16 November 2021

Moratorium of New Town Development in Java Island


Java is the most populated island on earth. With land area around 139,000 square kilometer, Java island is house for more than 151 millions population, more than half of overall Indonesian population.

That population as well as household numbers are increasing consistently, which also means the increase of housing and food needs.

Population and Population Growth in Java island

Household Number and Growth in Java island

And at the same time, while the needs of food is increasing, the Agricultural Land in Java island is consistently reduced.

Land area and Agricultural Land Conversion in Java island

According to 2003 Agriculture Census, especially in Java island, around 75% of Agricultural Land Conversions are for Residential use.

Considering the great difference of Rental Price between Agricultural Land and Residential use (around 1:622), without control the market will automatically push the conversion of Agricultural Land towards Residential use.

Source: Nasoetion, L.B. dan J. Winoto. 1996. Masalah Alih Fungsi Lahan Pertanian dan Dampaknya Terhadap Keberlangsungan Swasembada Pangan. Prosiding Lokakarya Persaingan dalam Pemanfaatan Sumberdaya Lahan dan Air : 64-82. Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Sosial Ekonomi Pertanian dan Ford Foundation.

The Agricultural Land that had been converted to Residential, Industrial, Commercial, etc are basically will never be converted back as Agricultural Land.

The domination of Residential use can also be seen from the GRDP Real Estate sector in Java island, which consistently grows 6.59% annually on average.

GRDP Real Estate sector and its Growth in Java island

The ability of the government to create new Agricultural Land (nationally) is around 20,000-30,000 Ha per year (Ditjen PSP, Directorate General Agricultural Infrastructure and Structure, 2013).

Other than its impact on the Agricultural Land, at the same time Java island is also experiencing Deforestation, either for Production Forest, Plantation, Agricultural Land, or Residential.

Deforestation in Java island

Forest area in Java island

Land coverage in Java island
Source: Damayanti, Ellyn & Prasetyo, Lilik & Kartodiharjo, Hariadi & Purbawiyatna, Alan. (2013). Transitions to Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation in the Asia Pacific Region - Indonesia Country Report.

Looking at those data, the development of Housing in Java island are inclined towards creation of new Residential areas by converting Agricultural Land and probably also Forests.


  1. Because of the increasing needs of food production, we need to be cautious about the reduction of Agricultural Land (even when it is compared with the ability of the government to create new Agricultural Land).
  2. Forests are very important for carbon balance, survivability of the ecosystems, water circulation, climate, soil vertility, as well as production and social; therefore Deforestation for Housing and Agricultural development should be put to an end.
  3. We need to develop Intensive Food production, high technology application, industrialisation, and alternative food sources that require minimal amount of land. The ultimate objective is to increase Forest area through Reforestation.
  4. At one point, we need Moratorium of New Town Development in Java island. Housing has to be developed through densification of existing cities, not through sprawling Residentials area to hinterland, not through New Town Developments that reduce Agricultural Lands or Forests.



When is the right time to stop building New Town in Java island? To answer that question, there are some factors that need to be considered.


In the Forestry Act of Indonesia (No. 41 tahun 1999), in the second clause of article 18, it is regulated that "the forest area must be maintained at minimally 30% of the watershed or island area in proportional distribution".

That 30% number is actually problematic since there's no explanation regarding the source nor argumentation. But if we use that number anyway, then Java island is certainly lacking in forest area. From available data since 2014, forest in Java island has always been under 30%, while in 2019, official record shows that it was only 21.94%.

Forest area ratio in Java island

This data alone shows that further forest area conversion for settlements or agriculture is unacceptable. In all aspects; be it globally, locally, or even social-individual, forest existence is very important, especially in the current time where we are closing down to the point of no return in global climate problem.

While specifically in Java island, the relation between forest condition with environmental crisis can very easily be analysed. There are so many researchs, reports, news, even governmental sources - either in the form of individual or organisational statements - that relate forest condition of the island with the degradation of environmental condition, crisis, as well as disasters.

Therefore the protection of the forests in Java island against degradation and reduction is no longer a matter of anticipation, but instead an emergency, the impact is here and we need to act immediately.


Separate studies shows that in general cities in Java island are experiencing Urban Sprawl in their surrounding areas. In some cases the sprawls have actually impacted the environmental or agricultural condition.

There have been some efforts to limit the sprawl, but they are limited from agriculture point of view, e.g. through Sustainable Food Agricultural Land Protection act (No. 41 tahun 2009). And furthermore, that effort was considered to be failed by some and the effort needs more cross-sectoral intervention since the causes of urban sprawl are also multidimensional in nature (Nurrokhman, Research & Development Center ATR/BPN).

Land take and urban land expansion drive
Source: Colsaet, Alice & Laurans, Yann & Levrel, Harold. (2018). What drives land take and urban land expansion? A systematic review. Land Use Policy. 79. 339-349. 10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.08.017.

If we compare historical density of Cities and Regencies in Java island, it indicates that Regencies have higher densification rate on average. It has to be noted that the data doesn't indicate where the densification of regencies are happening, within their centers or as consequences of sprawls from their centers and the surrounding cities.

