Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jakarta flood and urbanization failure

One big reason for the Jakarta flooding is our failure to urbanize properly. As Lefebvre said, everything is now essentially "urban": from the Thamrin-Sudirman corridor, to the mountains of Puncak in West Java, even to the forests of Papua - meaning they are under the power of urban capital interests.

So why shouldn't the old natural flood plains of Jakarta (now places called Pantai Indah Kapuk and Kelapa Gading) fall into urban interests, as every place has? Why - specifically in Jakarta - do such interests manifest in extreme forms: building settlements where there should be none, thus risking their lives and the lives of others? Quite simple: no choice.

People need to live in the city, and they couldn't. I mean, if apartments cost Rp 10 million per square meter (and renting is far from cheap, too), then how many people can afford to live in the city? Naturally, sprawl happens. Destruction of nature is not only due to rich people wanting to have grand villas in Puncak, but also our failure to urbanize Jakarta properly.

But this may about to change. Remember Jusuf Kalla's wild idea (i.e. here and here) to build 20-storey public low income flats (rumah susun) all over big cities in Indonesia? Well, that may soon materialize (although hopefully the Government will not take his words literally!). Last week, the President just approved the exemption of value added tax (PPN) of rumah susun development by developers. The BTN bank apparently is quite excited. They've allocated Rp 1 trillion for financing this. The Director said,
If the Government can provide interest rate subsidy of 3%, then that will bring the interest rate down from currently 14% to 11%.
Hey, 11% is quite close to the 10% that Ciputra wanted. Last year, the big real estate mogul said that if he gets 10% rate, he is "willing to invest whatever it takes to build low-income flats in Jakarta."

Are we about to see a better urbanization of Jakarta?

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  1. actually, i don't understand the problem of people living in flood plains -- as long as they know that they are building on flood plains.

    they take their chances.

    i would see a problem if houses built on flood plains would affect houses elsewhere - i think the real problem is house building in bogor and punjak...

  2. I agree that one of the reasons for Jakarta’s flood is due to the failure of this city to provide for urbanization. However, I would be careful about giving too much credit for people having no choice.

    The government had the choice and they chose to sell the area allocated for the green to the upper-middle residential area. Developers couldn’t have built the area if they didn’t get permission from the government. They could have planned how the housing areas, being in the flood plains, should anticipate flooding. But they didn’t choose to.

    Likewise, people couldn’t have inhabited the area if the area was not developed. After considering other choices, they decided to live in the area and like John said, decided to take their chances. What we don’t know is whether or not the inhabitants were made aware of the fact that their houses were built on flood plains. So they could’ve chosen without knowing the full implication of their choice.

    Urbanization, sprawl and development (of Puncak) are perhaps inevitable, but I think the government has the choice to either control it or simply let it be. They chose to let it go uncontrolled. And so it goes for other things.

    I think in any situation people always have choices; it’s a matter of which one they choose. People often choose not to do anything and not making any choice for the reason that they don’t want to take responsibility or repercussion of their choice. What we often forget is not doing anything and not making any choice is also a decision, and as such we can’t get away from the repercussions although we can deny taking any responsibility.

  3. John,
    If there's houses there, then it's no longer flood plain, right? A settlement area can't absorb water as much as a proper flood plain can.

    I must admit that I didn't distinguish the people from the developers and the government. They're all intermingled here, although each play a specific role in contributing to the flood. I agree with you that the largest blame should be on the government.

    However, I wanted to point out that a big contributor to the whole mess is incentive for sprawling. If the cost of living in the city is less expensive, then there would be less need for sprawl, thus less profit for developers, and less opportunity for the government to offer/provide unlawful licenses.

    As long as incentives for corruption still exist, corruption will still find a way.

  4. i don't know the details, but my (v limited) understanding was that mainly the flood plains got flooded...

  5. can you elaborate a little what you mean by this:
    " If the cost of living in the city is less expensive, then there would be less need for sprawl,..."
    I didn't know there's relationship between the cost of living in a city with the extent of its sprawl.

  6. John,
    Yes, the flood plains got flooded :) But those used to be (originally they were planned to be left as) swamps, but then they got reclaimed and turned into settlements.

    A big (not the only) reason for sprawl is the search for less expensive sites to build homes. I believe that many people would prefer to live/own a home in the city, but the high price forces them to buy a home in suburbs instead. If the price of an apartment near Sudirman/Thamrin is comparable to that of a house in Tangerang, I would definitely choose the apartment.

    Sure there's another issue of cultural preference towards landed house over apartments. But that's another issue.

  7. Using that logic, wouldn’t it mean that expensive cities like Tokyo and San Francisco would have more sprawl than less expensive cities like Jakarta and Bombay for example? Although I don’t know the statistics of these cities, sprawls in developing countries seem to be more uncontrolled than those in developed countries.

  8. Sorry, Dewi.
    I don't have the statistics either. But you're right. Not meaning to generalize, but urban sprawl in many cities of developed countries has been pretty rampant until quite recently. I don't know which is more "uncontrolled," sprawl in developed or underdeveloped countries.

  9. I definitely understand the problem of urbanization. There are many countries that suffer the same problem because, on the one hand, apartments are very expensive, and on the other, some people cannot stand living in a city that is so contaminated in every way. There is one place I did not see this happening: Argentina. Buenos Aires apartments are affordable, especially to tourists and because everything is prepared for tourism, the neighbourhoods loook always clean and quiet. At least that was my perception!