Ann Arbor, MI (September 23, 2016)—The U-M Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the U-M College of Engineering will have an opening reception on Friday, October 21, 2016 at the International Institute Gallery, 1080 S. University in Ann Arbor, MI. The reception will kick off a month-long exhibition that features the photography of U-M staff Marcin Szczepanski and the work of writer Ben Logan. Marcin and Ben, who both work in the College of Engineering’s Office of Communications, traveled to Jakarta in January 2016 to capture the work of Frank Sedlar, a U-M alum who is working on flood mitigation.
Jakarta, Indonesia, has been facing rapid urbanization and, with a population that now exceeds 10 million, the existing infrastructure has been significantly strained. Combined with the fact that Jakarta sees yearly heavy rainfall from the Southeast Asian Monsoon, is sinking in places at a rate of about 20 cm, and is experiencing a climate change related sea-level rise of about 3 mm per year, the resulting predicament is undeniable: Jakarta has a serious problem with flooding.
With 40 percent of the city already below sea level, the government of Indonesia has been exploring the possibility of building a 40-billion dollar sea wall to protect the city from flooding. If built, this would be the largest and most expensive civil engineering structure ever built. The government has already built concrete walls along the banks of rivers that cut through the city to reduce flooding and, as a result, has had to evict tens of thousands of its poorest residents.
Frank Sedlar, a recent graduate of the U-M College of Engineering who studied civil engineering, traveled to Indonesia and found himself inspired to explore new ways to help solve the problems associated with flooding. Torn between his fascination with large-scale civil engineering projects and his concern for Jakarta’s poor, Frank decided to use his expertise to help with flood mitigation. While pursuing his MS in civil engineering at U-M, Frank also studied Bahasa Indonesian. His unique skillset allowed him to write a Fulbright proposal that enabled him to continue to work toward exploring new ways of operating the existing infrastructure more efficiently. Frank was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and moved to Jakarta in December 2015 to begin his work.
Frank’s work is focused on identifying areas of Jakarta that are the most vulnerable to flooding and then building and installing electronic sensors to measure water levels in order to better predict when and where a flood might occur. Frank can do this work by utilizing high quality data collected by Peta Jakarta, a research project founded on the idea that the citizens of Jakarta could provide a great deal of assistance with the collection of real-time flooding information via social media, especially Twitter. Peta Jakarta, co-developed by former U-M College of Architecture and Urban Planning fellow Etienne Turpin, collects posts and images that are tweeted @petajkt and creates a map of the city showing in real time where flooding is occurring. This form of data collection works especially efficiently in a country with one of the most social media savvy populations in the world and, thanks to Peta Jakarta’s work, Frank has had access to millions of verified tweets that help him to provide more accurate installations of the sensors.
Frank’s work will have an impact on the future of flood mitigation in Indonesia, and it also has the potential to address a problem that coastal cities will be faced with globally as climate change takes its toll and sea levels continue to rise. Lessons learned in Jakarta can be applied to coastal cities all over the world including New York, San Francisco, and Miami.