Satellite Photos Show Construction of Indonesia’s New Capital

What does a country do when its overcrowded, polluted capital city starts sinking into the ocean? It builds a new one.

That’s the plan in Indonesia, where construction is well underway on the new capital of Nusantara, a massive planned city being built from scratch in the jungles of Borneo that’s meant to replace Jakarta, the current capital that’s home to some 30 million people.

Recent satellite images released by NASA show the landscape of eastern Borneo undergoing rapid change, with a sprawling network of roads and early signs of building construction visible. The images above show the progress that’s been made between April 2022 and February 2024.

The $35 billion project is still in its earliest stages, and is not expected to be completed until 2045 at the earliest. But the Indonesian government is planning to officially inaugurate Nusantara this summer, to coincide with Indonesian Independence Day.

Skyscrapers are seen beyond residential buildings standing in the Tanah Abang district of Central Jakarta, Indonesia, on February 27. Indonesia is in the process of building an entirely new capital city 800 miles away.

Garry Andrew Lotulung/Anadolu via Getty Images

Thousands of government workers are scheduled to move in by October as part of the first phase—known as the Government Central Area zone—that will comprise a presidential palace, government offices and the infrastructure to support the first batch of civil servants.

Sinking city

Jakarta, which is about 870 miles west of Nusantara on the island of Java, has been Indonesia’s capital since its independence in 1945. But the metropolitan area has grown so fast—from less than a million people to 30 million today—that in 2019, Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared that it was no longer sustainable as the country’s capital.

Jakarta suffers from some of the worst traffic in the world and is regularly ranked among the world’s most polluted metropolises. More critically, the city is sinking relatively fast—about six inches a year—due to a combination of rising sea levels and depleted aquifers. Forty percent of the Jakarta metropolitan area is now below sea level.

Influence and opinion

Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, is a former governor of Jakarta with deep ties to the city. He has made the move to a new capital his legacy, telling the New York Times last year: “We want to build a new Indonesia….This is not physically moving the buildings. We want a new work ethic, new mind-set, new green economy.”

Jokowi recently led a tour of hard-hatted social-media influencers through the Nusantara construction zone, as reported by the outlet Rest of World, showing off what will be the presidential palace. (Jokowi, who is term-limited, won’t be in power by the time the palace welcomes its new president in October.)

By tapping Indonesia’s vast stable of influencers to promote his vision of a new, tech-focused, sustainable capital built from the ground up, Jokowi is hoping to sway public opinion on the project. The country of 275 million is roughly split on the ambitious venture, according to polls. Issues range from environmental concerns like deforestation, to cost overruns, to the feasibility of actually populating the new capital.

Money troubles

Indonesian officials have been trying on and off for decades to move the capital. But it wasn’t until April 2019 that the actual location was determined. Three years later, legislators cemented Jokowi’s vision into law and shovels hit the ground.

But despite the progress on construction, it remains unclear how the project is going to be fully funded. Outside investment has been slow, and the government has said it’s not capable of paying for all of the construction itself. Last year, the Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank declined to invest after officials had earlier suggested the firm offered to kick in at least $30 billion.

For now, the focus turns to August, when Indonesia celebrates Independence Day. Jokowi has pledged to host the celebration in Nusantara, though with four months to go there are no signs that a single building is ready for its ribbon to be cut, let alone residents to move in.