Deni Ghifari, Jakarta – Nusantara Capital City (IKN) is a megaproject of unrestrained ambition, as the planners of Indonesia's future capital envision facilities straight out of science fiction, from smart buildings powered by renewables to flying cars.
However, questions about how realistic such plans are grow louder by the day, as the inauguration deadline nears for what some say might be the single biggest contributor to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's legacy.
The money to build it all is nowhere to be seen, notwithstanding the availability of almost all of the required technology.
Nusantara is scheduled to be inaugurated next year, when Indonesia celebrates its 79th anniversary of Independence on Aug. 17. When asked whether its basic smart city infrastructure would be ready by then, IKN Authority undersecretary for green and digital transformation Ali Berawi answered, "Inshallah [God willing]."
Ali said the basic part of building a smart city was its connectivity infrastructure, which included electricity distribution and fiber-optic internet. As part of the first phase of construction, both are to be delivered by the city's inauguration.
Cables for these, explained Ali, would be placed underground inside what is known as multi-utility tunnels (MUT), which would also house the city's piping and sewage system for convenient maintenance.
Followed by the construction of command and data centers, the technology infrastructure for the first phase of IKN, or the central government area, would then be ready for the implementation of further smart city features, said Ali.
"There are 451 days until Aug. 17 , and so far, the progress is on track," Ali told reporters on Wednesday.
He said the IKN Authority had inked a deal with South Korean automotive manufacturer Hyundai to procure "flying cars" for IKN, which he said were in fact 5-seat passenger drones planned to be put on display and demonstrated in public in Nusantara next year.
Known as urban air mobility (UAM), these drones are said to be able to travel 100 kilometers with a top speed of 300 km per hour.
"According to our calculation, the fare for these drones is neck and neck with that of premium taxis, [...] and the production cost is not high, when compared to helicopters," Ali said.
However, Ali admitted that investment was the biggest hurdle to realizing the megaproject, in line with concerns expressed by IKN Authority head Bambang Susantono at a separate event held on Tuesday.
"Pak President always asks 'Where are our investor friends? When will you start to macul [break ground]?'" Bambang said.
At the G7 summit, Jokowi bagged 24 more letters of intent (LOIs) for IKN investment from Japanese companies, bringing the total to more than 220 from 17 countries, according to Bambang.
He said it would "take time" for these LOIs to materialize into investments, as the potential investors would have to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), after which they could request confidential information regarding the project.
Once the information was provided, the investors could make feasibility studies to decide whether to join or back out. So far, Bambang said, more than 35 NDAs had been signed by potential investors.
Trisakti University city planning expert Nirwono Joga said Nusantara might be ready for the inauguration ceremony next year, but whether it would be a proper city by that time was questionable.
"If it's to be considered a city, of course it won't be ready [by 2024], let alone a livable one; that's still far away," Nirwono told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Nusantara might just have main roads, some government buildings and apartments for civil servants by the inauguration day, he speculated.
"The government's failure to build livable cities in Indonesia has placed all the burden on [Nusantara] to become that ideal one, making it too ambitious and unrealistic," said Nirwono, adding that lofty expectations could set the project up for failure.
Constructing a city was "never instant" and could not be done hastily, as a city had to go through long-term "natural steps and processes" before it could grow, Nirwono emphasized. He added that regarding public transportation, the government should be mindful about the needs, otherwise it would be a waste of resources, since maintenance was never cheap.
"What [Nusantara] needs in 2024 is sidewalks, bridges connecting buildings and green buses," Nirwono said, before noting some doubts about the practicality of electric buses, given the uneven topography.
Aside from being 'smart', the future capital is also expected to be green, as the IKN Authority plans to reserve 65 percent of its 256,142 hectares of land for tropical forest, according to Ali's presentation.
Safiah Moore, senior planner at British planning services provider Arup, told the Post on Wednesday that "for Nusantara, the green component is much about the existing natural assets".
Commenting on the overall planning for the megaproject, she added: "The ambition is there".