Jakarta’s Problems are not Unique

Also in the Jakarta Globe.

“What cann’t a government do? We have the money, the manpower, and the authority,” says a friend who is a special assistant to a governor in Sulawesi. I admire his confidence and enthusiasm, which I  also see among the bureaucrats of Solo and in its mayor, Joko Widodo, whom I met last week in a TV station.

Well, what do you think? If he is right, why there are so many problems that are not solved in this metropolis? If you think about it, it appears that bureaucracies in Indonesian cities have been good in different times and places. Jakarta’s was good during the time of Ali Sadikin. Solo’s is good now. I know personally some people of both times. All of them admits clear vision, target, support, supervision and trust as important traits from their leaders that drive them. Once motivated, they actually do not mind working harder. Some admits wanted to do more. Some of Ali Sadikin’s best staff members moved out after he left the city hall.

So I cannot disagree that the government should have actually been able to solve much more problems. The fundamental challenge is to motivate bureacracy to work harder and smarter, including channeling people’s energy and know-how.

The real problem of Jakarta is not too much  population. Population are there to be served, cannot be seen as problem. The fact is that economic growth rate of Jakarta is always half or one percent higher than that of  Indonesian national avarage; and its population growth rate is always a bit lower. Many other cities have much higher density (in terms of number of people per hectare), and growing with higher rates (in terms of percent per year). The real problem of Jakarta id neither flood. Other cities have had floods in their histories. Los Angeles was often flooded before the most length of  Los Angeles river got concretised—I am not necessarily promoting this method, though. Other cities also have had traffc jams in their histories. Car ownership in Jakarta is only 320 cars/1000 population, so much lower than the average in cities of developed nations. It is only slightly higher than Singapore.

It is really not unusual for any modern city to face those problems.  They are simply typical of a mega-city. What is unusual is the different times each city spends in solving those problems. And solutions start with timely anticipation and proactive measures.

And for that reason I feel we have been fooled by the people who always blame the problems, instead of solving them. Increasing numbers of motorcycles and cars?  But, that could, and should have been anticipated ten or fifteen years ago, and acted upon at least five years ago, like what they did in Taipei or Beijing. And what about those higher floor-area-ratios granted by their discretion to developers above the allowed limit in the bylaws? That aggravates, not solves the problems.

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