Paper written for Tokyo University’s “Sustainabel City-region Workshops,” 23-24 February 2010, Shangri-La Hotel, Tainan, Taiwan.

By: Marco Kusumawijaya


This paper discusses experiences of participatory practices and citizens’ initiatives in city-region building in a context of recently and rapidly democratising country, Indonesia. While these experiences are rooted in specific post-authoritarian Indonesia, they nevertheless indicate some ideas that might be important for our our transition towards sustainability. The paper argues that participation and citizens’ initiatives are more than just a fulfilment of a political right, but a new way of building sustainable city-region.

Keywords: Participation, Spatial Planning, Citizens’ Initiatives, Aceh, Jakarta.

Introduction: Context and Connviction

After the Reform Movement in 1998, Indonesia has been seeing an unstoppable and unprecedented decentralising process in its history. Public participation in processing public policy has been increasingly demanded, and also relatively accomodated in new laws and regulations. But, cases of true participation in spatial planning are rare. Standards, models, skills, are just emerging. Some guidelines have been very recently formulated, but acceptance among bureaucracy, as well as understanding among society at large about detailed mechanics of participatory process, is still low.

Since 1998 I have been involved in participatory processes for different purposes: conflict resolutions[2], NGO’s strategic planning, City Development Strategy[3] and post-tsunami reconstruction of Aceh[4]. I am currently a member of Citizens Coalition for Jakarta 2030 that advocates a true partisipatory process for the spatial masterplanning of Jakarta 2010-2030[5].

My basic assumption is that to be sustainable, a city-region needs to be whole in its relationship to the environment and its intercultural society. Diversity should be encouraged for its intrinsic goodness, and to counter globalized standardisation and homogenisation. A city should grow together with its region of local resources and context, so that it would be rooted in its environment, and become a place with identity. It is actually possible for us to really imagine sustainable city-region creatively as a new way of life, a different world. It is an unlimited project beyond surviving the climate change. In effect, a new idealism. And to make it possible, space for participation needs to be created, recreated and expanded; and citizen initiatives must be encouraged, facilitated and catalysed.

Because, to achieve sustainability, changes will have to take place at multiple levels simultaneously, at practical behavioural pattern as well as at values, and at everything else in between them, including our systemic supports such as urban infrastructure, industrial complex, and democratic institutions. We need to recreate appropriate values, consensus and trust, as well as re-invent our daily life. There is a whole set of nitty-gritty works that needs our creative capacity and personal commitment to change individually and collectively.

Both our political and economic spaces have not been always successful. We must continuously and diligently feed values and will to direct both the state and the market. We cannot just relinquish too much power to both and become passive afterwards. We have to keep on working as civil society to reclaim the state to be more responsive and the economy to be more substantive, to primarily fulfil our needs, not to make maximum profits of any resource by a few.[6]

Given the inevitable frequent market failures and often inert political stalemates vested with power webs, the third sector, civil society, both as public space and as associations of active, self-organised individual citizens or groups, will have to take up those challenges. In rapidly densifying cities with diversifying diversity, those challenges could be either easier or more difficult, depending on how well civil society is re-organising, vis-à-vis the political and economic spaces.

Aspiration for sustainability of cities may make politics more complex, but also potentially more focused with a sense of urgency. It re-asserts the very basic of democratic processes, transparency and accountability, in almost scientific sense. With recent progress in technology and collaborative institutions, humankind is actually well equipped to face the challenge successfully. We can undo global warming while develop new ways of living better. However it requires that the challenge be responded collectively actively. Participation and citizens’ initiatives are key factors to successful transition.

Arguments for Participation in Decision Making Process

Broadly I would simplify “participatory ladder”[7] into three major steps:

  1. Mobilisation: decisions are made by authorities and people are asked to “participate” in executing the decisions.
  2. Consultation: options and decisions are drafted or made by authorities but inputs and/or consents are asked from the people.
  3. Decision Making: people formulate and draft options and decisions together with or without relevant authorities.

