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Understanding the allure of big infrastructure: Jakarta’s Great Garuda Sea Wall Project

Emma Colven
Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA emmacolven@ucla.edu

ABSTRACT: In response to severe flooding in Jakarta, a consortium of Dutch firms in collaboration with the Indonesian government has designed the 'Great Garuda Sea Wall' project. The master plan proposes to construct a sea wall to enclose Jakarta Bay. A new waterfront city will be built on over 1000 hectares (ha) of reclaimed land in the shape of the Garuda, Indonesia’s national symbol. By redeveloping North Jakarta, the project promises to realise the world-class city aspirations of Indonesia’s political elites. Heavily reliant on hydrological engineering, hard infrastructure and private capital, the project has been presented by proponents as the optimum way to protect the city from flooding. The project retains its allure among political elites despite not directly addressing land subsidence, understood to be a primary cause of flooding. I demonstrate how this project is driven by a techno-political network that brings together political and economic interests, world-class city discourses, engineering expertise, colonial histories, and postcolonial relations between Jakarta and the Netherlands. Due in part to this network, big infrastructure has long constituted the preferred state response to flooding in Jakarta. I thus make a case for provincialising narratives that claim we are witnessing a return to big infrastructure in water management.

KEYWORDS: Flood mitigation, Global South, infrastructure, hydrological engineering, urban flooding, Indonesia