A new app hopes to get Jakarta walking again

The app in action. Image: Squee.

Growing up in Jakarta, one of the most vibrant yet congested cities in the world, I used to be highly dependent on cars for daily commuting. However, having moved countries several times over the past four years, I’ve come to realize that nothing beats moving around the city by foot: it gives a great sense of freedom and is far more enjoyable.

Even in Jakarta, where cars rule the roads, walking has the potential to be a faster and more practical alternative way of commuting, if successfully combined with public transport or taxis. By adopting this kind of “multi-modal” approach to commuting, I have far more liberty. I can speed up or slow down as I wish, fit down any outdoor or indoor pathways, reroute anytime or escape traffic congestion when necessary.

Every day, at least 15m commutes are completed on foot or by bike in the Greater Jakarta Area, up to 40 per cent of the total modal shares. This number has also increased by 6 per cent in the last decade, gaining popularity among young and professional Jakarta residents.

Unfortunately, Jakarta’s existing transportation landscape can be daunting and exhausting. Most of our formal urban sidewalks and bike lanes are located along motorised roadways. On top of the stress, danger and pollution from motorised traffic, finding a pedestrian shortcut to a destination in Jakarta can be a challenge. Further, since Jakarta has been car-centric for so long, we citizens lack the information as well as the motivation to build a mental map of viable walkable and bikeable routes within our city.

Tapping into the potential of urban kampongs

Yet, despite heavy reliance on cars, Jakarta holds a whole network of hidden, low-rise pockets that we call urban kampongs (villages). They are everywhere, located strategically between primary urban roadways, and near to our homes, work places, and public transport network.

Many of the kampongs have been developed into modern residential, commercial, or even superblock complexes, while some have persisted in their original form. Those that have remained retain their organically-shaped neighbourhood roads and passageways, which are generally separated from major urban thoroughfares.

Two of Jakarta's urban kampongs. Image: Squee.

Partly covered by greenery, these areas are less polluted and a have a milder temperature than the bustling main roads. By nature, kampong roadways are often utilised as short-cut accesses – referred to in by locals as Jalan Tikus – to reduce travel time or to avoid the hustle-bustle of busy Jakarta. However, routes through urban kampongs are generally unmapped and solely known to kampong-dwellers or frequent passers-by.

I got together with some other Jakarta-based innovators to try and solve this issue. Our desire is for Jakarta commuters to use these forgotten “rat-running trails” hidden behind Jakarta’s imposing network of wide, busy roads and high-rise buildings. The concept for Squee mobile app was born out of this desire.

Enabled by GPS-based mobile technology and crowdsourced information mapping, Squee aims to unify pedestrians and biking communities in Jakarta. The app encourages them to travel together in groups and helps commuters plan and navigate walkable, or bikeable rat-running routes.


By squeeing together, people can share real-time information and enjoy a more pleasant commute. Most importantly, they help keep these routes safe by embracing a new kind of mobility that we call ratwalk-sharing.

Winning the Jakarta Urban Challenge award at the New Cities Summit 2015 was a milestone: my three co-founders and I can now kick-start Squee mobile app as a tech-startup. The week following the Summit, the governor of Jakarta invited us to join him for lunch to discuss our project in more detail and explore the possibilities for future collaboration between us.

With the support from Jakarta City Government, Squee could also be integrated into Smart City Jakarta program. Thus, the Squeeians – our users – would be equipped with an integrated timetable and navigating information for all different types of transport available in Jakarta’s public transport system. Access to this information via Squee will enhance active transport to a more extensive transit-oriented level in the future.

Our ratwalk-sharing concept has a social goal: to bring back the good function of roads and urban kampongs. Aiming to revisit walking and biking as feasible alternative ways of commuting, Squee will not only improve kampong navigation but also help the Squeeians to experience and recognise different information, details, and puzzles of everyday streetscapes. This will eventually create a four-dimensional mental map of Jakarta that cannot be experienced when travelling along the primary roads.

Arlene Nathania Chryssilla is an architect and urban planner. She is the co-founder and CEO of Squee, a social media-based navigation app that unifies pedestrians and cyclists to travel together across kampong rat-running trails in Jakarta.

This article was originally published on the New Cities Foundation's blog.

 
 
 
 

Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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