Ridwan Kamil Exclusive: Bandung's Pride and Joy


The face of Bandung has been transformed after the election of architect and urban planner Ridwan Kamil as mayor in 2013. Kang Emil, as he is known, says that human capital is what will make the city thrive as an emerging creative hub. Emil’s extensive experience in creative community development and architecture has been reflected best in the development of the city’s creative economy. Under the mayor, Bandung has thrived as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network; added almost 600 heritage buildings to be preserved; and opened a wide range of public places, from thematic parks to libraries to urban forests. Emil also vigorously fights for popular participation in designing the municipality.

How does your architecture background affect your decision making as the mayor?

There are two forms of development: physical and the unseen. The physical is apparent and can be seen by society, such as cleanliness, infrastructure advancement, roads, bridges, bustling life on the streets, and active public spaces. The unseen is in the form of bureaucratic reform and services. My architecture background affects how the city should be built. I have visited more than 100 cities in the world. I use my experience as a reference for what should be applied in Bandung. The first strategy was to design policies that would alter Bandung in a positive manner. For example, the “Green Building” policy gives permission only to those who want to build buildings in a sustainable manner. We also have aDepartment of Design–the only one in Indonesia–aiming to categorise buildings that have good design. Finally, I asked for the people’s participation in designing the city. For example, an architects’ forum designed our sidewalks, an artists’ forum took part in designing landmarks and sculptures and an urban-planning forum helps with city planning. On the other side, I always actively oversee and review government projects to maximise the quality of their design. For example, for the city parks, I oversaw them directly.

What’s the urgency behind creating Bandung as an “emerging creative city”?

Bandung does not have industry or agricultural land to cultivate. What we have is human capital. It makes sense to categorise the economy as an economy of knowledge, a creative economy, a hobby-based economy and an innovation-based economy. The fact that 60 per cent of Bandung’s population are young people under 40 has been pushing the creative economy and the ideas and technology-based economy to flourish.

What do you think has changed within design communities in Bandung after you launched public places with a design-minded attitude?

The room to interact flourishes. Previously, people interacted online, through Facebook for example. Today, architectural forums are allowed to design sidewalks and public areas. More than that, each kelurahan [district] has an architect advisor to help design and give design-related advice directly to the head.

Do you agree that Bandung’s strengths are its people, places and ideas?

I agree. First, the city needs to be comfortable and new things must continuously emerge. Second, there’s a vibrancy in the people in the city. Bandung people are very proactive in giving ideas and they have been very encouraged to participate. In my tenure, more than 10 mayoral advisory agencies were created, dedicated to channeling popular participation directly to the government. For example, there’s a Smart City Council for tech-savvy people, building expert teams for engineers, a cultural preservation team, etc. This means that an initiative does not need to come fromthe city council, but can come from the people. A thriving city is one that always adapts with time.

What’s your vision for Bandung in 2045, when Indonesia will mark its centennial?

In 2045, the choices will be only two: to be included as a developed country or not. In achieving that, we need to consider three things: to have an economy with growth that is not less than 5 per cent, to not have social and political crises while exercising democracy and to have competitive young people as a demographic bonus. Between now and 2045, we already have the advantage of a young demographic. If we don’t cultivate them, we will be a consumptive nation, not a productive nation. Successful examples are Japan and Korea. You see Japanese and Korean products in their countries. Indonesia can achieve this as long as we focus ourselves on the idea of being an innovative and productive nation.

What are the three most important things you have built for Bandung?

Public spaces like sidewalks, the elevated pedestrian walkway of Teras Cihampelas, revitalised public spaces such as Teras Cikapundung, and thematic parks, such as the history park, Taman Sejarah, and the film park, Taman Film. These establishments set a trend and intrigued other cities in Indonesia to follow in our steps.

As a mayor and an architect, who are your idols?

My mayoral idol is Enrique Penalosa Londono. He was mayor of Bogota from 1998 until 2001 in a time that gave riseto public transportation and walking cultures. My favourite architect is Zaha Hadid, but for Indonesian architects I favour Andra Matin and Adi Purnomo. The silver lining from their designs is apparent. They always question conventionality versus new innovative ideas, meaning that architecture is not only a matter of form, but also a question. The resulting forms of their creations are unexpected because they always try to answer relevantquestions within their eras.

Which part of the city needs work?

Public transportation needs to be intensively developed. Without it, we cannot optimise our productivity. This is the most challenging one, it is expensive and quite complicated. But I am an optimist. Many problems? Let’s find the solutions.

Bandung is one of 116 creative cities in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. How are you keeping up?

We always try to assure that Bandung creates innovative works that have a global impact, however small. For example, the Bima Microlibrary won the Architizer A+ Awards 2017, both through public and jury voting. The budget is small, around 500 million rupiah, yet the idea is big. People are excited to visit the library, either to learn, read or to interact.

How do you align heritage building preservation with the current developments?

This is an important issue. A city needs to preserve its historical character. The purpose is for us to be able to relate ourselves to the past. A city without historical values is the same as a person with memory loss.In Bandung, there are three things that I have done so far. First, every new building needs to have an art deco style, contextualised with its surroundings. We allow people to create modern buildings like on Jl. Sudirman or Thamrin in Jakarta, but it needs to be outside the old city zone. We also changed the lighting across the city with classic ones. I also added more buildings to be protected, from 99buildings to almost 600 buildings, for example Gedung Sate and the-on-progress Bandung Museum. All of these reflect our tight regulations on construction and preservation, to keep old buildings and to align the new developments with the past.

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Banyubening Prieta
Banyu has been a contributing writer to The Jakarta Post, Sorge Magazine and Metronome Indonesia after graduating from Parahyangan Catholic University with a degree in international relations. She is the owner and co-founder of the Jakarta-based organic restaurant and healthy catering business Burgreens and the co-founder of Suazad Media.