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.

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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