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Indonesia Chooses Jungle Site for New ‘Smart’ Capital

East Kalimantan will be home to Indonesia’s new capital, which will be a “smart city in the forest.”

Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of Borneo, the world's third-largest island. (Image Credit: Marc Veraart/Flickr)
Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of Borneo, the world's third-largest island. (Image Credit: Marc Veraart/Flickr)

Indonesia has finally chosen a specific site for its new capital. And it’s in the middle of the jungle.

The Indonesian government announced earlier this month that it would be building its new capital in the Kalimantan region—on the Indonesian side of Borneo, the world’s third-largest island.

At a press conference on Monday, President Joko Widodo specified that the capital will be built in the East Kalimantan province, adding that it lies at a “strategic” central location in the archipelago nation and is at “minimal” risk from natural disasters. Indonesia’s current capital Jakarta is sinking and overpopulated.

“The burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the center of governance, business, finance, trade, and services,” said Widodo.

The proposed location lies between the fairly less populated cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda where the state owns approximately 40,000 hectares of land. The government will initially build the city within the space it presently owns, but it is expandable up to 180,000 hectares, according to Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro. The project now awaits the approval of parliament.

Indonesia expects to complete the first phase of its new capital project by 2024—and the design, they say, will be ecologically friendly and incorporate smart technologies. The entire project will cost an estimated $32 billion. Nineteen percent of which will be provided by the state and rest will come from public-private partnerships.

The Kalimantan is home to diverse rainforests and many endangered species. The announcement has alarmed environmental activists. But Planning Minister Brodjonegoro claims that the new capital will not result in any deforestation as at least 50 percent of its area will consist of open green spaces.

Basuki Hadimuljono, the public works and housing minister, said earlier this month that the new capital will be a forest city and design will also incorporate smart technologies and a robust public transport system.

So-called forest cities are a more ambitious attempt at building environmentally sustainable urban ecosystems. Indonesia has some experience with the successful application of some aspects and environmental components of a smart city in Bandung.

Why is Indonesia Moving Its Capital?

The Indonesian government has mulled shifting to a new capital for decades, but overpopulation in Jakarta and climate change are now forcing the government’s hand. The current capital is not only Indonesia’s largest city, but it’s expected to be one of the largest megacities in the world by 2030, with an expected population of around 35.6 million.

And it is situated in a low-lying region prone to flooding from the sea as well as natural calamities like tsunamis. As global sea levels rise, as much as one-third of Jakarta is expected to be submerged by 2050, according to local researchers who spoke with the BBC.

Global warming has exacerbated the woes of Jakarta—a city that’s metastasized due to haphazard growth and mismanagement. In addition to climate change, Jakarta has become a victim of its own population which has continued to multiply unchecked for decades.

Indonesia is not the sole country that has been planning moving its capital in recent years. Like Indonesia, Egypt faces overpopulation in its capital, Cairo, which is also its largest city. And it is building a new administrative capital that has yet to be named.

Urooj Tarar covers South Asia and pivot states for Globely News. She previously worked for the English-language edition of Daily Pakistan.

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