Modernisation and Development in the Dutch East Indies

Pauline Roosemalen’s edited chapter on the Netherlands Indies Planning Commission provides a valuable insight into the notion of modernisation in relation to formal town planning in the Dutch East Indies. Roosemalen argues how Dutch initiatives to engage in formal town planning processes facilitated the modernisation of the colony for the Indonesian people in the early 20th century.[1] However, her argument falls upon an over-simplistic view of the nature of ‘modernisation’. Modernisation is viewed entirely within a Eurocentric and materialistic view, which filters Roosemalen’s view of Indonesian cities and kampongs. Dutch planned cities are viewed positively due to their material abundance and European style visual aesthetic, while native kampongs are viewed negatively because of their unplanned nature and ‘limited visual aesthetic’.[2]

I would contradict this argument by highlighting the limitations of Dutch town planning processes as agents of modernisation and the diversity of the Indonesian kampong. Kampongs are not monolithic, and neither is the modern Indonesian state. It encompasses a vast array of islands and resultingly cultures, languages and ethnicities. The diversity of the Indonesian kampong reflects the diversity of its people, a factor that Roosemalen does not present. Each kampong utilises a unique architectural style and town planning structure. Kampongs in Medan have houses with large, triangular, outward protruding grass roofs.[3] The extravagance and height of rooftop design increases depending on the importance of the building. Houses in Kampong Garut are one storey structures with tiled roofs and surrounded by large thatched windows to facilitate the free flow of air in and out of the structure.[4] Kampong Nias Selatan displays formal town planning elements as structures are arranged in rows adjacent to each other, with wide streets separating groups of residences. Next to these houses are large communal gathering centres with chairs arranged for outdoor recreation or discussion.[5] Even by European standards, kampongs displayed formal town planning and architectural design elements that provided necessary services for each community. Each kampong reflected its community’s social structure and its relationship to the landscape around them. They were not monolithic as Roosemalen might suggest and deserve further analysis as a distinct element of local town planning.

Additionally, Roosemalen argues a strong relationship between Dutch town planning and modernisation despite prevalent urbanisation issues that were evident even amongst the European population of its cities. In 1901, Surabaya came under high alert as the Shell Transport and Trading Company built petroleum reservoirs with weak foundations next to rivers that flowed into the harbour.[6] The reservoirs were at risk of breakage if filled too high, risking the entire Surubayan maritime industry and water reserves.[7] Even after the decentralisation policy and enactment of the town planning ordinance in 1903, the Singapore Rotary Club highlights pertaining issues of the Batavian urban landscape.[8] The article compares Singapore and Batavia with an apparent British bias towards its own colonial cities. However, the article does highlight important issues relating to formal town planning processes. By 1938, the city was organised with ‘little evidence of town-planning’ as buildings were placed abnormally distant from each other, overpopulation was rife, supply of basic necessities were limited, and traffic conditions were chaotic with no formal regulation in place.[9] Batavia is viewed as neither visually aesthetic nor materially abundant, two factors that enforced Roosemalen’s notion of Batavian modernness.

The formalised nature of town planning is what enforced Roosemalen’s argument of Dutch’ modernisation’. It exemplified the difference between the ‘modern’ Netherland Indies city and the ‘unmodern’ Indonesian Kampong. From the short analysis above, Dutch-planned cities appeared less formal and ‘modern’ as previously perceived. The analysis of urban planning appears to be both eurocentric and hypocritical as European urban landscapes did not even fit the parameters of modernisation set by Europeans. Although it is important to understand how institutionalised town planning affected the development of the Indonesian city, it is also vital to detach ourselves from a purely eurocentric view of ‘development and modernisation’ and engage with alternate understandings of town planning based on the political and environmental context of the landscape. 

 

Bibliography:

Primary Sources:

KITLV Leiden, ‘Kampong in Garoet’, photograph, 1910, Garut Indonesia, KITLV Leiden.

Lett, A, ‘Het dorpsplein van de kampong Sedregeasi op Zuid-Nias’, photograph, 1895, Nias Selatan Indonesia, Museum Volkenkunde.

‘Netherlands India’, The Straits Times, Singapore. June 24 1901, p. 3, <https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Page/straitstimes19010624-1.1.3?ST=1&AT=search&k=town%20planning%20ordinance%20batavia&QT=town,planning,ordinance,batavia&oref=article> [accessed 20th October 2021].

Onbekend, ‘Een kampong in Medan’, photograph, 1920, Medan Indonesia, Museum Volkenkunde.

Singapore Rotary Club, ‘Java and Malaya Compared’, The Morning Tribune, Singapore, 14th July 1938, p. 8, <https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Page/morningtribune19380714-1.1.8?ST=1&AT=search&k=(Town%20Planning)%20and%20(Batavia)&QT=town,planning,and,batavia&oref=article> [accessed 20th October 2021].

Secondary Source:

Roosemalen, Pauline, ‘Netherlands Indies Town Planning: An Agent for Modernisation’, in Freek Colombijn and Joost Cote (eds), Cars, Conduits and Kampongs: The Modernisation of the Indonesian City, 1920-1960 (Leiden, 2014), pp. 87-120.

 

 

[1] Pauline Roosemalen, ‘Netherlands Indies Town Planning: An Agent for Modernisation’, in Freek Colombijn and Joost Cote (eds), Cars, Conduits and Kampongs: The Modernisation of the Indonesian City, 1920-1960 (Leiden, 2014), pp. 87-90.

[2] Ibid., pp. 115-116.

[3] Onbekend, ‘Een kampong in Medan’, photograph, 1920, Medan Indonesia, Museum Volkenkunde.

[4] KITLV Leiden, ‘Kampong in Garoet’, photograph, 1910, Garut Indonesia, KITLV Leiden

[5] A Lett, ‘Het dorpsplein van de kampong Sedregeasi op Zuid-Nias’, photograph, 1895, Nias Selatan Indonesia, Museum Volkenkunde.

[6] ‘Netherlands India’, The Straits Times, Singapore. June 24 1901, p. 3, <https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Page/straitstimes19010624-1.1.3?ST=1&AT=search&k=town%20planning%20ordinance%20batavia&QT=town,planning,ordinance,batavia&oref=article> [accessed 20th October 2021].

[7] Ibid.

[8] Singapore Rotary Club, ‘Java and Malaya Compared’, The Morning Tribune, Singapore, 14th July 1938, p. 8, <https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Page/morningtribune19380714-1.1.8?ST=1&AT=search&k=(Town%20Planning)%20and%20(Batavia)&QT=town,planning,and,batavia&oref=article> [accessed 20th October 2021].

[9] Ibid.

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