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.

 
 
 
 

The Adam Smith Institute thinks size doesn’t matter when housing young professionals. It’s wrong

A microhome, of sorts. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Adam Smith Institute has just published ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’, a report by Vera Kichanova, which argues that eliminating minimum space requirements for flats would help to solve the London housing crisis. The creation of so-called ‘micro-housing’ would allow those young professionals who value location over size to live inside the most economically-active areas of London, the report argues argues.

But the report’s premises are often mistaken – and its solutions sketchy and questionable.

To its credit, it does currently diagnose the roots of the housing crisis: London’s growing population isn’t matched by a growing housing stock. Kichanova is self-evidently right in stating that “those who manage to find accomodation [sic] in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards”, and that planning restrictions and the misnamed Green Belt are contributing to this growing crisis.

But the problems start on page 6, when Kichanova states that “the land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way”, justifying this reasoning through an assertion that half of Londoners live in buildings up to two floors high. In doing so, she incorrectly equates high-rise with density: Kichanova, formerly a Libertarian Party councillor in Moscow, an extraordinarily spread-out city with more than its fair share of tall buildings, should know better.

Worse, the original source for this assertion refers to London as a whole: that means it includes the low-rise areas of outer London, rather than just the very centrally located Central Activities Zone (CAZ) – the City, West End, South Bank and so forth – with which the ASI report is concerned. A leisurely bike ride from Knightsbridge to Aldgate would reveal that single or two-storey buildings are almost completely absent from those parts of London that make up the CAZ.

Kichanova also argues that a young professional would find it difficult to rent a flat in the CAZ. This is correct, as the CAZ covers extremely upmarket areas like Mayfair, Westminster, and Kensington Gardens (!), as well as slightly more affordable parts of north London, such as King’s Cross.

Yet the report leaps from that quite uncontroversial assertion to stating that living outside the CAZ means a commute of an hour or more per day. This is a strawman: it’s perfectly possible to keep your commuting time down, even living far outside of the CAZ. I live in Archway and cycle to Bloomsbury in about twenty minutes; if you lived within walking distance of Seven Sisters and worked in Victoria, you would spend much less than an hour a day on the Tube.

Kichanova supports her case by apparently misstating research by some Swiss economists, according to whom a person with an hour commute to work has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied as someone who walks. An hour commute to work means two hours travelling per day – by any measure a different ballpark, which as a London commuter would mean living virtually out in the Home Counties.

Having misidentified the issue, the ASI’s solution is to allow the construction of so-called micro-homes, which in the UK refers to homes with less than the nationally-mandated minimum 37m2 of floor space. Anticipating criticism, the report disparages “emotionally charged epithets like ‘rabbit holes’ and ‘shoeboxes,” in the very same paragraph which describes commuting as “spending two hours a day in a packed train with barely enough air to breath”.


The report suggests browsing Dezeen’s examples of designer micro-flats in order to rid oneself of the preconception that tiny flats need mean horrible rabbit hutches. It uses weasel words – “it largely depends on design whether a flat looks like a decent place to live in” – to escape the obvious criticism that, nice-looking or not, tiny flats are few people’s ideal of decent living. An essay in the New York Times by a dweller of a micro-flat describes the tyranny of the humble laundry basket, which looms much larger than life because of its relative enormity in the author’s tiny flat; the smell of onion which lingers for weeks after cooking a single dish.

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has described being “appalled” after viewing a much-publicised scheme by development company U+I. In Hong Kong, already accustomed to some of the smallest micro-flats in the world, living spaces are shrinking further, leading Alice Wu to plead in an opinion column last year for the Hong Kong government to “regulate flat sizes for the sake of our mental health”.

Amusingly, the Dezeen page the ASI report urges a look at includes several examples directly contradicting its own argument. One micro-flat is 35 m2, barely under minimum space standards as they stand; another is named the Shoe Box, a title described by Dezeen as “apt”. So much for eliminating emotionally-charged epithets.

The ASI report readily admits that micro-housing is suitable only for a narrow segment of Londoners; it states that micro-housing will not become a mass phenomenon. But quite how the knock-on effects of a change in planning rules allowing for smaller flats will be managed, the report never makes clear. It is perfectly foreseeable that, rather than a niche phenomenon confined to Zone 1, these glorified student halls would become common for early-career professionals, as they have in Hong Kong, even well outside the CAZ.

There will always be a market for cheap flats, and many underpaid professionals would leap at the chance to save money on their rent, even if that doesn’t actually mean living more centrally. The reasoning implicit to the report is that young professionals would be willing to pay similar rents to normal-sized flats in Zones 2-4 in order to live in a smaller flat in Zone 1.

But the danger is that developers’ response is simply to build smaller flats outside Zone 1, with rent levels which are lower per flat but higher per square metre than under existing rules. As any private renter in London knows, it’s hardly uncommon for landlords to bend the rules in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their renters.

The ASI should be commended for correctly diagnosing the issues facing young professionals in London, even if the solution of living in a room not much bigger than a bed is no solution. A race to the bottom is not a desirable outcome. But to its credit, I did learn something from the report: I never knew the S in ASI stood for “Slum”.