Jokowi — Ahok, Tri Risma, Ridwan Kamil and The Making of Creative Cities

How the new generation of leaders build the Indonesian creative cities


Wall Street Journal mention that a new breed of politician is on the rise. Jokowi — Ahok, Tri Risma and Ridwan Kamil becomes mayor for Indonesian cities with respectable reputation.

Jokowi — Ahok need no more introduction. The combination between Jokowi low key and Ahok bold style caused a stir among Jakarta beurocratic administration. Within one year, they have been embracing pluralism, cleaning street vendor, green-lighting monorail construction, distributing free health-cards and building low-cost housing. Their biggest challenge is tackling Jakarta traffic and flood problems.

Referred as Mrs. Mayor in Huffington Post, Tri Risma became famous in 2005 when she served as the city parks departement. With her direction, “Sparkling Surabaya” becomes more than slogan, prostitutions converted into a kindergartens. The anti-littering slogans inspire the citizens to be proud of the city and Surabaya has been named as the city with the best public participation in Asia Pacific.

Before becoming the mayor of Bandung, Ridwan Kamil is an award-winning architect with his works span from Indonesia, Middle East, China and South East Asia. Consistent with Indonesia Berkebun — his previous urban farming movement, his immediate action is building parks and playgrounds to revive Bandung reputation as Paris van Java. He plan to focus on the infrastructure, expand the bike scheme and revamp the transportation system.

Building the city infrastructure is a good start, but we need more. Creative city is a recent term how a city can encourage open mindedness and inspire dramatic impact for ordinary people can make the extraordinary happen if given the chance. It is not only for people with creative abilities, but it includes anyone who addresses issues in an inventive way. Creative city is for everyone — workers, business people, students, practically anyone.

With Richard Florida during Business of Design Week in Hongkong (2013)

Richard Florida mention that to build great cities, we need three things: Technology, Talent and Tolerance. Technology enables economic development, but I prefer to expand this idea that a city needs to have its strength and position itself compare to other city, not only in technology. Talent means we are focusing on creating an environment that encourage talent development through various means. Tolerance referring a community that embrace pluralism and diversity.


Jokowi plan to build a new art centre is not supported by Indonesian artists. Taman Ismail Marzuki is not yet fully utilized as an attraction for an art place. A high art is currently out of touch with the younger generation. To make TIM a cool place for hangout, we need to embrace more consumer approach to the place. Harley Davidson exhibition at Guggenheim Museum attracted the biggest crowd ever. That’s the reason why US Embassy built @america at Pacific Place Mall, to open it for public, not only for high art elitist. Pop culture and kitsch permeates into the consumers, why not embrace them.

Jakarta Car Free Night and Jakarta Night Festival is a good start to make Jakarta as an inspiring creative city. It’s creating an attraction factor for Jakarta. But to make Jakarta a great creative city compare with the other cities around the world, we need a more inspiring example.

Antonio Blanco & Michael Jackson

Open Balinese culture, natural charm of Ubud with the intricacies of the agrarian society and full of religious rites attracts Antonio Blanco to stay and live in Ubud. He built a house and museum in Ubud which contains many of his paintings. The land on which the construction erected was given to Antonio by the King of Ubud Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati. By providing great artist like Blanco to live in Ubud, this become source of inspiration and encourage tourism because the museum has the ability to attract visitors all over the world to see something unique and beautiful.

In 2007, FGD Expo — a digital printing expo I organized with friends invited Stefan Sagmeister, which has designed album covers for great artists of rock such as The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Talking Heads. We invited him to visit Indonesia and shared his creative experience in exchange for Bali trips and meeting with Indonesian creative communities. Surely nobody ever refuse to be invited to Bali.

Stefan Sagmeister talks at Ted.com about his sabbatical leave in Bali (2008)

After the visit, Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a yearlong sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh his creative outlook. By inviting him to Bali, he inspires the world through his talk at Ted.com about the innovative projects inspired by his time in Bali. A great PR for Indonesia without a budget.


The lesson learned is great events, great personas and great places with a strong and unique culture always draws attraction. Inviting visitors to experience a unique culture for them to enjoy is a great ways to promote Indonesian cities.

Singapore is positioning themselves as a MICE destination. Singapore Tourism Board working with Forbes to target the C level decision makers in various industry to come to Singapore as well as creating mini event in respected countries. They create Your Singapore website to promote tourism and provide an easy information for visitors to plan their trips. For years Singapore is promoting themself as a creative and media hub. By establishing Media Development Authority, they invest in various events and programs to encourage the creative and media development.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre where most of Hongkong trade show organized.

Hongkong is built upon free trade policy to establish Hongkong as a platform for doing business with China and Asia. Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) is an institution that serves as the international marketing arm for Hong Kong-based manufacturers, traders and service providers. HKTDC organises trade fairs and business missions to connect companies with opportunities in Hong Kong and on the mainland, while providing information via trade publications, research reports and online. They organises more than 30 fairs each year, namely, the HKTDC Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Fair, the Watch & Clock Fair and the Electronics Fair. When I was invited to one of their event, Inno Design Tech Expo, the organizers provide various program to ensure every visitor to explore the business opportunity by providing matchmaking program, networking session, workshops & seminars. And it’s tailored down to individual level.

Singapore and Hongkong are able to build such a conducive environment by building an organization platform that works independently alongside with the authority.

After what the Indonesian mayor rejuvenate the beurocratic and opaque administration for city administration, the same restructuring should be infused to rejuvenate the other supporting organization. This organization development will enable a more sustainable to build the city future rather by an individual effort by the leaders. With better organization, we make sure that problems like Surabaya zoo or Bandung garbage won’t happen again.

Jokowi-Ahok, Tri Risma and Ridwan Kamil need to build not only the infrastructure, they also need a sustainable organization infrastructure that help them to build Indonesia great creative cities.