Asset-Based Development: The Needs for Mapping and Proactive Anticipation

The current development manners cannot seem to escape the “investment-driven” manner. In general, the regional and national governments keep inviting the investors by seeking what would invite them to come. Occasionally, there are some extreme manners done by the regional heads by stating that the area has got nothing, so that the investors would come. In some cases, the architects are invited to design some iconic buildings to create some attractions. Footloose industries, among others, occurred because of such manners.

Basically, there are no cities that “have got nothing”. As John Friedmann stated, the city and county are not some empty vessels. Cities that already have hundreds or thousands years of history must have developed and cultivated various assets, in addition to the natural assets they already have. The natural assets are the origin of early population of a certain area.

The invited investors developed through the city’s original asset would be different from the investors who have ill manners, exploiting the natural resources and taking benefits from cheap labor. Those ill-mannered investors would then move to another city to repeat the exact same thing they had done.

One of the major types of investment-based development is the ones that with the extractive nature towards natural resources. Prof. Dr. Setyawan said that the large-scale extractive industry tend to be colonial and have three adverse effects. First, the industry tend to lower local people’s degree. For example, if a local was formerly an asset owner (e.g. farmland or adat land), that person would then become an asset-less worker, or might be marginalized towards their region’s suburb. Second, the industry would radically alter the landscape that it would lose its species diversity. Third, the industry spoiled the local government (officials) by easing their flow of income, so that the government becomes lazy and loses their ability to innovate and their creativity. In a long run, this development manner will weaken the local’s conditions, because the assets they have are being extracted, while other assets that are not needed by the investors do not thrive.

An alternative approach was developed by the late Professor John Friedmann. He called is as “Endogenous Development” (a development from within, based on local assets and capabilities), or can generally be called “local asset-based development”. His short essay can be read at this link:

The most important thing is what local assets are, which he distinguished into seven points, as follows:

  1. Human beings; the citizens and their life qualities.
  2. Organized civil society; various self-organized by local citizen
  3. The spirit of environmental heirlooms, the uniqueness, and the local’s dynamic cultural life
  4. Creative and intellectual assets; the quality of universities and research institutions, and what the Japanese calls as ”living human treasures”: artisans, artists, intellectuals, scientists, musicians, writers, poets, filmmakers, actors, and dancers, are the realization of locals’ creativity.
  5. Natural assets, or the gift of natural resources: agricultural land, water catchment area, lake edge, oceanfront, beautiful landscapes, forests, and fisheries, are all useful for the use of productions or pleasure.
  6. Environmental assets, which include the fundamental physical environment qualities in supporting lives, such as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land capacity to support the presence of high-density human settlements.
  7. Urban infrastructure qualities; facilities and equipment for transportations, energy, communications, water supplies, liquid and solid waste disposal systems which usually take up a large amount of regional budget.

According to John Friedmann, sustainable development is a development that continually nurtures or improves qualities—not eradicates—the existing assets, to produce the more quality products. Thus, the development results will be the fruit of assets, and not the scours or pieces from the assets that are processed to be something else. City assets is inevitably embedded or rooted to their locations, their history, and to all the relations happened in the history. Each region has different combinations, and those differences become one region’s uniqueness. This uniqueness, if it’s maintained correctly, would prevent the city or region from entering the competitive trap that merely trying to satisfy global investors and forget their own unique assets.

Approaches introduced by John Friedmann can be applied in various scale. He emphasizes the city and surrounding region unity as an approach. In Indonesia, this unity is partly exist in some cities and the surrounding districts, or in districts that already has cities within. Ecological unity such as water catchment areas, watershed units, and bio-regions are tend to be crossing administrative boundaries (both the governance within a country or between countries). The Social City program in Germany applies it in village scale (neighborhood, quartier), in relation to the whole city. Improving the villages by improving the local assets, especially for the local residents themselves can suppress the symptoms of gentrification.

The first important step in this approach is the mapping of local assets. Without a well-planned process, which should be collaborative, the local assets can sometimes be missed, especially in a condition where the investment-driven approach has continued to affect common minds. In contrast, with a collaborative process, the chance of forgotten or missed things to occur can be minimized. The collaborative process also creates other benefits: feelings of being represented, and the self-belonging. Workable solutions, if collaboratively strived, can be more diverse and be based on detailed collective knowledge of the citizens.

So far in many cities including the cities where Social City research were conducted, Cirebon and Malang, there are absence of a sense of belonging. It causes difficulties in engaging the citizens in the behavior-changing process or development projects. There is no antidotes for such negative thoughts, except by beginning to encourage the citizens to understand their own place, which will be depended on their collected knowledge.

In Indonesian cities that we’ve known, there are many people who recognize the huge potential their city have. For example, the Cirebon trajectory and the arrival of university students each year in Malang. Potential, or asset, can easily be problematic or not well-utilized because there is no proactive anticipations. Malang City faces the cost increase and uncontrollable occupancy rate, in addition to urban sprawl and spatial violation issues that are endangering the environment.

Obviously, the government could and should be able to develop proactive policies against existing symptoms and assets. In reality, there are only few policies that are formulated to manage local assets as potentials and to lead them to become a good stimulus for quality development.

It would be easier if the locals understand, and discuss the solutions together, so that awareness and self-belonging can be formed into a common political will.

The one who suffer the most, from the lack of many policies such as affordable settlements, are the weakest group amongst the citizen. A region and/or a community group that are experiencing quality decrease (or the opposite; increase) is not without cause, but it occurs because of the incorrect (development) policies.

That is why the word “slum” is not quite suitable for the situation, because the word itself means something physical, not explicitly describing the existence or absence of policies. It is possible that in Indonesia there exist a policy deficit rather than a ‘wrong’ policy, which has caused the disadvantage for various (vulnerable) groups and region, except the deficit is considered a (‘wrong’) policy.

The omission (the absence of suitable policy) will, un/intentionally, bring profit for the strong ones. This also encourage inefficient competition, such as spatial conflicts (violation of spatial planning; violating the river border), corruption, and difficulties in integrating between public transportation system and spatial planning (especially connecting between the settlements and workplaces).

Local asset-based development that is implemented in kampung scale can effectively provides justice towards the disadvantaged communities, while at the same time developing the economy, social, and cultural aspects, because the development is strengthening its roots (the assets). The kampungs are the roots of the city, as well as the city’s ultimate destination. A well-grown city is the one with have the good roots—the kampungs.

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