Building sustainable cities that co-exist with nature: The Nusantara example - Hindustan Times

Building sustainable cities that co-exist with nature: The Nusantara example

ByRahul Mishra
Apr 24, 2024 01:04 PM IST

This article is authored by Rahul Mishra.

With about 34 million people living in the Greater Jakarta metropolitan area and its satellite cities, it is one of the world's largest urban conglomerations. The city is a prime illustration of the difficulties that modern metropolitan areas encounter; it is characterised by extreme traffic jams, high levels of air pollution, dwindling green spaces, and rising costs for essential services.

Indonesia: Indonesia's President Joko Widodo is seen.(AP) PREMIUM
Indonesia: Indonesia's President Joko Widodo is seen.(AP)

Similar to many Asian megacities, like Mumbai and Bangkok, it also highlights the social divide between slums and high-rise buildings. Jakarta, the nation's capital and a significant centre of trade and business, appears to have reached its carrying capacity and is growing increasingly unsustainable over time.

A presidential proclamation outlining Indonesia's intentions to move its capital city to "Nusantara" on the Indonesian area of Borneo island, known as Kalimantan, was issued in early 2023 with these difficulties in mind. President Joko Widodo first made the announcement to shift the capital from Jakarta to Nusantara in 2019.

While trying to protect natural areas and habitats, Nusantara's fast urbanisation has become a major ethical challenge for Indonesian policymakers. This denotes a change from the past era, when urbanisation generally meant losing environment, habitats, heritage, and subsequently traditions in terms of urban planning and infrastructure development.

This fits in with the global trend that has seen a move in favour of more humane and comprehensive urban design techniques in recent years. Malaysia’s Putrajaya, Sejong in South Korea, and Astana in Kazakhstan present good examples of sustainable approach. Nusantara, slated as Indonesia's new capital city, grapples with similar dilemmas and challenges while aiming for sustainable urban development that coexists harmoniously with nature. The challenge for Indonesian government is to build a new capital without destroying the environment; their goal is to create a sustainable urban environment that coexists peacefully with the natural world.

Careful planning is required for Nusantara's growth as a sustainable city in order to reduce environmental damage. The task is humongous as the entire administrative machinery of Jakarta will also be shifted to the new capital, which might also bring along some urban transportation and household challenges. In order to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, it is important to preserve green spaces, adopt renewable energy sources, and create eco-friendly transportation systems. These actions not only benefit urban dwellers but also the global community.

There are now more opportunities for social and economic advancement thanks to the rise of Nusantara. Modern housing, schools, hospitals, and commercial areas are examples of infrastructure development that can improve living conditions and generate employment possibilities for the community, resulting in a society that is more wealthy and just.

The new city's efforts to protect and enhance its cultural legacy guarantee that norms should always be an essential part of the city's design and must not be lost in the process of fast urbanisation. Communities and customs may initially be uprooted by urbanisation, however these effects can be lessened with certain measures. By prioritising biodiversity protection through green corridors, protected areas, and sustainable land use practices, sustainable city planning in Nusantara can help preserve Indonesia's distinctive biodiversity.

The long-term advantages of developing an environmentally conscious town like Nusantara, which prioritises environmental sustainability, social inclusion, economic growth, and cultural preservation, outweigh any inherent difficulties and trade-offs. Moreover, Nusantara's development can serve as a model for other cities to prioritise sustainability, inclusion, and lively communities in their development paths by sharing its experiences with future local and global urban planners.

That being said, it is also evident that the building of Nusantara will unavoidably cause some damage to local communities, some of whom might get uprooted and lose their original homes. In addition to causing social unrest, job losses, and cultural disintegration, these displacements may also compromise the wellbeing of the impacted communities.

We must be aware that common outcomes of growing urbanisation include resource exploitation, pollution, habitat fragmentation, and deforestation. This disturbs crucial ecological functions that are necessary for human well-being in addition to endangering biodiversity. That will also apply to Nusantara, which, so far, has claimed to be 65% forest, 35% town.

The true difficulty is in reducing these adverse effects in the long-run. The Nusantara project is aimed to be completed by 2045. Prioritising ecosystem-based strategies that cooperate with nature rather than against it is important for sustainable development. This includes preserving and repairing natural environments, putting in place environmentally friendly infrastructure, encouraging sustainable land-use methods, and utilising renewable energy sources. These actions can protect biodiversity while increasing climate change resilience.

In conclusion, while the concept of a sustainable city is admirable, there still are ethical, social, and ecological concerns with Nusantara's development. It is hoped that the “city in a forest”, as Nusantara is projected, will not lead to lost dwellings, lost customs, and lost habitat. In that context, it is necessary to take a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to sustainability, one that puts social justice, cultural preservation, and ecological integrity first without compromising the health of ecosystems and communities. Involving stakeholders, local communities, and indigenous groups early on in the planning and decision-making process is crucial as is giving priority to their opinions, worries, and goals in order to make sure that development projects reflect their requirements and principles.

It is also important to adopt the tenets of a circular economy, which emphasises resource efficiency, waste reduction, and material recycling and repurposing. It is crucial to encourage eco-friendly behaviours among companies and locals, lessen dependency on single-use plastics, and encourage sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Indonesia can only achieve its aim of "leaving no one behind," as stated in Indonesia's 2045 vision, by keeping these concerns in mind and implementing thoroughly thought-out policies in its infrastructure development and urbanisation plans. How all this is managed, will be showcased when Nusantara, the capital city is inaugurated on 17 August, 2024.

This article is authored by Rahul Mishra, senior research fellow, German-Southeast Asian Center of Excellence for Public Policy and Good Governance, Thammasat University, Thailand, and associate professor, Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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