if the city has got any future whatsoever. There is global warming, water is rising, and the city is sinking… which is not a really good combination. When I arrived in Jakarta, you could walk to this mosque. Of course, it is not a mosque anymore, but you could walk into this mosque. This is the northern part of Jakarta. We’re now 25 years later. I arrived in 1990, so it’s a bit longer than that. 30, 35 years later, and you can see you can swim there now, and you can have a bit of an illustration of how much the city has sunk. We’re talking about three or four meters or so. Now, that’s of course not very handy if you got large commercial real estate being built just behind there. Do you really want to buy that property? Do you really want to live there? You wonder why people do so.

5 Today’s problems mirrored in history

Figure 8

I’m going to now go a little bit through history. I said I am not an urban planner. I work for a bank. I am an Asia specialist. I am also a bit of a historian. I like Indonesian history. As I said, the city was never planned to be built here. The only reason why people were living originally in the location was that, apparently, there were some beautiful coconut trees, part of the city was simply called “beautiful coconuts”, and it was a place where it was easy for ships to hang around, trade, and go out without being impacted by the large concurrence in the northern sea, the Java Sea. So it became a port. It had a name, Coconut. Eventually, there were two cities, east and west of it, that had a war. One of the cities attacked the other one, and on the way back, they decided we’re going to take this coconut place in as well. Why not? They had a small fight over it, and because they wanted to claim victory over the other city that they had won, they called this the victorious city, which is, in Malay, Jayakarta, and that is originally where the city’s name came from.

Now, Portuguese traders came in, started to trade. The Dutch came in. The English came in. The Javanese were there. The Arabs were there. They all started to fight. In the end, the Dutch won, and they said, “We’re going to burn the whole place down.” That’s the approach they had at the time. They burned the whole place down and built up a whole new city, and it was called Batavia for a long time. Only in the 1940s, they changed it. That was when the Japanese occupied Indonesia. They couldn’t pronounce Jayakarta, so they said, “Can we make it Jakarta?”. And that is where the name originally came from.

6 1600s: Batavia

Figure 9

Now, let’s go back to the very origins, to the 1600s when the city was built. This is a map, but I’m going to show you a picture here.

Figure 10

This is looking at the city from the sea, so you look from north to south. You see a castle. This is now a Dutch city. The Dutch have arrived. They want to trade: they have some warehouses, some housing. In the back, on the other side of the river, this is called the Chilewong River. There were also gardens where they could grow some food, and what did the Dutch do? They started to make canals. They tried to build a new sort of Amsterdam right there. In 1620, when they started to build up this castle, it immediately started to sink. By 1623, they had to stop the whole thing up because of this, and why is that the case? Mud comes down the mountains you can see here. It sills up. It’s a muddy city. So they needed to deal with flooding and sinking already in the 1620s.

Figure 11

Now, let’s go a little bit further. This is the same city. It was apparently a very beautiful city at the time. This is called the Tiger Canal. It was, then, an extremely cosmopolitan city. There were Arabs. There were Chinese. There were Dutch. There were some English and Norwegians or maybe French people walking around here and there. All kinds of people came here to trade.

Figure 12

And this is a computer simulation of the maps that a museum in Holland has made. You can see the castle there. It’s sinking.

This was made later. They’ve studied the castle up already. You can see the mountains on the other side.

Figure 13

This is a painting made only a couple of decades later. This is right in the heart of the city, “Batavia” at that time, as it was on that map that I showed you earlier on. You are now looking at the castle from the other side. Now, you can see some trading markets here, but there’s three things I’d like to show you. On the very right, you see some Chinese trading. In the middle, underneath a sort of umbrella, there’s a Dutch and an Indonesian or a Dutch couple that’s walking around. But I want to highlight the guy that stands there looking as if he’s looking out at the painting, and I’m going to zoom in on him.

Figure 14

He doesn’t look Indonesian at all. He actually is a Tamil. What happened is that in 1941, the Dutch wanted to kick the Portuguese out of the region. They attacked Malacca, which is in Malaysia. They won, but they didn’t want that city, so they gave it to the Malaysians. They went back, and a lot of people lived there. There were Tamil and Arab and Indian traders. They moved to Indonesia, to Batavia as well.

Now, in those days, the city was separated. You had an area where the Dutch lived. You had an area where the Chinese lived. Now, these new people came in, and they said, “Well, you’re going to live in a corner.” Actually, if you ever go to Jakarta, you will see that there is still a Rua Malacca, where these people used to live, the Malacca Street. The Javanese were not allowed in the city, because there were so many of them that the Dutch were scared to have them attack in the middle of the night, and take over the whole town. After five o’clock, the Javanese had to leave the city, and only the Chinese and those people from India were allowed in.

