In cities globally but also in South-East Asia, projects of urbanization are adopting a mode of urban development concentrated in infrastructure projects, private luxury developments, including shopping malls, not seldom erected on the premises of public space and neighbourhoods evicted and cleared for construction.
Since 2016, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Indonesia and the Rujak Center for Urban Studies (link in English) in Jakarta have been promoting together the idea of a social, inclusive, participatory and livable city through conferences, workshops and studies. With the support of FES, Rujak is currently leading a project on affordable housing, developing a strategy for urban redevelopment for lower-income communities and establishing strong public-community partnerships.
Ahead of a jointly organized regional conference on social city in Jakarta this November, FES met Rujak’s founder and director, Marco Kusumawijaya to talk about the city as a space of interaction, the aggressive urban development projects that have become a commonplace in cities across Asia and the importance of public space.
What does a city do to us? How does physical spatial planning interplay with our everyday, the social, political and economic realities of our interactions?
Marco Kusumawijaya: Space is a resource. Its quantity does not grow, but its usefulness and quality increase or simply change with our social, cultural and physical investment into it. Everything we do, every interaction we have, happens in space. It is a very basic need for our individual and social existence. It is also related to many subjects of human rights, for example housing. Therefore, it is a problem of justice in allocation—it is political—and appropriateness in design; it is a practice of every day participatory democracy.
Urban space cannot be totally fragmented into commodities by sacrificing those needs and principles. In cities, density in and the use of space train our ability to live together and collaborate to its highest level. Using, appropriating and managing the city are therefore at the very heart of our collective existence.
In cities globally but also in South-East Asia, projects of urbanization have heralded a mode of urban development concentrated in infrastructure projects, private luxury developments including shopping malls, not seldom erected on the premises of neighbourhoods evicted for construction, dividing the city and its populations across many fault lines, including class. What drives this trend?
MK: Misguided narratives of modernisation, development and economic model drive this trend. In modernising countries, generally demand for housing and other properties is very high relative to available supply. In the fast growing cities of South East Asia, the gap between demand and supply is even larger. Hence capital seeks quick and big accumulation in property business. The more successful the development in a country, the more the demand for infrastructures and others increase. Without a clear respect for human rights, conflicts that emerge therefrom will not benefit the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Is there an anti-dote to the development?
MK: We need to change the narrative of development, or generate multiplicity of narratives. Development projects, while fulfilling public interest, should be fulfilling human rights in one breath, not separately. Given our current ecological crisis, development projects should at the same time also be climate change adaptation measures and distributing equity to the long vulnerable and disadvantaged.
For all cities, worldwide, because of the profit-driven construction and occupying of space, it is a challenge to meet the need for social and cultural space, inclusive cultural activities and institutions. Public spaces are points of interaction, communication and crystallization points of lifestyles and heritage. How can public space be defended and guaranteed?
MK: Firstly, cities should see the public spaces as very important common asset. Actually, it is through this instrument that city governments play a major part of their roles in maintaining social cohesion and encouraging interaction as a basis for creative exchanges. Public spaces are the main instrument for community reproduction.
"Space as a resource is also related to many subjects of human rights, for example housing. Therefore, it is a problem of justice in allocation—it is political—and appropriateness in design; it is a practice of every day participatory democracy"
Secondly, communities are often the best defender of the public spaces, but for this they need to have a strong sense of ownership exercised through practices of direct upkeeping, independent programming and participatory designing. Defensible spaces are those that generate meanings, reproduce social cultural relations and usefulness among the communities and perhaps also larger populations surrounding their neighbourhoods.
But of course, not all public spaces are at the level of community or neighbourhood. The public spaces at higher or larger scale need the stronger role of the local authorities. But the principle to build up a strong sense of ownership by the city’s population should also apply through collaborative planning, programming, actual use and shared responsibility in upkeeping.
Mobility is fundamental for participation in daily life and for quality of life, especially when discussing access and cities. What makes it so difficult to provide affordable and adequate mobility in a lot of cities worldwide?
MK: Affordable and generally accessible mobility works only when there is a strong integration between public transportation network and land-use, at least for the routine journeys between homes and workplaces, hence the two most important of land uses: work and housing.
The city needs to be also maintained at reasonable compactness. But this has been made difficult to maintain by the interest of profits accumulation in speculative property business. City authorities need to keep their perspective of long term and eternal importance of the benefits of affordable housing and mobility at the same time. ###
The interview was led by Sergio Grassi, resident representative of FES Indonesia and Mila Shopova, regional communications coordinator. For more information on the work by FES in Indonesia on social urban planning and development contact the FES office in Jakarta.
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