Surabaya, The Next Generation


Long deemed as an unbecoming industrial land, Surabaya has re- emerged as a model city for Indonesia under the leadership of its hands-on mayor, Tri Rismaharini, amicably known as Ibu Risma. In the course of six years, the mayor has won numerous accolades for the city’s noteworthy progress. This is a glimpse of Surabaya's promising makeover and admirable victories.


Cruising into Surabaya, one thing is immediately noticeable–the “City of Heroes” is much cleaner and greener than it used to be. Lines of trees provide shade to wide pedestrian- friendly sidewalks, well-manicured landscapes are pleasing to the eyes and the absence of litter in sight is more than welcomed. Plans to revamp parks have been executed in finesse. One that stole the show was Bungkul Park, which was awarded the 2013 ASEAN Townscape Award for the best city park in Asia.


Risma, educated as an architect and excelling as Surabaya’s mayor, says that a city will naturally improve if the well-being of its inhabitants does so first. Besides generously adding more greenery to the concrete jungle, Risma has been known to personally visit neglected villages and call for their transformation into picturesque streets of brightly coloured homes. Dirty rivers and moats and clogged drains have been cleansed. Flood-prone areas are now equipped with water pumps. More public libraries have been built and have proven to improve the local literacy rate and love of reading. Thirty-five percent of the city’s budget has been dedicated to education, while truancy has been countered and curfew-defying youths rebuked. Surabaya’s infamous prostitution alley, Gang Dolly, has far departed from its promiscuous reputation. It’s now a centre of anything batik related, home to a broadband learning centre for residents in the area, and headquarters to small-to-medium-scale shoe manufacturers, with walls serving as canvases for local artists to display their photo-worthy murals.


Another highlight in the city is the newly opened Jembatan Suroboyo (Surabaya Bridge).More than a bridge, Jembatan Suroboyo has become an iconic recreational destination. It has been thoughtfully designed to curve around the nearby Shermen’s village to avoid its demolishment. Surabayans gather by the bridge to watch the sunset and the colourfully illuminated fountain dancing to music on Saturday evenings.


Risma’s effort to have a Surabaya worthy of a global recognition extended to organising perfectly timed events, like the annual Kalimas Festival in July, which was held just in time for the UN’s Third Preparatory Committee of the Habitat III Conference. Dozens of canoe boats lined up on Kali Mas, Surabaya’s arterial river, ready to race to the finish line. The riverbanks gleamed with lights from numerous lanterns and the audience roared in excitement. A bevy of certificates and coveted trophies sit in Risma’s office, reflecting the amount of work embedded in the mountains of files and folders on her desk and relentless observation of the city through the collage of live CCTV monitors in the room. Imagine the entire country with international recognition for proper management and development, efficient and streamlined bureaucracy, lush and well-maintained vegetation, sidewalks designed for walking, and a mission to build the moral of the local populace without hidden political agenda. It might seem like generations away, but Surabaya is a harbinger of that generation by dutifully checking off everything on that list.

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Natasha Gan
Natasha is a writer and a digital marketing professional currently based in Toronto, Canada.