Introducing Dr Emma Colven, SEAC Visiting Fellow and Assistant Professor of Global Environment at the University of Oklahoma.
1.What will you be working on during your time as SEAC Visiting Fellow?
My current research aims to understand the role of speculative urban development in generating water crises, and how water crises in turn shape real estate markets in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. The goal of the research is to provide insights into the co-production of transformations in water regimes and land markets.
In recent decades, Jakarta’s mangroves, green spaces, and floodplains have been replaced with concrete. This contributes to worsening the impacts of flooding caused by monsoon rains. Jakarta also experiences extremely high land subsidence rates caused largely by deep groundwater extraction and construction loads, making this delta city vulnerable to coastal flooding.
At least superficially, Jakarta’s real estate industry seems unaffected by the increasingly frequent flood events and the pressures on the city’s water supply. For instance, once a peripheral area of the city, North Jakarta has become a site of intense speculative development. However, this area is also extremely vulnerable to coastal flooding. I am particularly interested in understanding how financial risk and environmental risk seemingly become decoupled. While Jakarta’s experience is particularly acute, water crises will constitute a major planning challenge in the twenty first century. This research should contribute insights that help cities to respond to and plan more equitably for these realities.
2.What led you to your field of study/what inspired your interest in these topics?
My Ph.D. research examined the debates around flood mitigation efforts in Jakarta, looking at a planned coastal defense strategy that involved extensive land reclamation and construction of a giant offshore sea wall. Throughout this research, I struggled to study floodwaters without also looking at many other flows of water, such as piped water, and grey-, storm-, and groundwater. I wanted to conceptually and methodologically broaden the scope of my research to understand how Jakarta’s water crisis emerged and developed.
Additionally, as I’ve learned more about the dynamics and characteristics of speculative urbanism in Jakarta, I wanted to document the socio-ecological impacts of this mode of urban development on Jakarta. I’ve also been inspired by critical researchers working at the intersection of disaster studies and urban planning, as well as recent scholarship on the ecological dimensions of financialization.
3. How do you like to relax and unwind?
I paint, practice yoga, read and write fiction, climb, and spend time with my dogs. The pandemic has given me time to explore new things, like learning guitar and throwing clay. I am returning to London for this fellowship eight years after leaving for graduate school. I’m looking forward to rediscovering the city’s museums and art galleries and exploring its neighborhoods.