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Bandung, Breaking Ground for People-centric Planning

As an Indonesian resident, not a day goes by in which I do not see the country’s infrastructure affect the lives of its people, its economy, and the overall standard of living. While Indonesia often has a reputation for unending traffic jams and a dearth of highways, many Indonesians see hope, whether it be the continual progress of the MRT project in Jakarta or the opening of highways across Java.

However, another promising area within infrastructure that is easily overlooked is that of people-centric urban planning. Leading this movement is Mr. Ridwan Kamil, the current mayor of Bandung, who, having graduated from UC Berkeley with a masters in urban planning is well-versed in methods for revitalizing cities. However, instead of adding highways or rebuilding the city of Bandung, he has focused on small changes by creating parks and public spaces that have emphasized the everyday interactions people have with their built environment. The positive results of his actions to bring back interest in pedestrian life and parks shows the promise of further improvements in the city’s public transport system. It is this model that Indonesian municipal governments should follow to understand the power of people-centric planning.

Bandung, Indonesia’s third-largest city with a population of more than 2.5 million residents, faces many problems as a growing metropolis because of its city design (Indonesia). Built with an idyllic Garden City design during the early 1900’s, most of North Bandung, as the Paris of Java (“Paris van Java”), was created with relatively small tree-lined streets connecting major areas of town (Radjawali).

Ironically, the inadequacy of these roads for the traffic needs of a rapidly growing metropolis takes away much of the city’s natural charm. A lack of public parks, exploration of the city famous for its greenery and coolness on foot or bicycle, except for a short distance, has become almost non-existent. While adding infrastructure, such as the Pasupati Flyover, has helped alleviate some of Bandung’s traffic problems, it has ultimately failed to reduce congestion significantly. It seemed like Bandung would become an economic hub wasting in its prosperity.

Over the last few years, people-centric planning has revived a significant portion of pedestrian life by establishing creative spaces and parks. By integrating the existing built environment with future plans, Mr. Ridwan Kamil was able to avoid demolitions and use the city’s available assets fully. One successful project of his human-centric approach is “Taman Pasupati” or “Taman Jomblo” (“Singles Park”).

Not only does the park live up to its name by having chairs that seat only one person, it utilizes the area under flyovers, spaces often abandoned as empty space, and the advantages the overlooked place has. For example, the raised highway gives a natural roof, protecting users from rain and shine. As a result, many citizens are able to use the seats and skateboard park that the park provides without costing the government a large amount of money to clear already used land to create a public space.

Taman Jomblo is only one of multiple public areas the city government has created for its citizens. The Cikapundung River Spot near Jalan Asia Afrika promotes the city rivers, streams of nature that are often neglected and viewed as garbage dumps. Around the tourist hub of Jalan Cihampelas, sidewalks have been improved so as to allow all people, including those in wheelchairs and the disabled, to move freely. Not only are these places more popular with tourists, their aesthetic attractions allow Bandung’s citizens to enjoy their city on foot and explore previously overlooked areas such as sidewalks and rivers.

All of these improvements are tied by one common theme: each one encourage human-scale interactions. With amneties to interact with and the ability to walk comfortably, Bandung’s citizens are encouraged to exercise and to interact with nature that always seemed to be a hassle. With a vibrant city life, the city has started to regain its “Paris Van Java” appeal. These advances show the simple steps often cash-strapped urban governments in Indonesia can do to increase the quality of life for its citizens.

The praise-worthy emphasis Bandung has on people-centric urban planning shows promise in improving its traffic and pedestrian systems. Public transportation is an essential key in a city where roads cannot be expanded at a fast enough rate to cope with the exponential growth of private vehicles. While he city government has taken significant and encouraging steps to improve the frequency of its Bandung Metro buses and their quality, many buses are still half-filled.

To encourage the use of public transport, one major step could be to integrate the Bandung Metro system with the local angkot system. Angkots are the small, privately-owned transport vans that interact unofficially but are still separated from the public transport system. Currently, riders of the Bandung Metro still need the angkot transport system, perceived to be a crowded and relatively unsafe form of public transport, to reach places that the bus system does not serve. To encourage service that takes into account the need for people to use both these transport systems, this view of angkots has to change.

Government intervention in the form of regulation and investment in funds and supporting infrastructure can make the angkot system appealing to all people. In fact, the government has taken encouraging steps by testing air-conditioned angkots (Firdaus, Dhae). Integrating the bus and angkot systems so that buses could serve as trans-district transportation while angkots would act as feeders for the bus systems would allow for a more organized transport system and would decrease any overlapping. Not only does this alleviate fears of unrest among angkot drivers that currently are losing service to private services such as Uber and Gojek as well as public transport, riders would know that the government to be involved in regulating the quality of angkot services. With these inducements, public transport would become a convenient for people, decreasing the number of private vehicles and therefore the amount of congestion on Bandung’s roads.

Whether it be the establishment of public spaces or the improvement of public transportation, creating planning reforms based on people’s needs and effectively using available public resources will be essential to the development of urban infrastructure within Bandung. People-focused urban planning, design that views the world from a human, not a birds-eye perspective, allows governments to effectively and often cheaply meet their citizens’ needs. While focusing on physical roads and highways is an important part of urban renewal, it is essential that city governments understand that urban planning goes beyond these highly visible structures. Bandung should be an exemplar for other municipal governments to creatively improve the built environment to prepare their cities for the future.

By Ricky Toh


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