15 April 2009

Sustainability: Sustainable Change Towards Sustainability

Marco Kusumawijaya

Even without climate change, sustainability is already an issue in Indonesian cities, in social, economic and ecological terms. Ten years after the reform, very few cities have moved away from Orde Baru’s developmentalism: rude urban expansions based on infrastructure outlaying, suburbanisations, low density developments, dependence on car with too little investments on public transport, etc., while natural resources are carelessly exploited without long-term view.

Several organisations including NGOs, government agencies, coalitions, research institutes, are working on the issues. There is also a rise in civil society activism, indicated at least by growth in civil society voluntary groups. However, much change is required and need to be sustained.

Without high economic growth, it is impossible to create wealth among the current poor. With high economic growth, it is not certain that gaps will be narrowed to create justice.

Upstream and downstream integration in spatial planning is still far from reality. Upstream destruction and downstream indulgence, under different jurisdictions, despite the new law that allows for joint spatial plans between different jurisdictions, are hard to coordinate within the context of decentralisation and autonomy.

There are opportunities for politicians to mobilise and direct public sentiments (irked by ecological disasters) towards regional spatial integration.

Citizens’ initiatives towards green living are growing, but need to be first recognised, and then facilitated to create critical mass of change. This is a very big challenge.

New infrastructures and other public investments have not really been seriously chosen based on the goal to achieve sustainability. There is a need for a comprehensive framework on urban sustainability to guide all urban projects. The framework requires political will and tenacity in implementation.

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