What can a megacity like Jakarta do to tackle pollution and end gridlock?

Another day of gridlock on the streets of Jakarta. Image: Getty.

Action on mobility and climate need to be taken now. As one of the most congested cities in the world, Jakarta encapsulates the urgent need to find innovative solutions for mobility and climate change.

We sat down with Widya Anggraini, a Jakarta-based urban planner and community manager for urbanism forum urb.im, to gain some on-the-ground insights into Jakarta’s complex transport system.

NCF: What are the greatest challenges for urban mobility in a city like Jakarta?

WA: Firstly, the lack of reliable and safe public transportation and poor spatial planning policies. A study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy illustrated that motorised vehicle ownership is growing over 9 per cent per year: more than 2,000 newly registered motorcycles and around 500 cars are joining Jakarta’s congested streets per day. Hence, there is an urgent need to provide affordable, reliable and safe public transport as well as to support policies that reverse the growing popularity of motorized vehicles.

NCF: Public transport in Jakarta is said to be one of the most dangerous in the world for women. How important is gender safety when planning and managing public transport?

WA: Gender perspective has not always been part of planning and managing public transportation in Jakarta. However, there has been a considerable improvement to strengthen public transportation safety and acknowledge women’s special needs.

This is due to the high number of sexual harassment cases on public transportation, with both trains and buses becoming overcrowded during peak times. The current suburban rail system has greatly benefitted women in Jakarta by providing dedicated women’s carriages. The same can be said for the new mass rapid transit system (Trans Jakarta).

However, these precautions for female safety have not been adopted by other Indonesian bus providers such as Kopaja. Thus these transport options continue to be unsafe for women.

In the future, there should be careful planning and consideration for women. This is because women in Indonesia have a double burden – employment and care work – so safe and fast travel is vitally important.

NCF: Which mobility solutions that combat climate change do you think can successfully be implemented in Jakarta?

WA: There are two alternative solutions that might work. Firstly, the use of non-motorszed vehicles should be promoted. This means that the government should start to encourage people to walk or to bike by improving pedestrian and bike lanes. 

Secondly, policies that discourage people to use cars and motorcycles could also be implemented. This could be done by adopting alternative policies such as congestion pricing for several busy main roads; increasing the fuel price for private vehicles; applying higher taxes for both car and motorcycles ownership; and changing the perception of people towards motorised vehicles. 

Above all, Jakarta needs good leadership and political will to ensure these policies take place.

NCF: What social implications can gridlock create in a city like Jakarta? 

WA: There are several social implications that gridlock could create in a city like Jakarta. These include increased stress and exhaustion from long hours spent commuting, and a severe loss of productive time due to the slow average speed of travel in Jakarta

There is also the increased air pollution that comes from motor emissions and higher energy consumption. Finally, large levels carbon dioxide in a congested city can have a hazardous health effect.

Widya Anggraini  is an urban planner with an economics and public policy background. She has worked for a city-planning agency in the areas of child protection, youth and civil participation, women’s empowerment, and good governance.

This week, the New Cities Foundation is hosting the New Cities Summit in Jakarta. This Q&A was originally posted on the foundation’s blog.

 
 
 
 

How can cities ensure healthy architecture in an era of rapid population growth?

A new building emerges on Place de la Concorde, Paris. Image: Getty.

Worldwide population growth and mass migrations are putting the infrastructure of many cities under strain. With city governments under pressure to provide more housing and work spaces, people can end up living and working in poorly designed or low quality buildings.

Since the beginning of human civilisation, people have been striving to create a beneficial built environment. Take Neolithic buildings, for instance: they were purposefully orientated to catch the sun and allow for ventilation. Later, over 3,000 years ago in Crete, the Minoans built underground sewage systems to avoid plagues. So too did the Romans, who also used underfloor heating systems and aqueducts, and provided baths throughout the empire to keep the population in good health.

