Let’s take a look at some of Southeast Asia’s greatest assets: its huge, crowded, economic powerhouse cities.

Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, is a regional behemoths with its area of over 740 square kilometers and 9.59 million residents. But as well as being the center of Indonesia’s political and economic power, it creates headaches in the form of overcrowding, legendary traffic jams, urban poverty and vulnerability to flooding and earthquakes. One solution that has interested the government recently is moving out of Jakarta altogether, relocating Indonesia’s administrative seat to a regional center or small town like Jonggol, on Jakarta’s outskirts.

While such a move by itself wouldn’t do much to improve Jakarta’s infrastructure, it may take away some of the pressure and diversify Indonesia’s risk of economic devastation in the event of a major natural disaster. It would also enable up-and-coming Indonesia to build a showcase capital from scratch, as other young and ambitious countries have done (eg: Malaysia’s Putrajaya, Brazil’s Brasilia, Australia’s Canberra, Kazakhstan’s Astana and even the USA’s Washington DC, among others).

Planned showcase capitals are also arguably disproportionate consumers of government funding, artificial-feeling and less impressive to those from outside the country. Though exact figures are difficult to calculate, each of the cities mentioned above cost its government several billions of dollars to develop and maintain, and usually became the subject of endless debates over whether the money would have been better spent improving conditions in ‘real’ cities. Even rich Japan abandoned its plan to move the capital out of Tokyo for budgetary reasons.

Former President Suharto first suggested Jonggol as an alternate capital, while founding President Sukarno liked Palangkaraya on Borneo for its geographically central location and lack of earthquakes. Jayapura in Papua has also been suggested as a radical option for those favoring decentralization of power away from Java.

Economists are generally negative towards the idea, saying a new capital would produce few benefits for those other than public servants and lucrative construction contract recipients, while mega-cities like Jakarta would still exist with all their challenges. Working to solve Jakarta’s infrastructure woes would also be a multi-billion dollar project, and this would probably form part of any plan for administrative relocation.

source: Reuters via The Jakarta Globe