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HomeWorld‘Loveable, liveable’: Indonesia new capital chief shares vision

‘Loveable, liveable’: Indonesia new capital chief shares vision


East Kalimantan, Indonesia – Indonesia is moving forward with its plans to build a new capital — called Nusantara — in East Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo.

The project is expected to cost about $34 billion and authorities hope it will be completed by 2045.

Nusantara aims to alleviate some of the environmental pressures facing today’s capital Jakarta, which besides being polluted and congested is the fastest sinking city in the world.

Authorities have pitched the new capital as a model for sustainable and inclusive development.

But the project is also controversial – some are concerned about the effect on indigenous communities and the environment, as well as whether the project can be completed on time or not at all.

Bambang Susantono, an engineer, economist and former acting minister of transportation, was appointed as head of the Nusantara Capital Authority in early 2022.

He spoke to Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington at the site of the new capital to share his thoughts on the progress made and his message to those who doubt Indonesia’s ability to complete its ambitious project.

Al Jazeera: How’s the construction going?

Bambang Susantono: 2023 will be a busy year for us. Of course next year will be busy for us as well. But this year we will start with the whole construction, especially for the basic infrastructure and essential buildings. But not only that. That’s just the hardware. We would like to see the software. We have all systems in place, we are doing social empowerment for local people.

They are equally important to us. So that when we have a complete ecosystem for Nusantara to be a livable and also loving city. We would like to have both – livable and lovely go hand in hand. So that Nusantara becomes one of the best sustainable forest cities in the world.

Al Jazeera: What will Nusantara look like in the future?

bamboo: The whole area of ​​Nusantara will be 256,000 hectares (632,600 acres). That is about three and a half times the size of Singapore. In that area, only 25 percent is built as an urban environment – ​​and this must be a green, urban environment.

The remaining 75 percent will be green and 65% will be tropical forest. If you look around here, this is actually a production forest. We would like to replant it – we call it reforestation, we want it to become a tropical forest again.

Indonesia’s new capital is carved out of mostly secondary forest on the island of Borneo (Jessica Washington/ Al Jazeera)

We do hope that the sustainable forest city will at least be a CO2-neutral city by 2045. Carbon neutral means using the tropical forest as a carbon sink, and we try to control the urban environment as a green environment.

Al Jazeera: Why are some environmental groups still concerned about this project? I believe some have used the phrase “ecological disaster.” Why would they have that opinion?

bamboo: Because of our past practices, if you see some of the areas here, they don’t have very good environmental conditions. There is illegal mining and there are some plantations in the forest. These are things we want to reverse.

When we think about these things, we are talking about the past. We really want to prove that this is a city of the future, with the green, smart, inclusive and sustainable characteristics. In my opinion, I can say that this is our hope for the global campaign against climate change, the global campaign for better biodiversity and the global campaign for the environment.

Let’s see this as everyone’s concern – if we can do it in Nusantara, we can replicate it on a global scale.

Al Jazeera: Let’s talk about inclusivity. I know there are some activities for people who already live here, including several exercise activities. But what about the indigenous people for this area?

bamboo: We must respect them. The indigenous people, the local wisdom. That should be part of our development process. That is why we have a number of inclusive forums, in which we try to establish a dialogue with all stakeholders. So they will be part of our development part in the future.

We are going to appreciate and incorporate local wisdom. Of course, this will be a world-class city. It’s not just for Indonesia, the standard will be an international standard. Especially in the area of ​​ESG — environmental, social and governance. The social part includes inclusiveness, where all stakeholders, especially indigenous people, will be part of the process.

There are steps that are now being sorted out by the Ministry of Planning and Agriculture: how to be more involved and inclusive. Of course there is a process. There is a dialogue process. There are some anthropologist and sociologist studies.

In general, we will provide some space for dialogue so that they can engage with us, not just with us, but with all stakeholders. Sometimes there will be disagreements between or among them, so we need to look at the social and anthropological studies related to this and use that as material for these cases.

Al Jazeera: What are the challenges and opportunities regarding the payment of this project?

bamboo: We know that the situation in the world is not so colorful right now. We’re in the middle of the recovery from COVID-19, we have climate change, we have conflicts in some parts of the world. Conflict, climate change and COVID-19.

Despite this, there are still investors who want to invest in some of the projects that may have some guarantee in the next 10 to 15 years. Nusantara has a number of public-private partnership arrangements, there are private financing arrangements, there are mixed financing arrangements.

From that point of view, this is a good project to invest in. We also want to make a mark on the ESG — anyone who invests in this project will see this credibility and see that this is a good project, not just good for returns, but good for ESG.

After the market poll conducted directly by our President at the end of last year, there is a lot of international interest from investors. Those who are serious are from the UAE, from Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea and the US. Some investigate in more detail, of course they have to conduct studies to see the environment here. Hopefully, by next quarter, we’ll see who’s really in there. Some are not here now, but are doing their procedures. We create opportunities for them.

Al Jazeera: What would you say to people who doubt whether the project can be completed?

bamboo: In 2024 we want to have a showcase. Maybe just 921 hectares (2,276 acres) or up to 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres). In the 1,000 hectares we show that we have a complete ecosystem. A city that has a self-driving character.

If people take ownership of this city, it will be sustainable, regardless of the political circumstances. If it is a liveable and pleasant city, you can see that the air quality is good. We have a ten minute town so you can reach destinations within 10 minutes, and you can walk comfortably here. It will be a place where people enjoy living – working, learning and living

Think of Nusantara as a city for tomorrow. This will be completed in 2045. Some people ask me, Bambang, what will the city look like? Will it be like Avatar? Like Wakanda? You may dream of that. I think that with the characteristics smart, green, inclusive and resilient, the city will be sustainable for the future.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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