Pekalongan Awash with Color

By John Taylor

Pekalongan is a city of many colors: endlessly long pieces of cloth hang in the sun to dry, often yellow, violet, red, orange and blues. New buildings are painted bright colors, even gate railings can have color coordinated paint. It seems that the combination of its coastal location, artistic residents and bold Batik motifs have made Pekalongan a city that’s proud to paint itself boldly. On bright sunny days, such as during the week the Solo Kota Kita was working there, the city was vibrant with this kaleidoscope of different colors.

The Solo Kota Kita team was in Pekalongan for a week to survey the city and gather information about its current and future planning goals. The visit was part of the work we’re doing for UN HABITAT’s Cities Development Strategy (CDS) program, where we’ll be creating a city profile for Pekalongan, Solo, and Banjarmasin. During our stay in the city we visited Batik villages, coastal settlements, the old harbor, and new middle-class suburban developments, all to get an understanding of the city’s form and future growth potential.

Pekalongan has both strong assets to build on as well as challenges it faces ahead. It is known as one of Indonesia’s original Batik cities, hundreds of small-scale batik producers design and produce large amounts of Batik there. You can see evidence of this all over the city, Batik is being made and dried everywhere! The city is supporting the Batik industry by encouraging innovation in design and marketing, they’ve opened a Batik museum, training schools, and computer labs specifically to support it. The city is also promoting cultural tourism to Batik villages like Kauman, in the heart of the old city.

On the other hand, the threat of climate change and problems of environmental degradation, such as coastal inundation, create impediments for Pekalongan’s continued growth. Everyday in the north of the city the high tide from the sea prevents the city’s rivers from draining. This backs up water that spills over into neighborhoods located there, such as Pabean. High tides also flood coastal areas with saltwater that damages local rice paddies and inundates homes. This has negatively affected Batik producers such as those in Pabean who have little space to dry their products. The city government is proposing various projects such as a sea wall, mangrove restoration and improving the drainage system to address the rising sea level.

Bright colors are not the only ones to be seen in the city, the Batik dyes that drain into local streams end up coloring it a dark murky color that demonstrates high pollution levels in the water. The color of this river could be a good indicator of the city’s situation in the future. Can Pekalongan balance the development of the Batik industry, its main economic and cultural potential, with concerns about environmental sustainability and public health? Can it successfully invest in defending its coastline and restoring river systems while at the same time supporting local businesses? If so, then Pekalongan’s rivers may someday run with clean water, reflecting the bright colors of the city’s natural and economic fortunes.

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