Jakarta. Indonesia’s capital must reform its technology sector to combat the various issues engendered by its growing population, delegates at the New Cities Summit 2015 concluded on Wednesday.
“We have to create a new civilization,” Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace laureate and the NCS 2015 keynote speaker, said at the conference in Jakarta on Wednesday.
“The old civilization left us a lot of baggage: problems of unemployment, of income disparity, non-transparency and corruption. We have to overcome those problems in the new civilization.”
Organized by the Geneva-based non-profit New Cities Foundation (NCF), the New Cities Summit aims to “bring together stakeholders in the future of cities to talk together, to look at how to promote innovations that make urban life better,” said NCF chairman John Rossant.
In 2008, the United Nations reported that more than 50 percent of the world’s population, or 3.35 billion people, lived in urban environments. That figure is estimated to rise to 75 percent by 2050.
According to 2011 data from the UN Department of Economic and Social affairs, Indonesia experienced an urbanization rate of 3.3 percent between 2005 and 2010, higher than the world average of 1.9 percent during the same period. The UN calculates urbanization rates by projecting the average rate of change of the size of the urban population over a given period of time.
Jakarta is currently home to 10.2 million residents, and is the 16th most populous city in the world. The nation’s capital and its surrounding districts, known collectively as Jabodetabek, form the second most populated urban area in the world, behind only Japan’s Tokyo-Yokohama region.
Overpopulation has taken a heavy toll on the city, with gridlock and other traffic woes bringing economic productivity to a standstill.
“I had a staff member who was stuck in traffic during the last big flood for 12 hours,” said Malcolm Foo, a global adviser from PwC Consulting Indonesia and delegate at the NCS.
“That’s an entire day of lost productivity. If you think about all those people stuck in traffic unable to go to work, there’s a tremendous economic impact.”
In his keynote speech, Yunus outlined a vision for urban centers of the future: cities with zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon dioxide emissions.
“These are the basic things that a sustainable planet must have. We need to make sure that the cities we have are sustainable in the world as it currently is. The youth can achieve this, and technology will help them,” Yunus said.
A Web-based future
A 2014 report from eMarketer forecasts that Indonesia will account for 100 million smartphone users by 2018, establishing it as the fourth-largest smartphone user population in the world.
Indonesia’s use of smartphone technology has had an immense impact in shaping the path of city-based innovation.
“Smartphones and social media networks in Indonesia give even the poorest person a voice, changing local governance to become more of a two-way street,” Rossant said.
Foo stressed the influential role that technology could play in Indonesia, arguing for a prioritization of telecommunications infrastructure over financing physical infrastructure projects like roads and highways. “If you build another road in Jakarta, it’s immediately going to be filled up with traffic. You’ll be stuck back at square one,” he said.
“But if you improve the ICT network, so people could rely on it for high-speed Internet, there would be new opportunities in telecommuting or virtual working from home.”
Delegates at the NCS argued that by reducing the number of commuters on the road through investing in Web technology, the Jakarta administration could ease congestion on the streets without having to resort to costly, large-scale physical infrastructure projects.
Yet the role of smartphones in Indonesia has been hindered by the slow adoption of modern server technologies. Entrepreneurs at the NCS vented their frustrations in navigating Indonesia’s complex ICT sector, calling on local governments to invest more funds in Web initiatives.
Rudyanto Linggar, the founder of Web-based car pooling service Nebeng.com and a delegate at the NCS, spoke about the problems stemming from Jakarta’s underdeveloped ICT infrastructure.
“In the 10 years that we’ve been operating, we’ve only been able to been able to register 62,000 people to our service. We need better servers to attract more customers,” he said on Wednesday.
In its 2014 “State of the Internet” report, cloud services provider Akamai said that Indonesia’s broadband services maintained an average speed of 1.9 Mbps, ranked the worst in the entire Asia-Pacific region. In the same period, near neighbors Malaysia and Singapore achieved average connection speeds of 4.1 Mbps and 11.7 Mbps respectively.
However, investment in ICT infrastructure may be easier said than done, with a lack of clear regulations confusing efforts to fix Jakarta’s server problems.
“Some of the government officials I talked to were concerned about legal restrictions. They all remember what happened in the IM2 case,” Rudyanto said.
In July 2013, a Jakarta court sentenced Indonesian Internet service provider IM2 to pay Rp 1.3 trillion ($131 million) in compensation for state losses incurred through the misuse of a license to operate the 2.1-gigahertz telecoms frequency for 3G mobile data services. IM2 won the license for the band through an agreement with its parent company Indosat, which the court ruled was unlawful. In addition to the fine, IM2 president director Indar Atmanto was sentenced to four years in prison.
Despite the hostile legal environment, Rudyanto said he still believed that investment in server infrastructure would solve the problems plaguing Jakarta.
“Instead of wasting time, instead of wasting fuel, we need to find a way to convert traffic on the roads to traffic on the Web. The solution is already before our very eyes. If we keep using old methods, methods from long ago, Jakarta’s problems will not be solved,” he said.
Local solutions for local problems
The NCS also provided a platform for local tech-based innovators to show off their solutions to the problems faced by Jakarta’s commuters.
Mobile application Squee won first prize at the summit’s “Jakarta Urban Challenge,” a contest established to find creative ways to solve mobility and traffic issues in Jakarta.
Squee, a sharing app that aids pedestrians and cyclists in traveling together on shorter, safer, non-motorized routes across Jakarta, was awarded the contest’s grand prize of $10,000.
Runners-up included Jalan Aman, an app focused on safe routes for female commuters, and Cyclist Urban System, a plan to create dedicated cyclist hubs across the city.
“They’re coming up with very interesting homegrown innovations and solutions to the city’s issues,” Rossant said of the initiatives.
“We were expecting to get maybe 10 or 15 proposals from teams. In total, we received 226 proposals. It’s brewing over with ideas here. It gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also praised local entrepreneurs for their work in his NCS closing speech, inviting Urban Challenge finalists to present their projects at City Hall.
Other innovations highlighted at the conference were PetaJakarta.org, a Twitter-based platform designed to collect and disseminate real-time information on flooding and critical water infrastructure; Garbage Clinical Insurance, a micro insurance program providing Indonesians with critical health care services in exchange for recycling waste; and Go-Jek, the popular motorcycle transport and courier service.
The projects and ideas disseminated at the New Cities Summit 2015 provide a glimpse into Jakarta’s future, one of innovation and optimism.
“When you combine the dynamism of Jakarta’s youth entrepreneurs with political leaders who genuinely want to pursue reforms, who seem to be committed to reversing the years of underinvestment in infrastructure, I think very interesting things could happen,” Rossant said.
Foo concurred, sharing his thoughts on Jakarta’s capacity to become a smart city.
“A smart city is a city that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. I think Jakarta has already taken steps in that direction,” he said.
“We always say that the most important step in becoming a smart city is strong leadership and the political will to go down that path. Jakarta has that now.”