Joko Widodo says Indonesia’s new capital city in East Kalimantan is inspired by Canberra

20-Feb-2020 Intellasia | ABC | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Canberra is hardly described as a model city despite its thorough planning, yet it has become one of the inspirations for Indonesia’s multi billion-dollar relocation of its own capital city.

Last week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Canberra during his Australian trip, where he addressed a joint sitting of Parliament.

Widodo who has been seeking out a new Indonesian capital as Jakarta sinks was visibly impressed by Australia’s capital.

“I asked a lot of questions to Australia’s Governor-General, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, as well as National Capital Authority CEO Sally Barnes we want to have a complete picture of what it takes to develop Canberra, how to [construct a capital] from scratch,” Widodo told reporters in Canberra.

“The city was built in 1913 and today has a population of 400,000, and I think the city management is very good.

“We are going to take inspiration from the positive elements of [Canberra] to build our new capital city, from its management down to the structural aspects of the city.”

Indonesia is set to start building its new capital in the relatively remote province of East Kalimantan next year.

It’s hoped the $33 billion ($49 billion) project will ease the pressure on the polluted, sinking and overpopulated capital of Jakarta, home to 30 million people.

“From what I saw, none of the buildings were higher than seven floors, but it gets taller further out from the parliamentary buildings. It’s very nice,” Widodo said of Canberra.

While there are many other examples of purpose-built capital cities around the world, Canberra has long been a part of discussions in Indonesia.

“I’m sure he’ll be taking a few photos around the capital, maybe going back with some of the design ideas of Walter Burley Griffin,” Morrison said, referring to the architect who designed Canberra.

Why Canberra?

Indonesia’s yet-to-be-named city is expected to be completed by 2024 the final year of Widodo’s term.

Some 180,000 hectares of scenic government land has been set aside to fulfil Widodo’s vision of a new “green city” in East Kalimantan, which Indonesian urban planning expert Henny Warsilah has compared to Australia’s “bush capital”.

“Indonesia’s new capital city will attempt to replicate Canberra’s grand and forward ideas,” Ms Warsilah said, adding the new city would also involve the local population in infrastructure building.

“Being able to replicate an existing framework, which can then be tailored according to Indonesian needs and geography, will be beneficial for us.”

Last year, Indonesia’s former planning minister Bambang Brodjonegoro told the ABC that planners would be looking to Australia.

“We would like to see your capital Canberra as one of the references… many people praise Canberra for the design,” he said, despite a 2012 Australian government research paper describing Canberra as a city which “rarely rates highly in the international or national consciousness” and one that is “easily dismissed by politicians”.

In Widodo’s parliamentary address, he said Australia and Indonesia “must work together to protect the environment” and achieve sustainable development.

“Indonesia’s plan to build a new capital city is part of the commitment,” he said.

“A smart city, with green technology and friendly to the environment whilst being part of the efforts to transform the economy, based on innovation, science and technology.”

Why not Canberra?

However, Canberra’s urban sprawl and limited public transport have been points of concern and Elisa Sutanudjaja, director of Indonesia’s Rujak Centre for Urban Studies, told the ABC that these would also be issues for Indonesia’s new city.

Canberra’s initial designs were heavily influenced by modernism, while they were also drawn up during the peak of automobile culture, Ms Sutanudjaja said.

“The winning concept of [Indonesia's] new capital city reminded me to Canberra, with the axis and the artificial lake… the monumental scale,” she said.

“It would be difficult for people to move around the city unless they heavily depend on cars.”

East Kalimantan was handpicked by Widodo for its low natural disaster risk and pre-existing nearby infrastructure.

However, the region was this week hit by floods of up to 1.9 metres, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

While similarities have been drawn between the location of Indonesia’s new capital city and Canberra, some question the idea.

Canberra is located less than 300 kilometres from Australia’s largest city Sydney, while the site earmarked for Indonesia’s new capital is 1,300 kilometres from Jakarta, on a different island.

It also faces very different geographical and logistical challenges which set it apart from its Australian counterpart.

For example, Canberra has a relatively small population base, and is vulnerable to national disasters such as bushfire and drought.

“The fact that Canberra is a purely planned capital city that is, a city without pre-existing urban history is the only plausible explanation of making it a source of inspiration for the new capital of Indonesia,” Amanda Achmadi, senior lecturer in architecture design from the University of Melbourne, told the ABC.

East Kalimantan is home to orangutans, sun bears and long-nosed monkeys, some of which are already threatened by the pollution from coal mining and palm oil plantations.

The area is also riddled with more than 1,700 former coal mines that have left behind huge holes, which will need to be covered before construction begins.

“We need to consider the potential negative environmental and social impact of a city of a projected 5 million people to the existing region,” Dr Achmadi said.

Despite potential concerns, Widodo told reporters in Canberra the government was committed to the project.

“We have officially decided to go ahead, we just have to wait for the approval of the laws and regulations from Parliament before we start the land clearing and building,” Widodo said.


Category: Indonesia

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