Societal Burdens of Indonesia’s New Smart City Capital Development

Indigenous communities such as the Dayak are at risk of losing their land due to the moving of capital. CREDIT: AFP/ADEK BERRY


Though generally deemed to be positive, developments can lead to societal issues. Many ideas have been formulated to address this including transiting from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their core is to bridge the gap between infrastructure development and social development. Unfortunately, concepts such as SDGs remain a challenge to be implemented, particularly for developing countries that do not have the resources. Often infrastructure development is solely focused on which results in inequality, one issue that is intended to be addressed by SDGs.

Reducing inequality becomes harder when development incorporates Smart City as a central tenet. Similarly, this is ironical when the original idea of Smart City development was to reduce inequality. The United Nations saw the idea of Smart City as a means to address an expected 67% of the global population of almost 10 billion in 2050 living in urban areas. The future, thus, seems bleak for developing countries.

Indicators for this bleak future includes studies that uncovered many issues in the implementation of Smart City in developing countries. Issues include the lack of technology-related infrastructure readiness, lack of skilled human capital, lack of inclusivity, lack of citizen participation, technology illiteracy and knowledge deficit among the citizens. Collectively, these issues not only demonstrate that Smart City is not a silver bullet against economic and social issues but can also worsen them.

It is particularly troubling for Indonesia as it has decided to move and develop their new capital with the idea of Smart City. So far, Smart City development in Indonesia has been unfavourable. Jakarta, an example of a Smart City in Indonesia, dropped to 94th place in the Global Smart City Index as a result of negative public perception of its natural resource assets. Notably, Jakarta is the only Metropolitan area in Indonesia. If this metropolitan area struggles with the incorporation of Smart City development, what beholds the new capital, East Kalimantan, previously a jungle?

Of these issues, this article will highlight the lack of technology-related infrastructure readiness, skilled human capital, inclusivity, and citizen participation of smart city development in the new capital in East Kalimantan. The lack of technology-related infrastructure readiness and inclusivity will be explained by the lost in assets by indigenous communities, while issues of skilled human capital and citizen participation will be demonstrated by the lack of digital skills.

Indigenous Communities Losing Assets

The lack of technology-related infrastructure readiness and inclusivity is evident from the increasing demand for land use studies on the forest by the Dayak community. Similar demands are voiced by the Paser community for the forest to be preserved regardless of the Smart City development in their area.

Additionally, the Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning/Head of the National Land Agency stated that land ownerships will be consolidated and transferred to the government vis-à-vis lands within the boundaries of the new capital. He cited Law Number 2 which legally enabled to facilitate such transfer via a release mechanism. Similarly, the Special staff for the President stated that there were no regulations requiring the implementation of a referendum, or public vote in the plan to move the nation’s capital. These are indications that the government is not serious on inclusivity in the Smart City development of the new capital. Therefore, the indigenous communities who are concerned with the preservation of their forest are at the losing end of this development. Their voices are arguably muted to ensure a smooth development of the new capital. A win-win solution ostensibly requires technology-related infrastructure. Though 5,000 hectares of the forest was stated to be replaced by 180,000 hectares of green open spaces and protected forests, when and where this will happen is still uncertain.

Lack of Digital Skills

The lack of skilled human capital and citizen participation is evident from the digital divide in Indonesia when 49% of Indonesian adults do not have internet access. In addition to the issue of limited internet coverage, there is a need for digital literacy programs. However, the building of digital skills is a hard quest for the Indonesian government particularly when the new capital is a magnet for domestic immigration. Estimated to hold 3.6 million residents in 2018, East Kalimantan is envisaged to become home to 5 – 7 million residents in 2025, further increasing to 8.7 – 9.7 million and 10 – 11 million in 2035 and 2045, respectively. This increase is ostensibly due to hopes of better living prospects. Despite the anticipated rapid increase in population in East Kalimantan, it is questionable whether there will be adequate digital literacy programs and sufficient internet coverage for most if not all residents in the new capital. This will consequently affect an effective implementation of a Smart City.


Though intended to address issues such as inequality, SDGs are difficult to implement in developing countries. This is further confounded when such countries attempt to implement Smart City concepts as part of development. Arguably, this mix will instead prolong societal issues, leading many to become victims of such developments. 

In Indonesia’s move to a new Smart City capital, it is bogged by the lack of technology-related infrastructure readiness, inclusivity, lack of skilled human capital, and citizen participation. These issues are due to the lack of preparation and even political will. The government seems intent on rapid infrastructure development of the new capital while not placing enough focus on readying its citizens. Additionally, the voices of indigenous communities affected by the move are unheard and simply avoided via legalities. Therefore, many lessons can be taken from this Indonesian case study. Of significant importance is the need to factor how infrastructure developments can aid in addressing societal issues rather than simply focusing on the development of new buildings.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

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  • Satria Aji Imawan currently holds a Master degree in Public Administration with various experience working with various organizations. His research interest is on Behaviour Public Policy, Sustainable Policy, and Public Management. Satria Aji Imawan can be contacted by Facebook, Linkedin, and/or email.