Robert Templer


Indonesia gambles on a new capital

Indonesia is building a new capital. By 2045, all central government offices will have moved to a remote part of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The first to leave Jakarta, the current capital, will be the president and his deputy whose offices and homes are set in 80 hectares of forest in the centre of the city of Nusantara.

Nusantara will not only be an investment of tens of billions of dollars in a new city expected to house around 4 million eventually, but a repositioning of political power in the geographic centre of the country, away from the oligarchs, political families and military officers who dominate Indonesia. Joko Widodo, a former furniture manufacturer and small city mayor, is the first president who has not come from this milieu and has been intent on moving power and wealth away from Java.

Nusantara has been designed by Indonesians to be a “forest city,” strung through with indigenous trees and plants aimed at recreating nature as it was before the area became a plantation of eucalyptus trees. The urban plan includes all the latest ideas: it is to be a 15-minute city with residents able to walk to most services in that time; it is to be zero-carbon, home to electric vehicles and solar power; only around a third of the area will be developed, the rest will be green. The core, home to ministries and the housing for the first civil servants, is modelled after the lush Kalimantan forest; tall buildings will peek above the canopy and trap solar energy, walkways will be cooled by trees and water and a lower area will be used for services and deliveries.

Liveability will be at the heart of the city design, all the better to lure civil servants from Jakarta. The current capital is a sprawling mess of 35 million people, possibly the largest city on earth but connected so far with just a single metro line. Traffic, pollution and noise sometimes seem unbearable and yet hundreds of thousands flock there each year. Moving people to the forests of Kalimantan, a wild and slightly sinister place in the Indonesian imagining, is one of just many challenges: costs will be huge; eco-cities have a poor record of success and nothing in Indonesia suggests a skill for managing mega-projects; sustaining a city of this type requires conscientious enforcement of regulations, again not a core part of the country’s urbanism. Javanese civil servants are already crinkling their noses in horror at the thought of exile in Nusantara.

If it succeeds, Indonesia will have built a capital that is not the symbol of a dictator or based on a mythical history of conquest but is centred on the environment and diversity. It might just establish a model of new urbanism in a country where people are still flocking to cities in huge numbers.

Nusantara is the first of a series of short books on world affairs called Pilot.

Publication date 5 November 2024

£9.99 | 80 pages

978-1-7394243-5-0 | Paperback

The author

Robert Templer is a journalist, writer, lecturer and policy consultant. He was educated at Cambridge and the University of London. His book, Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam, was highly acclaimed. Today he lives in Barcelona.