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Postcard from Indonesia: urban informality


5 November 2013

Traffic congestion on the main street in Bandung means public spaces are now increasingly contested spaces, making walking and cycling difficult and unsafe for those who rely on walking as their main form of transport.
Traffic congestion on the main street in Bandung means public spaces are now increasingly contested spaces, making walking and cycling difficult and unsafe for those who rely on walking as their main form of transport.

Dr Paul Jones writes from Indonesia about the consequences of the urbanisation process when urban form, structure and transport systems are not aligned.


In the middle of October 2013, I was fortunate to visit Bandung, Indonesia, meeting with academics and students at a conference on urban infrastructure, regional development and inclusiveness. Organised by the School of Architecture, Planning and Policy Development, the conference was held at the Institute of Technology, Bandung (ITB), Indonesia's leading university. Set in the cooler mountain region some three hours' drive south east of Jakarta, Bandung is a growing city of some 2.5 million persons and Indonesia's third-largest city. Bandung gained worldwide prominence in April 1955, when it played host to the first Asian African Conference, a recognised global event of countries that denounced colonialism and called for world peace in the wake of the Second World War.
As in other parts of Indonesia, Bandung has a rich colonial history based on Dutch rule and occupation. In the early- to mid-1900s, for example, the Dutch began to move the capital from Batavia (Jakarta) to Bandung, a town that had acquired a reputation as a source of Dutch wealth derived from tea and coffee plantations. Bandung was known as the "Paris of Java" because of its reputation for a diversity of European styled restaurants, hotels, and caf├ęs catering for the Dutch elite. While such character has now been assimilated into a bustling modern city, a legacy of Dutch architecture merged with local Sudanese roof styles, for example, pervades government and private buildings in Bandung's inner city areas.
Similar to many growing cities in the Asia Pacific, Bandung's rapid urbanisation continues to bring with it the consequences of growth, with the negatives invariably outweighing the positives. Issues of rising social inequality and poverty (most visibly expressed in slums), traffic congestion, environmental degradation and transparency of governance continue to colour and define the nature of the urbanisation process as it unfolds. What is most pronounced in large cities like Bandung is the continued rise in traffic congestion, with streets 'choked' by the moving ebb and flow of cars and motorbikes. With deteriorating traffic conditions including constrained road capacity and a limited local train network and large bus system for public transport, Bandung has become a car-dependent city. Attempting to cross the road can be a life-changing experience!

The three-wheeled motor taxi (becak) in Bandung. UN-Habitat (2013) estimated that becaks make up 33 percent of all transport trips in Bandung, thus playing an important social and economic role for both users and operators.
The three-wheeled motor taxi (becak) in Bandung. UN-Habitat (2013) estimated that becaks make up 33 percent of all transport trips in Bandung, thus playing an important social and economic role for both users and operators.

What was clearly visible in Bandung was the proliferation of small-scale transport operators who play a major role in moving people in the city. This sector comprises small-scale economic activity and fills a gap between taxi systems and conventional bus and train systems. In Bandung, there is a diverse mosaic of small scale transportation forms covering short distance trips, namely, motorcycle taxis (ojek), minibuses that carry 10 to 12 passengers (angkot), three-wheeled motor-taxis (becak), plus an array of horse- and donkey-drawn carts (andong). A recent UN-Habitat report (2013) suggested that the three-wheeled pedicabs (becaks) make up 33 percent of all trips in Bandung. These small-scale mobility movers serve low- and middle-income consumers, including tourists. Importantly, like motorbikes, they have the advantage of accessing smaller streets and laneways, being able to weave their way through congested and immovable traffic by virtue of their smaller size. They play a key role in reducing the "poverty of transport" for those most disadvantaged in the city.
What can we learn from this insight from Bandung? Small transport operators are a low-cost response to the mobility challenges of the city, as consumers seek out demand to access varied destinations within and across the city. For those who don't have a car or a motorbike, and where cities do not provide adequate public transport such as in Bandung, informal small-scale operators step up to fill mobility needs, especially for those on low incomes. At a broader metropolitan level, the Bandung experience reaffirms the need to get the strong relationship between land use planning and transport systems right at a range of spatial levels in the city. Just like the Sydney experience, planned urban form and transport systems - the latter the backbone of how space unfolds within the city - directly influence whether the benefits of mobility, such as accessing schools, jobs and health care, are equally distributed for all, or leave many stranded in suburbia.

The long-established Tamansari slum in central Bandung provides good accessibility to services, shopping and employment, as well as being a source of affordable housing. This compact urban form makes it attractive for many of its residents.
The long-established Tamansari slum in central Bandung provides good accessibility to services, shopping and employment, as well as being a source of affordable housing. This compact urban form makes it attractive for many of its residents.


Paul Jones is Associate Professor and Program Director of the Urban and Regional Planning Program in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, a board member of the University of Sydney's Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, and a member of the University's Pacific Regional Advisory Group.


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