Green Surabaya Has Cleaned Up Its Act

SEPTEMBER 06, 2011

Wahyuni Kamah

It’s not hard to see why Surabaya, the formerly filthy capital of East Java, was chosen as a winner of the 6th Adipura awards for cleanliness this year.

When I visited the city recently, I found it to be much greener and cleaner than it was on my last visit, 12 years ago. I remember Surabaya being like other big cities in Java — crowded, polluted and littered with trash.

But on my recent visit, from the alleys of small neighborhoods in the city center to the grand buildings of the Old Town in the north, the streets of Surabaya were tidy, litter-free and open to pedestrians.

For a bustling metropolis of around 3.2 million people of various ethnic backgrounds packed into 375 square kilometers, such a turnaround in the city’s cleanliness has been no small feat.

Surabaya’s current mayor, Tri Rismaharini, deserves some of the credit. Voted into office last year, Ibu Risma, as she is affectionately known, previously served as head of the Surabaya Parks Agency from 2005 to 2008. During her term there, she established 13 public parks on lots formerly occupied by gas stations. She also improved the city’s existing parks for public use.

As mayor, Ibu Risma has worked to spread awareness among the general population about the importance of keeping the city clean.

Along a main street in Wonokromo, a crowded area in the city center, I spotted banners by the roadside that read “Refrain From Littering” and “Collecting Trash Is Like Giving Alms, God Willing.”

I heard similar messages broadcast on the city’s radio stations and promoted through its different neighborhood watch organizations.

From the look of the city’s main streets, these messages are being heard. Despite the presence of many small kiosks along the roads, the sidewalks are clean and free of trash.

It seems that there is a growing awareness among the citizens of Surabaya of the importance of a clean environment, and the community effort required to keep the city free of garbage.

As I drove into the city by taxi from Juanda International Airport, I noticed that the green belt dividing the two-way highway had been planted with various shrubs and flowers, arranged in way that turned the strip into an aesthetically pleasing green area.

In the early morning sunshine, I spotted a group of uniformed workers sweeping the city streets. My taxi driver told me the sweepers worked in shifts around the clock to clear the streets of any organic and inorganic waste. But even without their efforts, he said, many people in Surabaya no longer tossed their garbage on the sidewalk or the street.

“There is a greater awareness now about waste disposal and people want to keep the city clean,” he said.

The number of green spaces in the city has also increased. Ibu Risma, who studied architecture at the Surabaya Institute of Technology (ITS), has applied green planning principles to the reforms she has brought to the city.

The mayor has ordered pedestrian bridges to be built across the city’s main streets and sidewalks to be widened, making it possible for people to walk instead of drive. To ensure the safety of pedestrians, CCTV cameras have been installed along the bridges. Potted plants have been hung beneath bridges and in alleyways to help beautify the city and provide a cooler climate.

The city’s main public parks, such as Taman Bungkul, Taman Bagong and Taman Kalimantan, have also been transformed into open and welcoming spaces for citizens. People from all walks of life now gather at the parks to relax with family and friends. Taman Kalimantan is equipped with rows of stones that people can walk on as a form of reflexology, the foot massage therapy. Taman Bungkul is a popular meeting place after dark, especially on weekends.

Trees, shrubs and flowers have been planted in marvelous arrangements in the parks, which now serve as an oasis from the city streets.

There are playgrounds for children, kiosks offering various kinds of food, public toilets and even free hot spots for Internet users. Police officers and public order officials can often be seen patrolling the parks, adding to the feeling of safety for visitors.

Surabaya’s green turnaround shows that cleaning up a major city is not impossible. It is thanks to the efforts of Ibu Risma’s administration and the commitment of the people of Surabaya that the 718-year-old city is a delight to visit today.

Other cities across Java should follow in the footsteps of Surabaya and other cities around the world. They should provide green spaces and encourage citizens to think twice about polluting the streets they use every day.