Jakarta has been making headlines in 2019, and not always in a good way. In August the Indonesian government announced that it was planning to move the capital of Indonesia to a location in the jungles of Borneo. This news, coupled with high-profile reports that the city is sinking, has led news agencies around the world to frame the story as if the city is being abandoned entirely.
To be sure, the city has it’s challenges even without the prospect of raising sea levels and sinking due to depleted groundwater. It has one of the most densely populated slums in the world, and it’s a regular on the list of world’s worst traffic.
Despite this, Jakarta is not going anywhere. With over 10 million people living in Jakarta and over 30 million in the metropolitan area, one does not simply move an entire mega-city. You also have to remember the staggering fact that Java is the most populated island in the world with over 140 million people.
Instead of an abrupt withdrawal maybe it will be more like Venice, where this once-powerful trading city has been in a long, slow decline. It too has faced the prospect of abandoning proverbial ship completely, especially when acqua alta engulfs Piazza San Marco. Venice has a population of just over a quarter of a million people, so they have a more realistic chance for a complete evacuation compared to Jakarta.
The problems Jakarta face are the same problems that other cities in the region are going to face as well. We are living in unprecedented times, with the prospect of low-lying coastal cities like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City being submerged by rising sea levels.
Recently Indonesia made an agreement with seawall experts from the Netherlands (of course) to extend the Great Jakarta Sea Wall. So while the government will move the nation’s administrative offices closer to the geographic centre of Indonesia, it will stay and fight for the survival of what may eventually be the world’s largest city.
[The modern Jakarta skyline.]
I was last in The Big Durian in 2013, and to the shock of some people I like Jakarta. Of course I say that as a casual visitor, and not someone who has to commute. The average Jakartan spends two hours per trip in traffic on average. Even an urbanophile like myself would be driven to dreaming of living on a remote Indonesian beach if I had to grind it out in Jakarta traffic everyday.
Where ever I go in the world I try and plan my day around not being in peak hour traffic. I learned my lesson in Tokyo when I got on a morning train and experienced being squished onto a train.
What I like about Jakarta is its capital city energy and the people it attracts from across this island nation. Here you can meet people from everywhere else in Indonesia. People looking for better job prospects, or escaping from oppressive conservative provinces.
I was in Jakarta to cover two good news stories that have come out of Jakarta in 2019: the airport rail link, and the first metro line.
My visit to Jakarta bookended a rail-themed trip that started in KL by attending a Southeast Asia Rail forum. I then went to Palembang to see their new light rail, then got the coal-subsidised railway of South Sumatra.
The airport rail is a game-changer for visitors to Jakarta as the station stops near enough to two big hotel areas. I remember the last time I was in Jakarta being stuck in traffic from the airport for about 2 hours. This time I got the train to BNI City station and got a taxi for the last part. On the train from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport I thought about how my current and former home base cities (Saigon and Melbourne) still don’t have an airport train.
[Soekarno–Hatta Airport Rail Link in Jakarta.]
At the time of my visit the rail link wasn’t fully opened, but it’s now extended to Manggarai Station where you can transfer to commuter rail services. For backpackers that means you can get the train from the airport to Gondangdia Station, and then walk to the old backpacker street of Jalan Jaksa, which is one of the best areas to stay in Jakarta.
Here is my guide to the Jakarta Airport rail link.
I stayed in Jalan Jaksa the first time I came to Jakarta in 2009, and it’s changing from a backpacker street into a area of mid-range hotels. Here is my post about the slow demise of Jakarta’s backpacker street
[Jalan Jaksa – Jakarta.]
There were some noticeable improvements in this area, such as footpaths with car blocking bollards.
Another great improvement is that you can now find good coffee in more places.
And for all the talk of the city being abandoned it was a shock to find that there are so many new skyscrapers under construction. They either didn’t get the memo that the city will soon be Atlantis, or as this article about Miami real estate mentions, humans don’t respond well to abstract projections.
To get a better idea of what’s going on I’ve put together a list of major construction projects in Jakarta.
[The golden Indonesia 1 Twin Towers under construction.]
The Metro was the other new railway I came to visit. Jakarta already has a few commuter railways so it’s technically not the first railway serving the city. The Jakarta MRT is the first metro-style railway, and it proved to be useful for my stay in Jakarta. The Red Line (North–South) starts at Bundaran HI in Central Jakarta, near the Selamat Datang Monument. This is near a cluster of malls and 5-star hotels, and the station was walkable to where I was staying in Jalan Jaksa.
The first phase is over 20 km long and it goes to South Jakarta. I have two Australian friends living in South Jakarta, so visiting them gave me a good way to test out the service.
Even though it’s only one line the metro already appears to be popular. The first line of any metro is always going to be of limited use for most of the city, but a fully functioning metro system always has to start with that difficult first line.
My friends live in Kemang in South Jakarta. The metro doesn’t go to Kemang, so I alighted at Cipete Raya and got a Grab from there.
