BSD City: a response to Jakarta’s rapid urbanisation

An overview of BSD City. Image: Sinar Mas Land.

Carissa Widjojo works on strategic planning and corporate strategy at Sinar Mas Land, the Indonesian property developer behind the Bumi Serpong Damia garden city.

Indonesia is projected to have 32m people seeking housing in its urban areas by 2030. In parallel, the nation’s demographic profile is in transition, with a growing working-age population, but also a larger, aging group with specific needs and spending power. As the nation’s capital and one of the most rapidly growing cities in the world, Jakarta’s development will be the focal point of Indonesia’s rapid urbanisation.

Consequently, Indonesia urgently needs innovative, creative and sustainable property solutions. We need to prioritise the management of natural resources and preserve equitable standards both for established communities and the ones we create.

The self-contained satellite city of Bumi Serpong Damai (BSD), located in the south west of Jakarta, is the realization of over 20 years of meticulous planning. The city’s development is already in its second phase and will continue up until 2020, with a third and final phase set to be completed by 2035. This cityscape of 6,000 hectares is setting a new standard for modern living and is the hallmark of planned integrated townships in Indonesia.

BSD City’s development plan incorporates five toll roads, two of which are already in place, with feeder links to busways for both local and capital city access. In addition, a double track rail connection has been implemented for regional transport. A dedicated water treatment plant and reliable power infrastructure ensure that the utility requirements of its inhabitants are met. In addition, the city’s purpose-built nursery ensures that the landscape flourishes in tandem with rapid urban development. Furthermore, there are over 65 educational establishments and three hospitals, a variety of markets, entertainment centres, sports and leisure facilities.

BSD City focuses on four key areas: climate, including pedestrian comfort; water; waste; and energy management. Our mission is to preserve the natural beauty of the Cisadane river basin, ensure that BSD is an environmentally conscious city of the future for the benefit of all, embrace the needs of adjacent traditional village communities and new residents, and seek an alternative to city congestion and pollution.

Tackling the Biggest Challenges of our Time

Topics of energy, water, food security and climate change are increasingly important in today’s rapidly urbanising world. Some estimates suggest that Indonesia could cut as much as 15 per cent of its energy demands by 2030 through energy efficient buildings. BSD City itself contains over 400 hectares of green space and parks, contributing to effective water retention and air quality.

The provision of adequate water is often recognised as the next global challenge. While Jakarta relies primarily on the use of wells, BSD City has the potential to attain almost complete water independence, and net zero potable water waste, via the use of water management systems and extensive greening. Filtering and treating wastewater for reuse in sanitation, road cleaning and irrigation has been highly effective.

The design for an office park in BSD City. Image: Sinar Mas Land.

The built environment is a massive consumer of energy. Among other countries in Asia, Indonesia’s reliance on energy from low-cost coal contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Over the lifespan of a building, considerable energy can be wasted through inefficient design. On top of this, there is the cost of fuel for the rising numbers of private vehicles on traffic-congested roads.

We address these challenges through the provision of reliable public transport, pedestrian sidewalks and bicycle lanes that offer cost-effective alternatives to the private vehicle. Energy efficient buildings, oriented to avoid east and west elevations with reflective roof surfaces, help minimise solar impact and reduce the urban heat island effect. Such measures also channel local wind effectively for pedestrian comfort during the day, along with shade from tree-lined streets.

Creativity in design can generate natural ventilation in multi-storey buildings. Meanwhile the use of renewable energy – in particular solar – and the use of energy efficient building materials ensure further savings.

Championing Sustainable Master Planning

In developing Asian cities of the future, there is an emerging trend to reduce the dominance of multi-lane streets and private vehicles. Asian cities are also aiming to avoid monolithic land use and limit suburban sprawl.

Central to the development of each phase of BSD City is the establishment of comprehensive supporting facilities for inhabitants. These facilities are selected with lifestyle synergy in mind. They include global university campuses, hospital districts, enterprise zones, residential villages, retail and entertainment recreational areas. All of these facilities are destinations in themselves, and are the antithesis of repetitive single use land developments of the past.

Our planning studies include concepts such as “walkability” – creating easy access on foot or bicycle for short journeys, to local nodes comprising schools, local retail and services, which are connected to other hubs via public transport.

Over the next decade we expect to build 150,000 new homes in BSD City alone, as the garden city grows to over one million residents. At this level of responsibility, it is essential that we remain open, accessible and transparent.

With the rapidly growing urban population in Greater Jakarta, our city needs to be ready to accommodate this. The decisions we make today regarding urban services, infrastructure and environment sustainability will determine our future. Now is the time for us to let go of our short-term tunnel vision, and instead to adopt a future-focused mindset, so that our children and businesses can grow and prosper seamlessly in a healthy living environment.

Carissa Widjojo works in strategic planning and corporate strategy at Sinar Mas Land, an Indonesian real estate consultancy which is a partner on the New Cities Summit, to be held in Jakarta on 9-11 June.

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

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.