Can Indonesian ‘smart cities’ be inclusive?

In the last two decades, the concept of a ‘smart city’ has been progressively adopted by cities in Southeast Asian countries, including cities in Indonesia. The concept originated in the USA and several European countries in the early 1990s, and according to the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), there are several dimensions to the idea of a ‘smart city,’ including a smart economy, smart mobility, a smart environment, a smart government, smart living, and smart people. The idea behind the ‘smart city’ concept is to make a city more dynamic, and inspire city governments to increase the quality of life for all its inhabitants. This can be done by facilitating the interaction between people, as well as the movement of goods, capital, ideas, and knowledge, through technology.

This article discusses how the concept of a ‘smart city’ has been implemented in Indonesia, and to what extent this concept has positively impacted accessibility and equality for people with disabilities.

For cities in Indonesia, the ‘smart city’ concept is seen as a strategy to address problems associated with its urban population. Big cities like Jakarta, Denpasar, Bandung, Surabaya, Makassar, and Medan for example, must deal with many new people arriving in search of a better life. This has presented city governments with challenges on delivering public services like education, public transport, and health services. The ‘smart city’ concept is expected to help city governments in creating new and innovative policies through the use of technology.

Because the concept of a ‘smart city’ emphasises the importance of ensuring inclusion, this means that all inhabitants, regardless of their backgrounds and identities, are entitled to equal access and participation in public life. All government services and departments, including those that rely on technology, must ensure they are accessible to every citizen, including people with disabilities. Every public service must be accessible to those who are visually impaired, deaf, and have physical disabilities, and it must be accessible to the elderly population as well.

There are two cities in Indonesia which have introduced smart city initiatives to date; the city of Surabaya and the provincial city of DKI Jakarta. Together, they are Indonesia’s two largest cities. Surabaya has claimed to be the first city to introduce the ‘smart city’ concept by initiating an e-government project in 2003. According to Mr Hefli Syarifuddin Madjid, the Head of the Application and Telematics Division in the Communication and Informatics Services of Surabaya City, the e-government project aims to provide residents with access to public services like health, education, and public transport.


To support this initiative, the Surabaya city government introduced an app-based service known as Matakota. Matakota was designed to increase mobility and safety for residents in Surabaya by providing information about traffic jams, natural disasters, and any criminal activity. It is equipped with a ‘panic button’ that can be used to call police or an ambulance in case of an emergency. Another feature is an early Warning System feature to warm victims in case of a looming natural disaster. This was introduced as a mitigation policy to reduce the number of victims in the event of natural disaster.

Following Surabaya’s lead, Jakarta launched the smart city initiative (Jakarta Smart City/JSC) in 2016 by introducing Qlue. Qlue is an online app-based service which provides information on public services, and allows Jakarta’s residents to communicate directly with the city government on any issue regarding these services. In an interview with Mr Gerry Magenta from Qlue Indonesia, he stated that the name of Qlue was inspired by the Bahasa Indonesian word ‘keluhan’, which means complaint, and by the English word ‘clue’. This name is meant to convey Jakarta’s smart city vision in creating solutions, and promoting transparency and public participation. Qlue can be accessed from stakeholders’ mobile phones, and stakeholders include the local government (including the Regional Device Work Unit), Jakarta’ residents, and the broader public.


Unfortunately, from my observation, these two applications have not been equipped with tools that allow people with disabilities to access these services easily, and was it not designed with this in mind either. For example, the app does not provide any information on which public transport services are accessible to people with disabilities,  and I noticed that the applications are not equipped with features for visually impaired people, people with hearing impairment, or people with physical disabilities.

Therefore, it seems that these two cities have neglected their legal obligations to people with disabilities, in regards to the smart city concept. The city of Surabaya is, in fact, required to guarantee people with a disability access to the Social Welfare Services, as per the Local Regulation No.2/2012 on Social Welfare Services (Peraturan Daerah Kota Surabaya No.2/2012 tentang Penyelenggaraan Kesejahteraan Sosial). This is in addition to the Regulation of the Mayor of Surabaya No. 24/2018 on the rights of people with disabilities to access financial support for Health Services. Similarly, the provincial government of DKI Jakarta has failed to implement its Local Regulation No. 10/2011 on the Protection of People with Disabilities (Peraturan Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta No. 10/2011 tentang Perlindungan Penyandang Disabilitas), which guarantees that people with disabilities have a right to education, health, sport, art and culture, labour, business, public services, participate in politics, and have access to justice.

While both cities have introduced legal regulations to fulfill the rights of people with disabilities, it is obvious that these policies have not been implemented well. Both initiatives fail to guarantee accessible services to people with disabilities. This is made clear by the apps’ lack of accessibility to support people with disabilities and the lack of information on services available on the app for people with disabilities.

Kurnia Novianti

PhD Candidate

Anthropology Program

Department of Social Inquiry

School of Humanities and Social Sciences



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