Jakarta City: Transformation to a Bustling Metropolitan

Jakarta city, considered to be the largest city in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. It played a role as the capital city of Indonesia since 1945. With its population of more than 10 million people, this city is the center of the Indonesian economy, government, culture, and entertainment of Indonesia. All government, Financial institutions, and corporate headquarters of numerous local and multinational companies can be found in this city.

Jakarta has a vibrant and long history. The establishment of Jakarta occurred back then during the 4th century and became a very important trading port for the Sunda kingdom. In the colonial era, it became the Dutch capital of the East Indies and renamed “Batavia”. After the Indonesian national revolution, Jakarta became the capital of the new republic and it became a metropolitan city after a few years of urbanization and urban development.

What is Jakarta City known for?

Known for both good and bad things, In terms of good things, Jakarta known as a big metropolitan city, which attracted migrants from all over Indonesia and make the city the melting pot of various cultures. In a way, it makes Jakarta very vibrant in cultural and historical values. People coming to Jakarta will encounter things such as good cuisine, historical places, modern buildings, grandiose shopping malls, and massive national monuments that decorate the city’s face. For those enjoying urban life, Jakarta considered being a nice place to visit once in a lifetime.

One of the High-density regions in Jakarta, Overpopulation cause Jakarta to be very dense

On the other hand, Jakarta infamously known for its bad traffic, poor waste management, pollution, and terrible urban management. An architectural media platform called Rethinking The Future (RTF) put Jakarta on one of the lists of cities with the worst urban planning in the world. According to RTF, Jakarta contains high air pollution and polluted water. Additionally, immature infrastructure planning in the past also lead to low life quality caused by traffic congestion and flooding.

History of Jakarta

Batavia during 1780. At this time, Batavia was still under the control of Dutch East Indies Company || Via Flickr

What is the old name of Jakarta City?

Multiple nations and kingdoms chose Jakarta as part of their settlement from the early year of 397 AD to the present day. Moreover, the name transformation of Jakarta occurred from time to time. Historically, the name of the city has changed 4 times in the past 1600 years.

  • Sunda Kingdom name the city Sunda Kelapa (397-1527). During their reign, the port of Sunda Kelapa mentioned as strategic and thriving.
  • Banten sultanate renamed the city Jayakarta, which means “Victory” after driving out the Portuguese (1527-1619). After the victory, the city itself became a major trading hub in Southeast Asia. This hub attracted foreign powers like the British and the Dutch, which created a trading post around the city.
  • Later, the Dutch arrived and took control of the city. They renamed it Batavia (1619-1942) and made it as a colonial capital.
  • After the national revolution, the new Indonesian republic changed the name of the city to Djakarta or Jakarta (1942-present)

Jakarta during the colonial era

Dutch East India Company/VOC (1610-1800)

At the time, the relationship between the Banten sultanate and the Dutch deteriorated. With the help of the British, Prince Jayawikarta sent his armies to attack the Dutch fort around the port. However, the Dutch under the command of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, successfully repels the attack and kicked the British out of Jakarta. This victory stabilize the Dutch position as the only colonial power left and change the city name to Batavia.

Under Dutch rule, the city developed rapidly and became more prosperous. Batavia’s urban development heavily based on Dutch urban planning. The new face of Batavia consists of a big fortress defending the city from foreign attackers, a public square, churches, canals, and tree-lined streets. The purpose of this establishment aims to make Batavia the trade and administration center of the Dutch East Indies Company or the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie). These opportunities attract merchants around the world, particularly the Arabs, Indians, and the Chinese to come and set their business around Batavia. Even people from the archipelago themselves came to Batavia to find a better opportunity in the city.

Due to this issue, the VOC started to create a law to control the city’s population. For example, the Javanese migrants coming to Batavia can only reside outside the city walls. This type of segregation also happened toward the ethnic Chinese in 1740, which later led to the massacre of 5,000 lives. In the following year, the Dutch moved the Chinese inhabitants outside the city wall to a famous place known as Glodok. In the same century, the VOC lost its monopoly in controlling the spice trade in the region, which lead to bankruptcy.

Dutch East Indies (1800-1942)

After the bankruptcy of the VOC, the Batavian republic nationalized all its debt and possessions throughout the colony. The city of Batavia evolved from an administrative center into the capital of the colony. In this era, Batavia grew even faster and evolve rapidly. The old Batavia considered by the new Dutch government unhealthy and led to the city’s expansion to the south (Now Central Jakarta and South Jakarta).

The Molenvliet Canal in 1872, later known as Gajah Mada st || Via Woodbury & Page
Jakarta during the colonial period || Via Wowshack.com
The busiest intersection in Kramat District || Via Flickr

The first step of the city expansion is to move all the administrative buildings from the old center called Benedenstad (Kota Tua area) to the area of Koningsplein, Waterlooplein, and Rijswijk (Veteran Street). All these areas can also be known as Weltevreden district, which later changed its name to Sawah Besar district. To the present day, Indonesia still uses this area as its administrative center. Some famous landmarks such as Banteng square, Borobudur hotel, and the famous istiqlal mosque can be seen standing in this area. Moreover, many colonial buildings in the area are still widely used and transformed into governmental buildings.

Also, this period saw the expansion and establishment of new areas such as Kebon Sirih and Prapatan. In addition, the development of Pasar Baru market, the completion of a new port called Tanjung Priok, and the development of Menteng, Gondangdia, and Meester Cornelis (Jatinegara) also happened during this period of time.

