Which city tweets the most?

Jakarta University students during a visit from British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Image: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty.

Twitter is a pretty useful tool for city-dwellers. You can track transit hiccups. You can follow new bars that don’t even exist yet. You can exchange hilarious quips with friends, without actually venturing onto the busy streets to meet up with them.

In 2012, Semiocast, a market research company, decided to study over 1bn tweets sent in June that year, to find out which city tweets most and why. Many of its finding were pretty unsurprising: the US had the most Twitter accounts (over 140 million); English is the most widely-used language on Twitter.

When they looked at which cities tweet the most, however, things got more interesting. Second and third places went to Tokyo and London – but in the number one slot was Jakarta, Indonesia. Badung, another Indonesian city, was also in the top ten. Here's a chart, showing their top 20:

Perhaps excited by this unexpected victory, Brand24, an Indonesian social marketing company, conducted another study in 2013, this time looking at 10.3 billion tweets from January to March of that year. Jakarta made the top spot again. In fact, tweets from Jakarta, which contains 0.28 per cent of the world’s population, made up for 2.4 per cent of the world’s tweets during that period.

This meteroric rise is perhaps surprising for a different reason, too: it’s a relatively recent development. GNIP, another social media analysis company – there are, it seems, loads – found that in 2008, tweets in Indonesian accounted for 0 per cent of the total (we assume they rounded down). By 2013, it was the fifth most commonly tweeted language, accounting for 3.25 per cent of the world’s tweets.

So why are Jakartans so tweet-happy all of a sudden? Here are a few possibilities:

It’s the second largest city in the world.

Neither study on tweet locations adjusted for city size: instead of tweets per resident, they compared raw numbers. Depending on how you define the city limits, Jakarta has a population of somewhere between 10m and 30m; it might be the second largest city in the world; it’s certainly in the top 20. What’s more, half of its residents are under 30. In 2013, 79 per cent of the world’s tweets came from people under the age of 30. Do the maths.

It’s also one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

This is important, but not for the reasons you might expect. When the news broke of Jakara’s Twitter eminence in 2012, an official commented that it was probably because they spend so much time stuck in traffic. In 2010, a city governor even called on residents to tweet traffic news on Twitter, in order to ease congestion in the city. Lots of people in a small area means lots of waiting around, and lots of idle time to spend on your smartphone.

Jakartans “love to chat”.

Budi Putra, ex-editor of Indonesian Yahoo!, says that Twitter is huge in Jakarta because Indonesians love chatting to one another.  He also says many Jakartans use Twitter as a form of messenger, rather than a microblogging platform. This makes it likely that users tweet more often than the average user, as they’re having conversations rather than just airing their thoughts.

Blackberry and Yahoo! messenger are also popular in the city, which seems to back up Putra’s “Jakartans love to chat” thesis.

Tweeting pays.

In 2013, it emerged that Jakartans with over 2,000 followers can be paid upwards of US$21 per tweet to advertise products or events. Confusingly, these sponsored tweeters are called “buzzers”.

The influence of Twitter in Jakarta, and Indonesia as a whole, isn’t lost on those looking for influence.  In the recent presidential elections, one of the two candidates, Prabowo Subianto, had 75 young people running his social media campaign. Turns out, even that wasn’t enough: as of June, he had Twitter 750,000 followers to his opponent Joko Widodo’s 1,600,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Widodo (governor of Jakarta and also, incidentally, known for his love of Metallica) took home 53 per cent of the vote.

Joko Widodo: governor; president-elect; king of Twitter. Image: Getty.

Celebrities are taking advantage of Jakartans’ Twitter dominance, too. Agnes Monica, or Agnez Mo, the Indonesian singer and actress, has almost 11 million followers. That’s only a quarter of Lady Gaga’s , but Google trends data shows that Lady Gaga is searched on Google more than than twenty times as often, so Monica is reeling in a bigger following than her popularity would suggest. We can only imagine she’s followed by millions of Jakartans, stuck in traffic and avidly reading her every tweet.

