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In many ways the environmental crisis is a design crisis.  It is a consequence of how things are made, buildings are constructed, landscape is used”
                                                                  - Sym Van der Ryn

Four Hundred Years of Water Management in Jakarta, Indonesia: The Search for Sustainability

This study assesses how planning, policy and management in Jakarta, Indonesia have addressed the challenges of water management since the founding of Batavia in 1619 as the colonial administrative center of Dutch East Indies.  Employing an historical perspective offers a corrective to the assumption that the recurring challenges of recent large scale flooding was endemic to this coastal city from its inception.  Rather, the study suggests that inattention to the complex factors encompassed by water management over the past half century, coupled with runaway urbanization processes that have altered the urban ecological balance, play the decisive role in the distressed conditions found in Jakarta, especially during the rainy season.  


The current problems of water management also have been exacerbated by the historical transformation of its city’s waterfront over the past four centuries.  Jakarta began as the “water city” of Batavia, a place that was located where it was in the 17th century specifically because it was so abundantly served by water.  As the urban center shifted inland from its original waterfront site, water management practices changed as well.  As the abundant supply of usable surface water declined and as the water demands of the growing city increased during the 19th and early 20th centuries, past water supply and management practices proved inadequate.  Late in the 20th century, there was a renewed focus on the city’s historic waterfront. 


The planning of a renewed waterfront city drew upon historical precedents while utilizing new technologies consistent with other world cities seeking to capitalize on strategic access to water.  At the same time, the new waterfront city offered as a much-needed response to the recurring devastation from flooding.  The tension between preserving the historic character of waterfront communities of fishermen and other laboring classes (which endured flooding and deprivation when the more affluent left for higher ground) and the plans for the new waterfront where water becomes a permanent and enduring component, points to the dilemmas confronted by planners is addressing the historic waterfront. 


As the case of water management in Jakarta suggests, history provides meaningful answers to tough contemporary urban planning challenges. Besides widespread annual flooding, those challenges include polluted surface water, excessive extraction of ground water leading to land subsidence, insufficient management of wastewater, displacement of communities to restore ecological and hydrological systems, increased threats of storm surge along the northern coast, and the economic and social costs of continuous disruptions owing to inadequate water management.