With all these expansions, Batavia became a city with 2 centers. The first center is the area that people know as Kota Tua, where the shipping warehouses and offices are located. On the other hand, the area called Weltevreden district considered the new southern hub for governmental buildings, military facilities, and entertainment (shops, restaurants, cinema). These two centers were connected by the Molenvliet Canal (Known as Gajah Mada and Hayam Wuruk street) that stretches alongside the waterway.

Jakarta after the Indonesian Independence

National Revolution Era (1945-1949)

Jakarta after the Dutch returned to “reassert” control of the Dutch East Indies (1946) || Via Wikimedia commons

The Japanese occupied Batavia during the occupation of the Dutch East Indies from 1942-1945. Indonesia declared its independence on 17 August 1945, however, the Anglo-Dutch troops arrived in Jakarta a few months after the proclamation. Their aim is to disarm the Japanese army that still left throughout Indonesia. Particularly the Dutch, aim to reassert their control of the colony they conceded 3 years ago.

In early 1946, the new republic of Indonesia withdrew from Jakarta and moved its new capital to Yogyakarta. This signifies that the Dutch have full control of the city and they started to continue with their old plan to expand the urban development of the city. The expansion of Batavia happened with the expansion of a new satellite city 8 kilometers from Koningsplein (known as Merdeka Square). This new satellite city would later be known as Kebayoran and this is the first urban planning in Indonesia after the end of the second world war.

The name Batavia remains unchanged until 1949. On 27 December 1949, the Dutch recognized Indonesia as a new state and independent country. With the city finally under the control of the new republic, its name finally changed from Batavia to Jakarta.

Transition into Capital (1950-1965)

After the recognition of the new republic, Jakarta’s size increased from 182 square kilometers to 530 square kilometers in 1950. During this period, the construction of big roads known as Thamrin street and Sudirman street took place. Other than that, Jakarta during the 1950s remained the same as in the colonial period.

National Monument (Monas) located on the Merdeka Square

Banking centers and offices still mainly located around Kota Tua. While the Chinese business hub or Jakarta China town centered at Glodok area. The previous markets developed by the Dutch such as Pasar Baru and Pasar Senen still considered to be the busiest markets in Jakarta during this era. On the other hand, European shops, entertainment, and leisure districts are mainly located in Harmoni.

During this period of time, new suburbs started to appear around the city. These new suburbs include Grogol, Tanah Tinggi, Bendungan Hilir, and Pejompongan. The government established these areas in order to give housing units to the civic workers working and living in Jakarta. Additionally, grand projects under president Sukarno also happened during this period of time. Some of these grand and ambitious projects include:

  • Headquarter of the Bank of Indonesia
  • National Monument (Monas)
  • Hotel Indonesia and the welcome monument
  • Thamrin and Sudirman street
  • Gelora Bung Karno sports complex

Modern-day Jakarta

Improvement in Infrastructures (1965-1980)

Problems started to arise when president Soekarno notice that Jakarta was poorly managed. A lot of slums, potholes, lack of clean water, public transport, housing, and education facilities. Soekarno himself noticed that Jakarta at the time cannot compete with other neighboring countries’ cities due to its limitation. On April 1966, under a direct command from president Soekarno, Ali Sadikin became the new governor of Jakarta.

During this period of time, Ali Sadikin played a vital role in improving Jakarta from a village into a bustling metropolitan. In addition, he also improved the standard of living of its citizens by building public facilities throughout the cities. Instead of focusing on monumental projects, Ali Sadikin shifted his focus to providing the city’s basic needs providing better roads, public transportation, sanitation, health services, and education opportunities for the poor.

Also during his era, major roads in Jakarta such as Tomang Raya street, Rasuna Said street, Gatot Subroto street, and Sudirman street came into operation. All these major streets still continue to exist and played an important part in Jakarta. Particularly in forming the “golden triangle of Jakarta”, where this area considered to be the center of business, financial, diplomatic, and even entertainment of Jakarta. Even these days, all these major roads recognized to be the driving force of Jakarta’s economy.

Rasuna Said street, located in the Golden Triangle of Jakarta and constructed during the 1970s

Also during this period of time, under the new presidency of Soeharto, Indonesia started to receive money from foreign investment. Ali Sadikin started to beautify the city with more modern architecture like high-rise buildings, entertainment, and business facilities. Massive construction of buildings in Jakarta started to take place during this period, some of the completed projects include:

  • Borobudur hotel
  • Ismail Marzuki art center
  • Ancol amusement park
  • Blok M shopping center
  • The Hilton hotel
  • Jakarta convention center
  • Mandarin Hotel
  • Extension of Hotel Indonesia

Economic Boom and Further Development (1980-Present)

Foreign investment continues coming to Jakarta and more high-rise projects and real estate projects are being developed in this period. This period also saw the demolition of “Kampung” through the inner part of Jakarta. Investment from the joint-venture company between local firms and multinational firms took part in various construction projects throughout the city.

However, the economic boom ended all of a sudden during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and a lot of projects were abandoned by the developers. However, a few years after the financial crisis, Jakarta started to come back to its track in urban development. Despite the political instability and some terror attacks that happened in the early 2000s, Jakarta was finally able to witness political stability and prosperity along with another construction boom. Especially with more ambitious projects that are currently in progress.

These projects include the development of better public transportation (LRT, MRT, Jakarta- Bandung fast train, and Busway development), revitalization of colonial buildings, the establishment of grand shopping malls, revitalization of pedestrian sidewalks amongst major streets, and public spaces/facilities throughout the city (Jakarta International Stadium, Formula E circuit, Jakarta Velodrome and more).


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