[Cipete Raya Station.]
The ride hailing apps have been another massive improvement for getting around Jakarta.
[Grab and Gojek are everywhere in Jakarta.]
There were motorcycle taxis before then, but for the casual visitor to the city they were hard to use due to the language barrier and not knowing what the the price was. With Gojek and Grab you can get a moto taxi (ojek) like you get an Uber or Lyft in the States.
The metro has even partnered with Gojek and Grab to get passengers to and from the stations.
Riding on the back of the motorbike from the station to my designated cafe meeting point cost 10,000 IDR (0.70 USD), on top of the 12,000 IDR (0.85 USD) metro ticket.
Looking on the map you can see why Jakarta has such terrible traffic. Major cross roads are few and far between, with the roads in between being former rice field lanes that got converted to roads as the city grew.
This is a common problem across Southeast Asia, where cities have been allowed to grow with no thought for making an urban grid.
[Traffic in Kemang.]
Kemang is one of the well-to-do suburbs in South Jakarta. It’s a favoured area for expats, and walking around some of the residential areas there are tree-lined streets that defy what most people think Jakarta looks like.
Jakarta is most manageable if you are able to live a village life, where you live and work in the same area. I first visited Jakarta in 2009, which was the same week my friend Treen moved here. Later on her sister Tasha moved here, and so now I have a good reason to visit South Jakarta.
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It's been around 7 years since I last saw my dear friend Jimmy when he was last visiting Jakarta and I was pregnant and sick in hospital. How great to see a familiar face from home who has so many stories from 20 years traveling the globe as a working nomad. Come back and see us again soon ⭐️ @nomadicnotes #friends #jakarta #southjakarta #bajaj #indonesia #welovejakarta #jalanjalan #family #digitalnomad @treen.may
The metro will eventually be extended further north to Kota Station in the old town area of Jakarta. I got the commuter train to Kota, which operates separately from the metro.
Unfortunately they are making the same mistakes that Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur made by using different ticketing systems for each system. Both systems are now unifying their ticketing systems, so hopefully Jakarta can get onto unified tickets.
I visited here last time in 2013 and I was hoping to see some progress with heritage restoration. There are some buildings that have been restored but overall it’s still a bit of a jumbled mess. This area should be as lively as Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, which is going through a renaissance.
The North-South metro line might be the catalyst for transforming this area, and it could even become a new area to stay.
Kota is worth visiting just to see the station.
And at Kota Station you can see how ride hailing is changing how Jakartans get around.
There is a second planned metro line that will be an east-west service. This is the map of the future metro in Jakarta.
I haven’t found any further plans for more lines though, and this disturbs me. If Jakarta is on track to become bigger than Tokyo, then it will need to start planning for more lines.
At Gambir Station (the main long distance railway station) there is a Lawson convenience store from Japan.
I went in hoping to find the famous egg sandwich like they serve in Japan (they don’t). Seeing this iconic Japanese store got me thinking about the railways of Japan versus Jakarta and Java. Did you know that more people live in Java than Japan (140 million compared to 125 million).
I’ve already made a map titled If Saigon had a subway like Shanghai. Maybe my next project should be “If Jakarta had a rail network like Japan”.
[Commuter crowd at Manggarai Station, Jakarta.]
As I’m writing more about transport and cities in Asia I’ll probably be back in Jakarta sooner. I’ve never been to Kalimantan either, so Indonesian Borneo is on my short list of places to visit next. I would like to get some “before” photos of the future new capital, if they do get round to moving.
I happened to be in Jakarta during student protests which was making news around the world. Twitter wits were quick to point out that moving the capital to the middle of the jungle would make it harder for students to protest in the future. I will keep track of how the old and new capitals develop.
I found this rather optimistic render of what a futuristic Jakarta as the world’s largest city would look like behind a seawall.
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As part of our Cities of the Future series, we’re proud to present our remarkable 3D model and animation showcasing a bold and futuristic vision of Jakarta, Indonesia. A team of 15 visualisation artists and animators accumulated 876 hours of production time in 10 days generated a massive 6,392 square kilometres of highly detailed modelling and rendering of a futuristic Jakarta. Stay tuned for the next future city project. #citiesofthefuture #futurecities #renderoftheday #3Dvisualisation #3danimation #3Drender #rendering #Renderbox #theurbandeveloper #urbanplanning #cityscapes #visualisation #render #archidaily #architecture #transportation #animation #cgi #jakarta #Indonesia
The reality though might be more like Blade Runner 2049, with a polluted city behind a giant sea wall.
[The seawall featured in Blade Runner 2049.]
Jakarta is actually a good candidate for being the most cyberpunk city in Southeast Asia. It ticks the boxes for high-tech, low-life, with shiny malls standing next to urban slums. I found this image that reimagines Jakarta as a futuristic cyberpunk city.
For now though Jakarta still remains in the dieselpunk era.