A crowded city can be a sign of a good thing for Indonesians

The annual Eid exodus to home towns and villages contributes to the pace of urbanisation in Indonesia. EPA/BAGUS INDAHONO

Jakarta has returned to its normal crowded self, a month after the Eid holiday exodus that nearly emptied the city.

Except that now the Indonesian capital has around 68,000 more residents. Every year thousands of people move to Jakarta with the return flow of the holiday exodus.

These migrations are often reported negatively in the media, who would mix up the term migration with urbanisation.

Like many countries, Indonesia has an annual tradition of travelling to one’s home town during religious holidays. In Indonesia, it is called mudik. This year, around 3.6 million people traveled from Jakarta to their home towns in Java and other parts of Indonesia, according to a survey by the University of Indonesia Demographic Institute.

Mudik reflects the strength of social cohesion amid the change towards a post-modern industrial society. During mudik, the social and geographic distance between groups of different professions and economic status become shorter. Almost everyone, from the bank CEO to the streetside vendor, goes on mudik.

When the holiday is over, they return to Jakarta. Some bring their relatives or friends with them.

The media often describe the process of urbanisation in Indonesia only through the phenomenon of new migrants to Jakarta. This is an incomplete representation of urbanisation. Migration can be part of urbanisation, but not always.

What is urbanisation

Urbanisation means the changing way of life from rural to urban living. It also means the changing characteristics of an area from having qualities of village life to city life.

Urbanisation does not always entail someone moving from the village to the city. Pondok Cina, a sub-district next to the University of Indonesia’s Depok campus on the outskirts of Jakarta, was once a rural village area. Now, the population density has increased to more than 5,000 people per square kilometre.

Less than a quarter of the residents farm. And it has urban facilities. Pondok Cina has turned into an urban village.

From an economic perspective, urbanisation is often linked with progress and economic development in an area. Therefore, it is concentrated in a number of locations, especially in big cities and more specifically in national capitals.

The danger of misrepresentation

When people understand urbanisation wrongly, they can make wrong conclusions. In the end, policy makers might create bad policies. Many city administrators say they want to prevent urbanisation. They actually mean they want to prevent migration from rural areas to the city.

Before Joko Widodo became Jakarta governor, the city administration held yearly ID raids on bus terminals after the Eid exodus. Those who don’t have IDs would be bused back to cities in Central or East Java.

Jakarta has stopped the practice, but other cities still do it. Almost always, the poor become the target of the raids. Their social and physical mobility are confined.

Migration as a symptom of urbanisation should be seen as a positive thing. It happens naturally and it is normal for an area that is undergoing urbanisation.

Migration influences urbanisation process

Young people looking for work move to Jakarta, which is booming with new constructions. EPA/MAST IRHAM

Jakarta is one of the cities in Indonesia with rapid progress and economic development. Moving to big cities such as Jakarta is a rational choice for young people in the productive age. Those who move to big cities usually have better skills and education levels than those who stay in the villages.

Jakarta’s nearly 10 million registered residents include 4 million lifetime migrants, according to the 2010 census. These are people who were born outside Jakarta but live in the city during census time.

Jakarta had 3.5 million lifetime migrants, according to the 2000 census. This means 500,000 people moved to Jakarta in 10 years.

Recent migrants of Jakarta are people who moved to Jakarta in the last five years. Recent migrants number around 600,000, according to the 2010 census.

The movement of people from villages to the city is the biggest factor that influences the urbanisation process. Often people from the villages move temporarily to the city to stay for less than six months.

These new migrants come to the city and live with family, relatives or friends. They look for additional income through off-farm employment.

People living in villages often earn their income from traditional farming which would not be enough to sustain their lives. Migration from village to cities for work should be seen as a mechanism to distribute wealth from the cities to the village.

Urbanisation in Indonesia

Urbanisation in Indonesia is most obvious in Jakarta. But other cities are changing too. Regions that have high urbanisation rates such as North Sumatera and Riau have higher GDPs than those with low urbanisation rates. There is a positive correlation between urbanisation rate, economic progress and population growth.

The urban population in Indonesia has increased from 14.8% in 1971 to 49.79% in 2010. By 2025, around 68% of the population will be living in cities and 82% in 2045.

Mudik perpetuates the urbanisation process in Indonesian villages. A couple of years from now, people could find their once-rural village has transformed into a small city.