The interesting thing is that those Indians started to mingle and create a sort of new identity over the next century or so, and that identity is still there. We now call them the original Batavian people, Batawi in Indonesian, and they have their own sort of dress, and they have their own big puppets. So if you ever go to the city, you see the big puppets, you know those are people that are from the original days, the original clans, you could say, from the city. They have Portuguese music. They had, in the past, a darker shade of skin color that has faded over the years. They have Dutch dresses. So a very unique culture started to emerge.

Figure 15

But when you put a lot of different people together, something goes wrong at some particular point in time, and this happened disastrously in the 1700s, whereby the Dutch, in about three days’ time, killed as many Chinese as they could. It was horrendous, it was genocidal. And in 1740, I did some family history, turns out my great-great-great-great-grandfather was heavily involved with this genocide, not a really good part of the family history. So the Dutch killed a lot of Chinese, and they said, “You can’t live in the city anymore. You now need to live just south of the city, and let’s make a Chinatown.” That was a solution that they came up with.

7 Problems: floodings, social inequality & diseases

Figure 16

Now that was one problem. So you have a racial problem in this city. Another problem started to emerge in 1733. For the sailors that came from Europe in those days, that arrived in Batavia, after the first year, the mortality rate was around 6% - 10%. But in 1733, that suddenly jumped up to about 70%. And the Dutch had no idea what this was. The suspicion was that the Chinese were behind this, because the Chinese didn’t die. They thought it was something in the tea leaves. What they didn’t realize is that if you make tea, you boil the water. The problem was the water. It became a dirty city. The city became crowded. The canals were clogging up. The mosquitoes came in. Malaria was everywhere. Diseases became a massive problem.

Figure 17

You now have a city where floodings are a massive problem, where you have massive social inequality, to the sense of it exploding once in a while, and you have all sorts of diseases going through the city as well. These are exactly the three key problems that Jakarta is facing right now. So maybe we can go through history and see how the city has dealt with it in the past to understand how it might deal with it today. And again, there is no city planning. There is a mayor, but he’s running for president. He’s got a different agenda. So the city needs to deal with it in itself.

8 1700s: move into Ommelanden

Figure 18

Now, first of all, what do you, if you live in a city where there’s a lot of diseases going around, and you are rich? You move out. So the rich people started to move out, to the surrounding lands (Ommelanden, in Dutch : “surrounding the city”). And some of these places are still part of Jakarta. This is now a museum for the National Archives. There’s a beautiful old house that still stands there.

Figure 19

This is a map of the city by the 1800s. We have in the very north the castle with the original city that I spoke about earlier on, with a bunch of canals that the Dutch had built. The red dot is where that house is, that we’ve just seen. That is now a museum. And what did they do? They were worried that there would be attacks, so they had five canals dug, two forts to make sure that they could defend that area surrounding the city, that is where a lot of the houses went to. But this became a big magnet, so all sorts of other people were coming in. People living in Bali said, “Let’s go and find a job in Batavia,” and would move here. And what, of course, happens is that somebody in Bali said, “My uncle Idi or my neighbor, Ketut, went there two years ago. Go there, ask for him, and go live there.” So you had certain areas where the Balinese would go to. That is called Kampung Bali. The Ambonese, went to the Moluccas, Kampung Ambon. The Buginese went to Sulawesi Island, Kampung Bugis. So you had homogenous sort of units starting to build up in that area surrounding the land around Batavia. In addition to that, the richer Dutch, French or Europeans moved out, and around their houses, they started building markets. And these markets would go on a rotating schedule (five or six days a week). So you had a Sunday market, a Monday market, a Tuesday market, a Thursday and a Friday market.

One of these estates is called Weltervereden, which in Dutch means “I’m very content living here.” And the market next to it is called the Monday market. So a new structure started to emerge. But important here is that it had all these individual homogenous units that moved on their own. The Dutch didn’t really care what happened in these kampungs. And they said, “You take care of yourself.”If you have massive problems that are sort of intra-city related, “we’ll help you out.” But, for example, to the Chinese community, they said, “Justice, police, anything else, you deal with it yourself.”We deal with us. The Japanese deal with themselves”. “The Balinese deal with themselves.” So these became independent units. These small homogenous units are called kampungs. This is the secret of Jakarta.