 
 
 
 

What does the Greater Manchester Spatial Plan mean for the region’s housing supply and green belt?

Manchester. Image: Getty.

We’re not even halfway through January and we’ve already seen one of the biggest urban stories of the year – the release of Greater Manchester’s new spatial plan for the city-region. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) sets an ambitious target to build more than 200,000 homes over the next 18 years.

Despite previous statements indicating greenbelt development was off the table, the plan allows for some moderate easing of greenbelt, combined with denser city centre development. This is sensible, pragmatic and to be welcomed but a question remains: will it be enough to keep Manchester affordable over the long-term?

First, some history on Manchester’s housing strategy: This is not the first iteration of the controversial GMSF. The first draft was released by Greater Manchester’s council leaders back in October 2016 (before Andy Burnham was in post), and aimed to build 227,000 houses by 2037. Originally, it proposed releasing 8.2 per cent of the green belt to provide land for housing. Many campaigners opposed this, and the newly elected mayor, Andy Burnham, sent the plan back to the drawing board in 2017.

The latest draft published this week contains two important changes. First, it releases slightly less greenbelt land than the original plan, 4.1 per cent of the total, but more than Andy Burnham previously indicated he would. Second, while the latest document is still ambitious, it plans for 26,000 fewer homes over the same period than the original.

To build up or to build out?

In many cities, the housing supply challenge is often painted as a battle-ground between building high-density homes in the city centre or encroaching on the green belt. Greater Manchester is fortunate in that it lacks the density of cities such as London – suggesting less of a confrontation between people who what to build up and people who want to build out.

Prioritising building on Greater Manchester’s plentiful high-density city centre brownfield land first is right and will further incentivise investment in public transport to reduce the dependence of the city on cars. It makes the goal in the mayor’s new transport plan of 50 per cent of all journeys in Greater Manchester be made on foot, bikes or public transport by 2040 easier to realise.

However, unlike Greater London’s greenbelt which surrounds the capital, Greater Manchester’s green belt extends deep into the city-region, making development on large amounts of land between already urbanised parts of the city-region more difficult. This limits the options to build more housing in parts of Greater Manchester close to the city centre and transport nodes. The worry is that without medium-term reform to the shape of Manchester’s green belt, it may tighten housing supply in Manchester even more than the green belt already does in places such as London and York. In the future, when looking to undertake moderate development on greenbelt land, the mayor should look to develop in these areas of ‘interior greenbelt’ first.

Greater Manchester’s Green Belt and Local Authority Boundaries, 2019.

Despite the scale of its ambition, the GMSF cannot avoid the sheer size of the green belt forever: it covers 47 per cent of the total metropolitan area). In all likelihood, plans to reduce the size of the green belt by 2 per cent will need to be looked at again once the existing supply of brownfield land runs low – particularly if housing demand over the next 18 years is higher than the GMSF expects, which should be the case if the city region’s economy continues to grow.

An example of a successful political collaboration

The GMSF was a politically pragmatic compromise achieved through the cooperation of the metropolitan councils and the mayoral authority to boost the supply of homes. It happened because Greater Manchester’s mayor has an elected mandate to implement and integrate the GMSF and the new transport plan.

Other cities and the government should learn from this. The other metro mayors currently lacking spatial planning powers, in Tees Valley and the West Midlands, should be gifted Greater Manchester-style planning powers by the government so they too can plan and deliver the housing and transport their city-regions need.

Long-term housing strategies that are both sustainable and achievable need to build both up and out. In the short-term Greater Manchester has achieved this, but in the future, if its economic success is maintained, it will need to be bolder on the green belt than the proposals in the current plan. By 2037 Manchester will not face a trade-off between high-density flats in the city centre or green belt reform – it will need to do both.  If the city region is to avoid the housing problems that bedevil London and other successful cities, policy makers need to be ready for this.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.