Recently, the world's attention fell on Indonesia as it marked the 60th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference, first held in the city of Bandung. The event, subsequently named the Bandung Conference, created a spirit of solidarity, friendship and cooperation still relevant today.[Special coverage]
Bandung, the capital of West Java Province, is home to 7.4 million people and about two hours from Indonesia's capital Jakarta.
The city, surrounded by mountains and situated at 800 meters above sea level, has a pleasant climate and is regularly visited by tourists from all over the country. But like most big cities, it had once featured many unappealing traits related to pollution, traffic jams and garbage. A campaign was therefore launched about seven years ago to reverse such negative trends.
We've invited Mr. Santo Darmosumarto, Counsellor of the Embassy of Indonesia in Beijing, to talk about the green planning that has transformed Bandung into a more livable and lovable city.
Q: Could you describe the major environmental problems Bandung faced?
A: The biggest problem was garbage. Bandung used to be known as the City of Flowers, but it became dirty due to poor management of waste. Traffic jams is another problem. Bandung has many small streets, and with tourists pouring in, these streets were often packed with cars. That also brought air pollution.
Many of Bandung's urban problems can be traced to poor infrastructure and uncontrolled development. The situation had become so damaging that many locals had succumbed to the possible irrelevance of Bandung in today's modern society.
Q: When did Bandung's green transformation begin?
A: At the beginning of the millennium, Bandung, which was previously known as the Paris of Java, had lost some of its appeal. It was toward the end of 2008 that a campaign was launched to make it a more livable city.
Q: What were the major efforts to make Bandung more livable?
A: In 2008, Bandung launched a "creative city" movement, which was aimed at strengthening the pre-existing cultural and creative industry, including music, food and education. Almost 50 percent of the city population is made up of youths, and Bandung has always relied on people's creativity and dynamism.
The government has since pushed for better and more integrated public transportation, including a cable car and a bike-sharing program. Visitors don't have to drive with more tour buses running.
The city improved its waste management system, and created more public spaces. For example, areas under bridges, which had previously housed criminal activities, have been shifted into outdoor movie theaters and soccer pitches.
Q: How did you get the people to participate in the movement?
A: The desire to make Bandung more habitable had come from the grassroots, from the bottom up. Some of the locals even dreamt of making Bandung a world class city.
Citizens are asked to become directly involved in local projects. For example, to refurbish the city's soccer stadium area, a design competition was launched. The winning design was then adopted as the blueprint for the project.
Locals are also encouraged to change their attitude and lifestyle. Mayor Ridwan Kamil has tried to lead by example, as demonstrated by his frequent bike rides to work.
Q: What did the government do, especially in keeping the balance between economic growth and environmental protection?
A: Bandung has over 150 higher education institutions, and the government has created channels to attract these young talents, such as setting up technology parks. It's the strengthening of the cultural and creative industry that gives a boost to Bandung's economic growth.
Q: What do you think Beijing or other Chinese cities could learn from Bandung's experience in green urban planning?
A: I think it's changing attitudes and getting ideas from the people. Instead of using a top-down method, Bandung's upward progress was positively linked to people's increasing enthusiasm and participation. When Kamil was elected as Mayor, the young foreign-educated local architect worked hard to fulfill his promise of making Bandung "the happiest society in Indonesia" by listening to the people and absorbing their ideas.
For example, it has communities of artists and architects who would offer their input to the government on green planning. I think it's important to set up such a mechanism so that residents can contribute ideas.