Culture / interview

Smart City, Smart Leader

The pulse of Surabaya keeps beating faster through the city’s accelerating economic development and the completion of several infrastructure projects. All this activity is making Surabaya the nation’s next modern megapolitian area. However, behind these advances; there’s been a respected figure with who has a clear determination and vision: Tri Rismaharini. One of the most influential women in the nation, Ibu Risma, as she is known, has been the mayor of Surabaya for the last six years. Risma also earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in urban development management from Institut Teknologi 10 November Surabaya. During her administration, the city has developed a more attractive facade, while its citizens have been enjoying a rapidly improving quality of life.

Interview by Anton Adianto
Photo by Bagus Tri Laksono & Surabaya City Council Doc.

How has a background in architecture influenced your decisions as Surabaya’s mayor?

In architecture, we learn that when we design a building, we must find out who will occupy it, as well as the behaviour of the occupants. I use this architectural way of thinking in fixing the problems of the city. I have also applied studies about urban planning and site consolidation that I learned at university to help organise the city. What has also been important are the character- understanding skills that I learned in the architecture department [at university].

For instance, I proposed building modern toilets in elementary schools. The objective is to train young children to use modern toilets, so that when they grow up that will not become a strange and unfamiliar thing for them. This kind of understanding and approach would have been difficult for me to cultivate had I not studied architecture at university.

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Why focus on improving the city’s parks?

The issue with the city’s parks is not just to create “lungs” for the city, but to see how everyone in Surabaya can express themselves and do their activities there without disparity–rich and poor, black and white, babies and the elderly. Every citizen of the city should be able to use the parks and gather there. To realise this concept, parks should be able to be well received by everyone. It means they should be clean and have facilities to attract youngsters. For instance, at the moment all of the parks across Surabaya provide free Wi-Fi for visitors. In addition, parks should also be safe, because safety reasons might deter affluent people from visiting.

Why have you given the city’s parks distinctly different themes?

I have tried to give a theme to each of these parks. For instance, Taman Lansia [Elderly Park] has several facilities, including acupuncture spots and several corners to play chess or mahjong, a favourite pastime for the elderly. Another park bears the name Taman Ekspresi [Expression Park], which we’ll dedicate to artists. There is also a park that was built on a former landfill that we call Taman Harmoni [Harmony Park]. We planted various kinds of  flowers of matching colours, so they create a harmonious visual treat–thus the name.

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Is this focus on parks part of Surabaya’s master plan for development?

Yes. At the moment we are trying to improve parks by adding sports facilities with larger dimensions. For instance, the addition of badminton and basketball courts, as well as grounds for indoor football and volleyball. It is our effort to persuade more young people to visit the parks and do positive activities there. At the same time, children can still play in other parts of the park, so that they don’t disturb each other.

What about your plans for improving the city’s infrastructure?

We are preparing to develop mass transportation. We are building the best and the widest pedestrian lanes so that people going on foot will feel comfortable. We are also in the process of constructing buildings for parking structures, so that in the future there will be no more cars parked on the street. From these parking areas, people can walk on the comfortable pedestrian lanes to reach their destinations. I will try to apply different colours for pedestrian paths and manhole designs, so people will know exactly when these pieces of infrastructure have been built.

What’s the idea behind Surabaya as a smart city?

At the moment Surabaya offers all its municipal services electronically. I am trying to improve this by bringing them into the mobile-apps era. Some services can be accessed through smartphones, such as issuing licenses or applying for birth or death certificates. However, the concept of a smart city does not stop there. The most important thing is how a city can make its citizens feel happy, peaceful and comfortable. In addition to creating parks and urban forests–as well as enforcing health and cleanliness in the kampongs so that the people can feel more comfortable–Surabaya has more than 1,000 libraries and more than 36 broadband learning centres, places where people can learn how to use information technology. I also believe that a smart city should be safe. For that reason we have installed CCTVs in various spots, not only to monitor the streets, but also main public areas such as markets, campuses, malls and the like, so that the people of Surabaya can feel safe.

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How do you view Surabaya as a heritage city?

Heritage can be a strength for a city. I am trying to rejuvenate historical buildings in various areas of the city, to make them more attractive, although many are unoccupied. The municipal administration handled the buildings little by little by itself in the beginning. It turns out that now, several investors are beginning to show interest in taking part in the program. As a result, the old buildings that people would previously walk past without looking twice are becoming new public attractions – and are a hit with the people, especially the younger generation. They take pictures and these heritage buildings bring back pride for everyone living in Surabaya.

Any other ideas that you have been considering?

I would like to rethink the coastal area of Surabaya while reviving areas along the riverbanks. There is a certain lifestyle there that involves local residents. At the moment, we can see the Fishermen’s Village in Kenjeran, where the local residents are becoming aware of this lifestyle – which makes it easier for me to replicate this in other places. I believe these aims can be realised with strong will and hard work.

What are your hopes for the city?

I hope that Surabaya can be a comfortable city to live in–not a city with ambitious tendencies. With a comfortable atmosphere, Surabaya will be healthier, both physically and mentally. We can actually see those changes these days. Now, people in Surabaya smile more easily and they don’t get angry too much. Before, when there was even the smallest traffic jam, people would honk their horns.

I would also like for the people of Surabaya to understand more about the meaning of culture. I am trying to revive traditional children’s games such as egrang (stilt walking), bakiak (clog racing) and dakon (a board game). I am also hoping to reintroduce the myriad traditional dishes we have by regularly holding the Rujak Ulek Festival. I also ask schools to make it compulsory for children to master traditional dances and songs.

If these ideas can realised, I have a dream that Surabaya will be a happy city. For instance, I don’t want parents to get confused over finding schools for their children. Therefore every year we are building more new schools, following the growing numbers of school children. In addition, we routinely gather the elderly–at least four times a year–so that the life expectancies of people in Surabaya can be increased. These are the things that we are working on now, so that my dream in making Surabaya a comfortable and happy city to live in can be realised.

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