Figure 20

That’s where, I think, the solution for the city lies.

Figure 21

Now, as I said, if you live close to the sea and the city is sinking, that’s not good. So you move out and you move south because you move towards the mountains where it’s higher up. So the richer people moved out. At some point in time, around 1811, they decided to move the whole city out. “Let’s put the government somewhere else.” And they did it. In 1811, they moved to that Welterverden, that “very content estate” that I mentioned earlier on. The Dutch built some really nice infrastructure for themselves.

That is a building called the Harmony, where people would come in the afternoon and read their newspapers and stuff like that. Very nice. There is a French-Parisian fashion retailer, Ogre, that came into town. It looks quite pleasant, it makes you want to live there.

Figure 22

But you go around the corner, and this is where the Indonesians and the Japoneses had to live. With no facilities whatsoever. No public facilities of water either. So they dug a lot of pumps. And until now, large parts of Jakarta have no water supply provided for by the government. There’s no piped water. So most houses have pumps, still like they had 200 years ago. If you go into Jakarta, you can ask somebody, “How deep is the water level below your house?” They’ll know exactly, “Oh, it’s seven and a half meters.” Thousands of these pumps were established by the Indonesians pretty much by themselves. The Dutch didn’t really do that, in order to get access to water in the areas where they now had moved to. That hasn’t really changed.

Figure 23

This is quickly showing you one of the nice hotels. This is one of the most expensive hotels in the 1920s in the whole of Asia.

Figure 24

Literally, if you stood in front of the hotel, this is a picture that looks on the other opposite side. You can see that the Indonesians had to deal with some of the more difficult facilities that were not provided to them.

9 After 1945: Jakarta booms

Then we go fast forward. 1945, 1940s, the Japanese arrive. The Dutch get kicked out. Indonesia booms. Jakarta booms. The city grows from about 3 million to over 30 million today. It is an absolutely enormous growth. It is a big magnet. It has always been a magnet, but it becomes an even bigger magnet.

Figure 25

Everywhere you are around the city, you can easily get noodles from Aceh, food from Bangka (an island off the coast of Sumatra), and some people sell stuff from Java. All sorts of different people came to Jakarta in the 1950s and ’60s, and they did exactly what these people did hundreds of years ago. They said, “Uncle Edie lives there and there.”Go there. “He might help you find a job in the informal sector somewhere.”And he probably runs a restaurant, and you can do something with him.”

Thousands of small restaurants were then being set up, or small service providers, but always in these homogenous sort of units where people came together, where the Balinese or the Bugis or the Ambonese, started to live. And over some point in time, the government tried to start formalizing that. It was a way for them to start to control the city a little bit better.

Figure 26

Modern Jakarta, it’s still sinking. It sucks the water from underneath the city with all the pumps that people have. It becomes a heavier place as well if you put larger buildings on it. So it’s sinking on one side into the sea. People move up north, but they’re still taking all the water away from underneath the city, so that sinking will continue to about 15 centimeters every year. That’s not a good idea, but this is the reality you have to live with.

Figure 27

One of the solutions is just to build a whole new capital and move somewhere else. Just close the damn thing, just move off. And this is one of the solutions that they are working on. It costs $35 billion. It’s probably going to cost much more. This was $35 billion estimated only a couple of years ago. But they’re building on it. There’s an election coming up in about a month’s time in Indonesia. We’ll see what the new president is going to do, but most likely they will continue with it. And the idea is that by 2030, they’re hoping to have 1.5 million people in a new city called Nusantara. Now, 1.5 million people doesn’t really change the city too much if you’ve got 35 million people living in Greater Jakarta. But that is one of the solutions that you could adopt.

10 Jakarta, a living city?

Figure 28

But I think there’s something else going on. These homogenous units in the city have been formalized and everybody knows their own number. Every household has a number. And a unit of, say, 50 houses or 100 houses has a number as well. It’s called an RT or RW number. It stands for Rukun Tetangga and Rukun Barga, which is this Indonesian word for neighborhood association.

Figure 29

This is a picture of a street very close to where my wife lives. And there’s three things I want to show you. At the very top, this is from Google Earth, the housing estate where we go in here, with probably around 50 houses, and you can see the RT and RW number. It is also indicated on the street. And you can see they can close this area. It is still a self-contained sort of small unit. They close it in the evenings. A guard sits there. He knows who comes in and out. In that particular unit, there is a chairman, a volunteer who lives there, an elderly man, most of the time. He knows the name of all the people who live there. If you have family or friends staying, you should go to his house and write that down as well so he knows exactly the amount of people in that particular small unit. During COVID, all these units operated subtly independently. There would be people standing here and then saying, “We don’t know you. We know the people here.”Nobody’s got COVID. You stay out. We don’t know you.” So you needed to convince these people in order to come in by proving you knew someone living there.

