A crowded city is the sign of a good thing for Indonesians

A traffic jam in the increasingly crowded streets of Jakarta. Image: Getty, December 2013.

Every September, a month after the Eid holiday exodus that nearly empties the city, Jakarta returns to its normal crowded self. Afterwards, though, the Indonesian capital has around 68,000 more residents. 

Every year thousands of people move to Jakarta with the return flow of the holiday exodus. These migrations are often reported negatively in the media, who would mix up the term "migration" with "urbanisation".

Like many countries, Indonesia has an annual tradition of travelling to one’s home town during religious holidays. In Indonesia, it is called mudik. This year, around 3.6m people traveled from Jakarta to their home towns in Java and other parts of Indonesia, according to a survey by the University of Indonesia Demographic Institute.

Mudik reflects the strength of social cohesion amid the change towards a post-modern industrial society. During mudik, the social and geographic distance between groups of different professions and economic status become shorter. Almost everyone, from the bank CEO to the streetside vendor, goes on mudik.

When the holiday is over, they return to Jakarta. Some bring their relatives or friends with them.

The media often describe the process of urbanisation in Indonesia only through the phenomenon of new migrants to Jakarta. But this is an incomplete representation of urbanisation. Migration can be part of urbanisation, but it isn't always.

Urbanisation means the changing way of life from rural to urban living. It also means the changing characteristics of an area from having qualities of village life to city life.

Urbanisation does not always entail someone moving from the village to the city. Pondok Cina, a sub-district next to the University of Indonesia’s Depok campus on the outskirts of Jakarta, was once a rural village area. Now, the population density has increased to more than 5,000 people per square kilometre.

Less than a quarter of the residents farm. And it has urban facilities. Pondok Cina has turned into an urban village.

From an economic perspective, urbanisation is often linked with progress and economic development in an area. Therefore, it is concentrated in a number of locations, especially in big cities and more specifically in national capitals.

Young people looking for work move to Jakarta, which is booming with new constructions. Image: EPA/MAST IRHAM.

The danger of misrepresentation

When people understand urbanisation wrongly, they can make wrong conclusions, and policymakers might create bad policies. Many city administrators say they want to prevent urbanisation. They actually mean they want to prevent migration from rural areas to the city.

Before Indonesia's president Joko Widodo became governor of Jakarta, the city administration held yearly ID raids on bus terminals after the Eid exodus. Those who don’t have IDs would be bused back to cities in Central or East Java.

Jakarta has stopped the practice, but other cities still do it. Almost always, the poor become the target of the raids. Their social and physical mobility are confined.

Migration as a symptom of urbanisation should be seen as a positive thing. It happens naturally and it is normal for an area that is undergoing urbanisation.

Jakarta is one of the cities in Indonesia with rapid progress and economic development. Moving to big cities such as Jakarta is a rational choice for young people: those who move to big cities usually have better skills and education levels than those who stay in the villages.

Jakarta’s nearly 10m registered residents include 4m lifetime migrants, according to the 2010 census. These are people who were born outside Jakarta, but live in the city at the time of the census.

According to the 2010 census, Jakarta had just 3.5m lifetime migrants. This means that 500,000 people have moved to Jakarta in 10 years.

The movement of people from villages to the city is the biggest factor that influences the urbanisation process. Often people from the villages move temporarily to the city to stay for less than six months. These new migrants come to the city and live with family, relatives or friends. They look for additional income through off-farm employment.

People living in villages often earn their income from traditional farming, which would not be enough to sustain their lives. Migration from village to cities for work should be seen as a mechanism to distribute wealth from the cities to the village.

Urbanisation in Indonesia is most obvious in Jakarta; but other cities are changing, too. Regions that have high urbanisation rates such as North Sumatera and Riau have higher GDPs than those with low urbanisation rates. There is a positive correlation between urbanisation rate, economic progress and population growth.

The urban population in Indonesia has increased from 14.8 per cent in 1971, to 49.8 per cent in 2010. By 2025, around 68 per cent of the population will be living in cities; by 2045, it'll be 82 per cent.

Mudik perpetuates the urbanisation process in Indonesian villages. A couple of years from now, people could find their once-rural village has transformed into a small city. The Conversation

Chotib Hasan is a researcher with the Demographic Institute at the University of Indonesia. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

To build its emerging “megaregions”, the USA should turn to trains

Under construction: high speed rail in California. Image: Getty.

An extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, out now from Island Press.

A regional transportation system does not become balanced until all its parts are operating effectively. Highways, arterial streets, and local streets are essential, and every megaregion has them, although there is often a big backlog of needed repairs, especially for bridges. Airports for long-distance travel are also recognized as essential, and there are major airports in all the evolving megaregions. Both highways and airports are overloaded at peak periods in the megaregions because of gaps in the rest of the transportation system. Predictions for 2040, when the megaregions will be far more developed than they are today, show that there will be much worse traffic congestion and more airport delays.

What is needed to create a better balance? Passenger rail service that is fast enough to be competitive with driving and with some short airplane trips, commuter rail to major employment centers to take some travelers off highways, and improved local transit systems, especially those that make use of exclusive transit rights-of-way, again to reduce the number of cars on highways and arterial roads. Bicycle paths, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths are also important for reducing car trips in neighborhoods and business centers.

