SEAC Seminar Series: The Production of Jakarta's Water Crisis: A Political Ecology of Speculative Urbanism

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

Online event


Dr Emma Colven

Dr Emma Colven

Assistant Professor of Global Environment, University of Oklahoma


Prof Hyun Bang Shin

Prof Hyun Bang Shin

Professor of Geography and Urban Studies and Director of Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, LSE

SEAC hosted a research seminar chaired by SEAC Director Prof. Hyun Bang Shin on 14th October 2020. Dr Emma Colven (Assistant Professor in Global Environment, University of Oklahoma) spoke on "The Production of Jakarta’s Water Crisis: A Political Ecology of Speculative Urbanism" 


Talk Abstract

Jakarta has undergone a rapid transformation in recent decades, facilitated by economic liberalization and market-led economic growth. The city is increasingly characterized by large-scale, luxury real estate developments and high-profile infrastructural projects. Jakarta also experiences a curious contradiction: its growth is outstripping its water supply, at the same time as the city experiences frequent flood events. This paper draws on an analysis of in-depth interviews conducted with property and financial consultants in Jakarta, data on the real estate sector, and water management studies in order to trace the emergence of Jakarta’s contemporary water crisis. While other studies have attributed water crises to regulatory and governance failure, political agendas and corruption, I demonstrate how Jakarta’s water crisis has been produced via a mode of speculative urbanism that has shaped both the city’s urban development and its water regimes. More specifically, I trace how the real estate industry has been guided by an imagined future market of investors and end-use buyers. This has contributed to the overexploitation of water sources and construction on green and water retention spaces that undermine the very future of Jakarta. Further, by examining the temporalities and spatialities of Jakarta’s water crisis, I show how Jakarta’s “water crisis” is experienced in socially and spatially uneven ways. I argue that water provides a crucial lens through which to understand processes of speculative urbanism and urban transformation.



A video of this seminar is available to watch at Facebook.


Blog posts

  • Dr Emma Colven's intervention regarding her talk can be read here.
  • Reflections on Dr Colven's talk written by Al Lim can be read here.

Speaker Biography

  • Dr Emma Colven is an assistant professor in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma. As an urban geographer and political ecologist, her research explores themes of water politics, real estate and urban development, adaptation, and environmental justice in Asian cities. Her current research project examines and compares the relationship between market-led reform, speculative urban development, and water crises in Bangalore and Jakarta. She received her Ph.D. in Geography from UCLA in 2018. She holds a B.A. in Geography from University College London and M.A. in Cities from King’s College, London.

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