There are millions of these smaller RTs and RWs, if we can call them like that, in Jakarta.

Figure 30

This is a place where I lived, Pasamingu, south of Jakarta. It’s called the Sunday Market for the reasons I mentioned. They are rotating markets. You can see again, they can close it off. That white house is where the civilians, the people sit.

Figure 31

This is how it looks on the inside. It is very lively. It is very nice. And in a lot of these neighborhoods, actually, it is very clean. Actually, there is not much traffic in between these neighborhoods either.

Figure 32

This is how it looks in the evening. It really lightens up because everybody has got their small shop. People come out. It’s tropical. It is a very nice atmosphere. So if you ever go to Jakarta, and you think it is a bad city as you see the traffic jams, you need to go out and just walk around there to get a completely different vibe.

Figure 33

The secret of the future of this city, I think, lies here as well. Because these people in these units, take care of themselves. If somebody is sick, the other people in the unit feel compelled to help that particular person. He needs to go to a doctor. He doesn’t have money. They’ll take care of it. The chairman, the ketua, as they call it, will typically be the one who asks everybody to chip in a little bit of money. But also, if you have floods, and the water is coming into your small neighborhood, well, you need to clean up your own canals. So they clean up their own canals. And if it is hot, you get together and plant trees. Work is done at that community level, 50 houses, to make sure that trees are being planted, the gutters are being cleaned, the houses are being painted. You take care of yourself. There is even an Indonesian word for this. It’s called “gotong royong”, which means something like mutual assistance. We take care of our own, but in a very friendly sort of way.

Now, the thing, of course, is, if you do that, in one unit, and you’ve got five million of them, then actually the whole city can be seen as a living organism, a cellular structure. Which is not governed from the top down directed by government policies, but by individual and independent initiatives through smaller solutions. And by adding this all up, it actually starts to morph itself and deal with the massive problems that the city has. The city moves south, it moves towards the mountains, it cleans up the gutters, it tries to deal with the water that comes in.

If you cannot deal and there’s still too much water coming in, the soccer fields are being dug deep so they can become a capture area for a couple of years, avoiding floods for some of the larger houses in the surroundings.

Figure 34

If you have all of these small changes, if you put it all together, that can actually make a real big difference. So the city has had massive problems for the last 400 years, and this is how it dealt with them. If we read the newspapers and think about Jakarta and ask: “Does the city have any future at all?” It has, but it operates and functions in a completely different way than what we are used to. There are no government policies that support it.

11 The future lies in the Kampung

Figure 35

So what does the city need to do? Continue to do exactly what it has always done. It is an organic solution.

It needs to build a capture area. It does need better infrastructure. Yes, we can try to move it to another capital. I’m not a big fan of it, but so be it. It is what they want to do. We need to create the attractiveness of other closer cities as well to alleviate the pressure on the city. If you have employment in other parts of Java, in other parts of Indonesia, people wouldn’t come and flood this city. And Indonesians are actually working on this to a large extent as well.

I do hope you go visit, and if you do ever visit Jakarta, go out in these smaller kampungs. Very friendly people, lovely atmosphere, and you now understand how that city works and how it deals with the issues that it’s confronted with.



@inproceedings{van der linde2024,
  author = {Van der Linde, Herald},
  publisher = {Sciences Po \& Villes Vivantes},
  title = {Jakarta : comment un village de 30 millions d’habitants est
    en train de devenir la locomotive d’une superpuissance économique
  date = {2024-01-19},
  url = {https://papers.organiccities.co/jakarta-comment-un-village-de-30-millions-d-habitants-est-en-train-de-devenir-la-locomotive-d-une-superpuissance-economique-emergente.html},
  langid = {fr}
Veuillez citer ce travail comme suit :
Van der Linde, H. (2024, January 19). Jakarta : comment un village de 30 millions d’habitants est en train de devenir la locomotive d’une superpuissance économique émergente ? Organic Cities, Paris. Sciences Po & Villes Vivantes. https://papers.organiccities.co/jakarta-comment-un-village-de-30-millions-d-habitants-est-en-train-de-devenir-la-locomotive-d-une-superpuissance-economique-emergente.html