The subject of a plethora of mythological tales and philosophical analyses, the Lost City of Atlantis, described by the Greek philosopher Plato as a wealthy and advanced utopia beyond its time, seems to capture a figment of the imagination of every individual. The idea of a city with advanced and efficient infrastructure, abundant with natural resources and laden with natural beauty is naturally an appealing one, especially as sprawling concrete jungles threaten to eclipse our world. It is a widely popular theory that Plato utilized the concept of Atlantis to provide a moral example of the fate of cities which neglect their institutions and fall prey to the familiar hunter known as corruption. Indeed there is no concept of such a city ever existing, despite several attempts to find it.
However, with the rising and established threat of global warming looming upon us, certain metropolises around the world which are deeply entrenched within the fabric of their nations are now threatening to turn the fantasy of Atlantis into a reality. One of those is Jakarta, the capital city and financial centre of Indonesia, and an agglomeration of cultures, infrastructure and people. The city is one of the fastest sinking in the world, going at a rate of approximately 7 inches per year into the Java Sea. Jakarta is the heart of Indonesia, supplying governance and financing across the country, and this uncontrolled and escalating process represents a looming apocalypse for the cultural centre of a nation and the source of livelihood for 10 million people.
On account of its far-reaching and tumultuous history, Jakarta has become a melting pot for a diverse range of lifestyles and tradition. Bringing together various groups across Indonesia, one can also view a blend of Portuguese and Dutch architecture across its landscape, infused with a touch of Chinese influence. Utilized as a port by the Pajajaran dynasty, who were amongst the last Hindu rulers in the region, Jakarta underwent a series of takeovers by Muslim, Portuguese and then eventually Dutch settlers, who established it as a capital for the Dutch East Indies, the name given by the Dutch to modern day Indonesia. Modern day Jakarta is an economic powerhouse, generating approximately 20% of Indonesia’s revenues and housing the major financial institutions within the nation, such as the Bank of Indonesia and the Indonesia Stock Exchange. Real estate in particular represents a significant proportion of the market. Jakarta reportedly had the highest return on investment for luxury real estate in 2014 compared to any city in the world, and accompanying this booming luxury properties sector are the high rise towers sprouting from the land.
Yet this land, and the urban sprawl upon it, is what represents the source of the problem for Jakarta’s future. The city was built upon marshland, essentially swamp that consisted of soft sediment held together by groundwater. Although a suitably strong foundation for initial development, Jakarta’s rapid development into a megacity has left the land unable to cope. With the influx of migrants into Jakarta looking to take advantage of the economic opportunities generated since the time of Dutch occupation, the demand for freshwater has increased exponentially. The readily available source for the population has always been the groundwater present in aquifers and the earth around which Jakarta is built. Extracting this causes significant damage to the land in the form of land subsidence, which occurs when the land does not have the support to bear the weight above it and naturally caves in. This process has been exacerbated recently due to the ever-growing population and represents the most major threat to Jakarta. The Indonesian government did attempt to resolve this issue by privatising the city’s tap water pipeline system in an attempt to provide citizens with a clean, safe and regular alternative to groundwater extraction. Unfortunately this policy failed miserably due to a misallocation of resources and the mindset of the private suppliers, whose exorbitant pricing left tap water as an unviable alternative.
Since then, the central government has shifted its focus from addressing the root cause of the problem to simply trying to delay the effect, and has now decided to simply step away from the problem entirely by building and relocating to a new capital city. Currently presided over by Joko Widodo, a man elected in part due to his history of urban infrastructure development, the government has announced plans to move its administrative centre to the coast of the island of Borneo, home to a dense rainforest which provides a habitat for a range of wild animals (including the critically endangered Borneo orangutan), and ironically made up of a similar swampy marshland which threatens the existence of Jakarta. The government has stated that the new capital will be a ‘smart, green city’, which will help ‘rehabilitate’ the surrounding forest. However many fear Indonesia will approach the construction of this city with a similar to approach to Brazil, which cleared out vast swathes of forest when establishing its current capital city, Brasilia.
As for what will happen to the magnificent city of Jakarta? Widodo has stressed that it will remain the financial hub of the nation and will continue as a centre of tourism, however with relatively few measures established by the government to protect and conserve the area aside from a few ineffective seawalls, the future of the city known as the ‘Big Durian’, on account of a fruit native to the region, seems bleak.