Implementing “fast enough” passenger rail

Long-distance Amtrak trains and commuter rail on conventional, unelectrified tracks are powered by diesel locomotives that can attain a maximum permitted speed of 79 miles per hour, which works out to average operating speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour. At these speeds, trains are not competitive with driving or even short airline flights.

Trains that can attain 110 miles per hour and can operate at average speeds of 70 miles per hour are fast enough to help balance transportation in megaregions. A trip that takes two to three hours by rail can be competitive with a one-hour flight because of the need to allow an hour and a half or more to get to the boarding area through security, plus the time needed to pick up checked baggage. A two-to-three-hour train trip can be competitive with driving when the distance between destinations is more than two hundred miles – particularly for business travelers who want to sit and work on the train. Of course, the trains also have to be frequent enough, and the traveler’s destination needs to be easily reachable from a train station.

An important factor in reaching higher railway speeds is the recent federal law requiring all trains to have a positive train control safety system, where automated devices manage train separation to avoid collisions, as well as to prevent excessive speeds and deal with track repairs and other temporary situations. What are called high-speed trains in the United States, averaging 70 miles per hour, need gate controls at grade crossings, upgraded tracks, and trains with tilt technology – as on the Acela trains – to permit faster speeds around curves. The Virgin Trains in Florida have diesel-electric locomotives with an electrical generator on board that drives the train but is powered by a diesel engine. 

The faster the train needs to operate, the larger, and heavier, these diesel-electric locomotives have to be, setting an effective speed limit on this technology. The faster speeds possible on the portion of Amtrak’s Acela service north of New Haven, Connecticut, came after the entire line was electrified, as engines that get their power from lines along the track can be smaller and much lighter, and thus go faster. Catenary or third-rail electric trains, like Amtrak’s Acela, can attain speeds of 150 miles per hour, but only a few portions of the tracks now permit this, and average operating speeds are much lower.

Possible alternatives to fast enough trains

True electric high-speed rail can attain maximum operating speeds of 150 to 220 miles per hour, with average operating speeds from 120 to 200 miles per hour. These trains need their own grade-separated track structure, which means new alignments, which are expensive to build. In some places the property-acquisition problem may make a new alignment impossible, unless tunnels are used. True high speeds may be attained by the proposed Texas Central train from Dallas to Houston, and on some portions of the California High-Speed Rail line, should it ever be completed. All of the California line is to be electrified, but some sections will be conventional tracks so that average operating speeds will be lower.


Maglev technology is sometimes mentioned as the ultimate solution to attaining high-speed rail travel. A maglev train travels just above a guideway using magnetic levitation and is propelled by electromagnetic energy. There is an operating maglev train connecting the center of Shanghai to its Pudong International Airport. It can reach a top speed of 267 miles per hour, although its average speed is much lower, as the distance is short and most of the trip is spent getting up to speed or decelerating. The Chinese government has not, so far, used this technology in any other application while building a national system of long-distance, high-speed electric trains. However, there has been a recent announcement of a proposed Chinese maglev train that can attain speeds of 375 miles per hour.

The Hyperloop is a proposed technology that would, in theory, permit passenger trains to travel through large tubes from which all air has been evacuated, and would be even faster than today’s highest-speed trains. Elon Musk has formed a company to develop this virtually frictionless mode of travel, which would have speeds to make it competitive with medium- and even long-distance airplane travel. However, the Hyperloop technology is not yet ready to be applied to real travel situations, and the infrastructure to support it, whether an elevated system or a tunnel, will have all the problems of building conventional high-speed rail on separate guideways, and will also be even more expensive, as a tube has to be constructed as well as the train.

Megaregions need fast enough trains now

Even if new technology someday creates long-distance passenger trains with travel times competitive with airplanes, passenger traffic will still benefit from upgrading rail service to fast-enough trains for many of the trips within a megaregion, now and in the future. States already have the responsibility of financing passenger trains in megaregion rail corridors. Section 209 of the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires states to pay 85 percent of operating costs for all Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles (the legislation exempts the Northeast Corridor) as well as capital maintenance costs of the Amtrak equipment they use, plus support costs for such programs as safety and marketing. 

California’s Caltrans and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Maine’s Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin all have agreements with Amtrak to operate their state corridor services. Amtrak has agreements with the freight railroads that own the tracks, and by law, its operations have priority over freight trains.

At present it appears that upgrading these corridor services to fast-enough trains will also be primarily the responsibility of the states, although they may be able to receive federal grants and loans. The track improvements being financed by the State of Michigan are an example of the way a state can take control over rail service. These tracks will eventually be part of 110-mile-per-hour service between Chicago and Detroit, with commitments from not just Michigan but also Illinois and Indiana. Fast-enough service between Chicago and Detroit could become a major organizer in an evolving megaregion, with stops at key cities along the way, including Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor. 

Cooperation among states for faster train service requires formal agreements, in this case, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. The participants are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. There is also an advocacy organization to support the objectives of the compact, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.

States could, in future, reach operating agreements with a private company such as Virgin Trains USA, but the private company would have to negotiate its own agreement with the freight railroads, and also negotiate its own dispatching priorities. Virgin Trains says in its prospectus that it can finance track improvements itself. If the Virgin Trains service in Florida proves to be profitable, it could lead to other private investments in fast-enough trains.

Jonathan Barnett is an emeritus Professor of Practice in City and Regional Planning, and former director of the Urban Design Program, at the University of Pennsylvania. 

This is an extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, published now by Island Press. You can find out more here.