Historical density of cities in Java island

Historical density of regencies in Java island

There are no warning level of urban sprawl phenomenon, but from the available data and information, the sprawl condition in Java island certainly needs attention and anticipation.


We know that density and compactness, among others, are two qualities that define a good city. A dense and compact city gives better connectivity and radius between its components, allowing them to be accessed by walking, resulting in efficiency of mobility and energy consumption. Other than that, efficient land utilization gives a compact city chance to allocate more land for e.g. more green open space and facilities, which in turn will promote happiness and health.

Of course further localised and case-per-case considerations, including regarding sustainability factors should be made for each of the cities: location, size of existing cities, geomorphology, soil carrying capacity, resources, economic drive, climate, etc.

And although there is no single density magic number that applicable to all cities, we can make comparison with some available standards:

World Health Organization has a formula number of 96 people/Ha. This number is being used by Central Statistic Bureau (BPS) of Indonesia in connection with Environmental Quality Index, where every density increment above 96 will decrease the Environment Quality Index from the highest score of 100. Therefore, the approach of this formula is actually quite conservative and not in line with the logic that planned high density is good for the environment.

City Density in Java island

According Indonesian National Standard (SNI) 03-1733-2004 and 03-1733-1989 about Planning methodology for urban residential neighborhood, there are 4 categories of density: Low (<150 people/Ha), Medium (151-200 people/Ha), High (200-400 people/Ha), and Very High (>400 people/Ha).

Since the standard is specifically for residential neighborhood, therefore if we assume that the residential part of a city is 60% of its total area (excluding infrastructure, facilities, and non-residential area), then the majority of the cities in Java island are categorized as Low Density.

City Density in Java island compared with SNI standard

While if we try to measure the density from the population (136,610,590 people, BPS data, 2010) against total built area in Java island (2,530,792 Ha, BPS data, 2006), the result shows that the density of the total built area in Java island is as low as 53.98 people/Ha.






Furthermore, except in a select few locations, even for cities in Java island that are perceived as dense, through simple visual observation we can see that the residential typology are dominated by landed houses, including in provincial capital cities.

Especially when it's too dominating, landed house typology is not oriented towards development of environmentally sound high density cities. The higher the density number of a city that is dominated by landed house typology, it can be assumed that the worse the environment quality due to the limited amount of green open space, the more the houses crowded, with lack of space for visual, sun light, and air flow, as well as the relatively increasing distance from individual unit to the center of activity and transit facility. The extreme example of very high density combined with landed house typology is a slum.

By comparing the existing density of cities in Java island to the standards and visual observation, we can see that cities in Java island can still be densified through good, structured, and thorough planning.


When it's done right, the densification of cities in Java island can also bring in environmental improvement potentials: creation of green open spaces, walkability improvement. Large number of people dwelling together in one urban space can also make it easier for the provision of public facilities and other supporting programs.

It needs to be noted that what we want to achieve is densification through reorganization and restructurization of urban space. Those both need to be done first, allowing more population and additional programs in new space in urban centers. Without reorganization and restructurization, densification will only create a crammed city.



  1. Moratorium of New Town Development in Java island need to be done as soon as possible. The best time to do it maybe 20 or 30 years ago when Java island had much more forest area than today, urban sprawl and new town developments had not reached today's scale. But the second-best time to do it is now: NOW.
  2. We need to do much deeper and multi-dimensional research towards each of the cities in Java island, their surroundings, their relations with the cities and regencies around them. For each city we need to determine the optimum density number and the best strategy to achieve that through reorganization and restructurization.
  3. Cities need to give incentives to development that are oriented towards densification of existing urban area and that contributes towards reorganization, restructurization, and provides public facilities.
  4. Cities need decent and affordable residential in urban centers.
  5. Cities need to intervene and limit land usage for residential in order to suppress landed house typology in urban area.


As additional notes, there are several challenges in increasing the density of existing cities:

  1. While densification of urban centers usually need multi-stories typology, the preference of residentials in Indonesia is very strongly dominated by the ownership of land.
  2. One of the reason of sprawl is because the majority of people can't afford the price of land and housing in urban centers.
  3. In relation with the previous points, most developers are not willing or capable to develop residential in urban centers, especially in affordable categories.
  4. Landed house typology domination makes the form of urban centers in the cities in Java island tend to be fragmented into small piece of lands. From some point of view this will probably give additional difficulty for spatial restructurization effort.

Those challenges have surpassed the territory of design and even spatial planning, and have actually entered the territory of economic studies. To tackle that, we will need layered strategies of both in macro and micro level, as well as the leadership of public sector in conceptualization and execution of plans.

Moratorium of New Town Development in Java island is not a simple, easy, and fast to do. Instead, it will be a 180 degree reorientation from the current path of development, with all the impacts and side-effects that need to be anticipated.

But it is very important to be done, either from the environmental sustainability point of view, healthy urban living, even also politics. Because the phenomenon of the mushrooming of New Town Developments in Indonesia is actually the result of government's lack of control as well as the act of releasing the responsibility of providing public housing to the market.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Nonsensical Matters