Slums in Wentworth Street, Whitechapel. Image: Wellcome Images/Wikimedia Commons.

Despite these early successes, maintaining healthy conditions became much more difficult in times of rapid population growth. During the industrial revolution, for instance, many cities quickly became overpopulated. With growing industries, employers were under pressure to accommodate more workers, and decayed or unfit buildings were used to host increasing numbers of tenants.

In the UK, living conditions reached such poor standards that the government passed a number of laws to improve public health. A similar sanitation project took place in Germany, at around the same time. These strategies provided many cities with outstanding green infrastructure such as parks and boulevards, which still bring many health benefits to those who can access them today.

Sick building syndrome

But in recent years, “sick building syndrome” has become a worry worldwide. Research has shown that headaches and respiratory problems among office workers were directly related to the use of air conditioning, poor ventilation and other widely-adopted technologies. Today, health professionals and designers have plenty of evidence to show that some buildings can harm people, both physically and psychologically. Yet ensuring buildings are “healthy” is a difficult task.

In the UK, some features such as ventilation and heating have to meet certain standards. But other design features, which are known to have a big impact on human welfare, are still not regulated. For example, there’s evidence that exposure to natural light and direct contact with nature have a positive effect on school exam results – yet there’s no legislation which says they must be a feature of learning environments.

And while scientists are constantly experimenting to grow our knowledge of the impacts that buildings have on human health, laws and regulations tend to develop more slowly. This means that even new buildings can be inadequately ventilated, or suffer from a lack of natural light – even though we now know that both cause symptoms of ill health.

A lack of natural ventilation means viruses are retained in the air, while a lack of natural light can affect brain functions. In Britain alone, these design pitfalls are adding to the stress on the NHS, and costing the economy an estimated £24.6m due to lost working days each year.

What’s more, as the Grenfell Tower disaster made awfully clear, technical difficulties and budget constraints can mean refurbishments are made using incompatible or inappropriate building materials, resulting in homes which simply aren’t safe to live in.

Tech fails

Architects aim to deliver sustainability by reducing energy consumption. There is a huge range of technologies which can help achieve this. But relying too heavily on such solutions can backfire: in 2016, researchers found that many homes had been built to be airtight, in a bid to meet energy efficiency targets. This can cause CO₂ and other pollutants to build up indoors, which in turn has adverse effects on residents’ health.

Human factors – including how we navigate and socialise within the built environment, and how our body responds to it – also have a big impact on the overall efficiency of buildings, and the sustainable technologies which go into them. Research has shown that people don’t always operate equipment as instructed – rather, they naturally look for comfort through more instinctive behaviours.

For example, when we feel a room is overheated, we tend to open windows to gain instant refreshment, rather than turning the thermostat down. This reduces the effectiveness of low-carbon technologies. So even buildings that have plenty of features to enhance energy efficiency can still be unsustainable, if people don’t use them properly.


The power of good design

Design is still the most powerful tool an architect can use: simple design measures, such as opening buildings towards sunnier aspects or adding ventilation in strategic locations to make the most of prevalent winds, are tried and tested techniques which can help to deliver healthier, more sustainable buildings.

Yet this approach comes with its own issues. Inner-city locations are often difficult to build in, because of their small size and crowded surroundings. Sometimes, architects will prioritise creating a “landmark” exterior, at the cost of a healthy interior. Other times, architects misinterpret planning guidance and recommendations, which can be vague and unspecific. Likewise, planning restrictions can actually be enforced to the detriment of the overall building quality.

The ConversationAt the moment, planning laws aren’t strong enough to provide truly sustainable environments that take human factors into account. Reform is long overdue, and designers, builders, planners and health professionals need to make a greater effort to find a more collective and coordinated way of working. But as a society, we must take joint responsibility: we can all make a start by learning how to change our our behaviour, to make the human aspects of sustainability a central part of our lives.

Laura B Alvarez, Architectural Technologist and Urban Designer, Nottingham Trent University.

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