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Indonesia Says It Will Build a Smart ‘Forest City’ as Its New Capital. But Is the Plan Too Good to Be True?

Officials in Jakarta say the design of the new capital will take the city’s character and ecology into account.

A traffic jam in the Kuningan area of Jakarta, Indonesia. (Image Credit: Serenity/Wikimedia Commons)
A traffic jam in the Kuningan area of Jakarta, Indonesia. (Image Credit: Serenity/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

The new capital will be built in the middle of a forest, in Kalimantan—the world’s third-largest island, also known as Borneo, split between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. A specific location within the region has yet to be determined. Earlier this month, Basuki Hadimuljono, Indonesia’s minister for public works and housing, said that feasibility studies of several potential locations are being conducted and a final decision may be made by the end of August.

According to Basuki, the Indonesian government is currently conducting a feasibility study of several locations in Kalimantan based on several aspects including disaster risks, environmental capacity, economy, and demography. “If at the end of August it is decided, we will soon make the design details and in 2020 hopefully we can commence physical infrastructure development,” he said.

Climate change and overpopulation in Jakarta—Indonesia’s capital and largest city—are driving Indonesia’s search for a new capital. Jakarta is sinking. But the new capital will be in an area that is not only home to rainforests, but one that has also seen significant deforestation in recent decades.

Bambang Brodjonegoro, Indonesia’s planning minister, 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, the public works and housing minister, said earlier this month that the city design will also incorporate smart technologies and a robust public transport system.

The first phase of the project will be completed by 2024. China says it is building the world’s first “forest city” in its Guangxi province. The designer, Italian architect Stefano Boeri, recently released plans for a “vertical forest” made up of a series of apartment blocks, that will be built in Egypt’s planned new administrative capital. The incorporation of green spaces is emerging as a standard element of contemporary urban design. 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.

For decades, Indonesia has discussed moving its federal capital to a new location. Now it’s finally taking steps toward making that shift. And though it’s an expensive and risky move, it may have no other choice.

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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