This is the second in a four-part series on Indonesia's growing middle class. Part 1 is here.
The middle class increasingly inhabits an alternative Jakarta of suburban housing complexes, high rise offices and malls, all stitched together by air conditioning. But brutal commutes remain the great leveller.
Money can buy green spaces and functioning utilities, but public investment and better options for urban living are needed to resolve dysfunctional transportation systems. Will the growing middle class contribute to those changes, or will Jakarta collapse under the weight of all those cars?
Jakarta is infamous for its alternately traffic choked and flooded streets. Pavements are either non-existent or broken up by big holes to trip up the unwary and tip them into filthy storm drains. With a few exceptions, like Car Free Day on Sunday mornings on the Sudirman artery, you don't set foot in the streets if you can avoid it. So driving around BSD City, a satellite community just under thirty kilometres from Jakarta's central business district, feels like stepping into a parallel universe. It's Indonesia all right — just, well, a bit nicer.
BSD City's marketing material claims it is half size of Paris. An estimated 100,000 people live there, in gated communities of varying degrees of poshness. In the new 'Foresta' complex, a pretty townhouse on 120 square metres of land starts at about US$170,000 off the plan. The brochure shows digital mockups of wide streets, neighbourhood playgrounds and bike paths, separated from streets and pedestrian pathways by manicured green verges.
Green is a big theme in BSD City: 'The Green' is an established complex that accommodates some of the grander designs, huge ships of houses decorated with colonnades and cupolas. 'Froggy' is fairytale castle (actually white) that will serve as an indoor children's playground. BSD City salesman Kemi runs through the selling points: the schools, the malls. Kemi has lived in BSD City himself since the mid 1990s, and doesn't have much occasion to leave. 'We have everything here' he says. 'Now there's even a cemetery, divided into sections for Muslims, non-Muslims and the Chinese'.
Meanwhile, back in Jakarta proper, the battle to pull Jakarta's failing infrastructure back from the brink is on.
Along the Sudirman artery, work has begun on an overground mass transit system. There will be new buses for the overcrowded Busway network next year. But it's a race against time; as soon as 2014, the volume of cars in Jakarta will equal and exceed the length of road available for them to drive on, leading to predictions of total gridlock.
BSD City is just one among many large suburban developments in 'Jabodetabek' (Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tanggerang, Bekasi), the massive and growing conglomeration of formerly distinct cities that now makes up greater Jakarta. Increasingly, those who can afford it are retreating to the user-pays alternate reality of private development.
Unlike even the wealthiest parts of Jakarta proper, BSD City boasts mains water, drains that drain and streets that allow two cars to pass one another. Jakarta's pollution haze doesn't quite extend out this far and kids can, in theory, ride to school. They don't have to ride far, as there are 63 schools and colleges in BSD City, many franchises of high-end private schools from other parts of Jakarta and Indonesia.
But places like BSD City are islands of privilege in a sea of 'macet' (traffic), and those not super-rich enough to afford a helicopter taxi must swim through it every day to reach their downtown offices. 20.7 million people travel through the capital on a daily basis, and 57% drive their own vehicles (cars and motorbikes). A one- to two-hour commute is a good run; three- to four-hour commutes, especially in the wet season, are common.
BSD City is relatively fortunate to be serviced by the Bintaro train line. Efforts are being made to modernise the train service through Jabodetabek, to make it more comfortable and attractive to commuters. Recently, the air conditioned economy service was retired, leaving only 'executive' air conditioned carriages. At peak hours passengers are packed in tightly, with nary a space to wield a BlackBerry, and there's every chance they will still get stuck in traffic between the CBD train stations and their offices. The tragic collision between a Bintaro train and a petrol tanker that left 11 people dead in December last year served as a reminder of the chronic problems that beset public transport throughout Jakarta.
Apartment living in Jakarta is still relatively uncommon, and the preference for moving to the suburbs for some fresh air rather than live near work is clear. But that may be changing. In the CBD it is boom time for 'kost' (boarding houses). In the old, central neighbourhoods like Setiabudi and Benhil, houses are making way for midrise blocks with up to twenty rooms for rent. Many boarders are early career unmarried office workers, but many are established professionals who own property but can no longer face the commute every day.
Yudi, a wealthy executive with an international firm, has taken this to its logical extension. He has just bought a two-bedroom apartment in Rasuna Epicentrum, right in the centre of the CBD. Next year, his children will attend schools in central Jakarta, although on the weekend they will go back home to the suburbs to play.
Yudi has come to the end of this patience with his two-hour commute from his suburban home in Cibubur, south of Jakarta. Yudi was spending as much on his weekly commute as he would on a modest room in a kost. 'Petrol alone costs me Rp 600,000 ($60) per week. So times four, that's Rp 2.4 million ($240). Plus the toll, which is Rp 20,000 ($2) per day. Not to mention wear on vehicle. So it's better to have a kos.'
As the middle class grows, ever more cars are hitting the streets, with an estimated 1.1 million more cars in Indonesia this year. People who already have cars opine that other people shouldn't be allowed to have so many.
This debate is writ large at the moment, with Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi) publicly opposing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's push to introduce low cost, 'green' cars to Indonesia. SBY wants to develop a manufacturing industry and give more people access to the trappings of the middle class; Jokowi fears his city could grind to a permanent halt. After decades of neglect, public infrastructure development is ramping up, but nothing will change in the short term.
Despite all of this, demand for housing in places like BSD City remain strong. And while money can buy green spaces and functioning utilities, the 'macet' will remain the great leveller for the foreseeable future.
Photo by Flickr user B10m.