I assume it is obvious that I mean participation by the third kind/step above. Although in certain cases and contexts this third kind can be seen as something to gradually aspire to, I would argue that it is this third kind that needs to be promoted as the ideal and useful in our transition towards sustainable city-regions.

There are much more reasons for participatory demoracy than just fulfilling a basic political right.

  1. Participation of the third kind can be seen as a needed radicalisation of democracy to strengthen locales and communities vis-à-vis the radicalisation of globalisation and privatisation. Participation in daily management of urban governance is a way to give voices to the 80 % majority of  ordinary people.
  2. Democratisation of knowledge production has intensely been decentralising and deconcentrating knowledge and know-how away from any center and many traditional knowledge centers such as conventional universities and/or government bodies. Think for example of the use of Internet.
  3. The required changes towards sustainability call for ownership (of our common future) and personal commitments. Unless we are thinking of a revival of authoritarian regimes, a prerequisite for popular commitment is participation in decision making process as the only way to produce an ownership of any consensus. Participation is a necessity to change habitat and habitus towards sustainability. In a way, we can see this as “mobilisation” based on a true, internalised ownership and volunteerism.
  4. The growth in DIY (Do It Yourself) in citizens’ initiatives and practices should also be seen as constructive and needs to be included in decision making process, as they provide invaluable experiences, lessons, and good practices, to enrich decision making process. Citizens’ initiatives are now going to even deeper levels, beyond doing actual things, such as in building catalysing infrastructure. (www.rujak.or is an example). Their organising capacity is also increasing to go beyond ad-hoc coalition, to as far as voluntary multistakeholders forum, for example.
  5. The growth of knowledge on, of and by minority groups (due to growth of democratic means of sharing and communication), the previously marginalised, unseen, suppressed, oppressed, or hidden in any other way, calls for inclusive approach in decision making process made possible in certain participatory methods.
  6. In newly democratising societies that have gone thorugh periods of authoritarian, elitist regimes,  participatory process is of utmost important vehicle to narrow the knowledge gaps between the political elites and the ordinary citizens, between bureaucracy and the citizens, and among different segments of society. However, we canot be naïve to believe that this would be a sufficient motivation among long-standing technocrats remaining in bureaucracy. There must be a clear political will in advance as a prerequisite.

Given the context of rapidly democratising Indonesia, the political significance of participatory democracy is that it might be perceived as a competition or alternative to parliamentary democracy. Three arguments can be forwarded to counter this misperception:

–       Participatory democratic procedure is a necessary step before entering law-making process. This way, it can be argued that parliaments are returned to its basic function as “law-making body” (legislature).

–       Many daily practices in communities do not need “laws” that wll have to go through a long and slow law-making process to draft and pass, but just “the magic of concensus”.

–       Many long term plans and commitments outlive any political term. For these, a larger, direct mandates must be obtained afresh from population at large.

On another front, the executive branch of the governments, especially at local levels, often sees participation as nuissance and threathening their discretionary power.  This negative attitude stems from a very long period (35 years) of working in isolation or in partnership only with elitist consultants with their authoritarian previlege and habitual corruption. There is apparently also a big ignorance about details of participatory approach, resulting in suspicion and disbelief in its practical benefits.

Case 1: People Driven Reconstruction of  23 Villages in Post-Tsunami Aceh

On December 26, 2004, an earthquake and tsunami hit Aceh and parts of North Sumatera. More than 150,000 houses need to be (re)built, and more than 500,000 people became homeless. After a brief voluntary work in the west coast of Aceh, helping designing a few houses and participatory mapping and planning, I worked profesionally with UPLINK, an Indonesian NGO, to reconstruct 23 villages in the  west part of north coast of the City of Banda Aceh and its western adjoining district, Aceh Besar. The 23 villages are spread next to each others along some 7 kilometers coastal line. Half of them are really urban with original high density of plots and families, others are semi-urban and a few are really rural with agricultural as dominant economy. There are 3,300 families to be rehoused on their original plots. All villages are completely destroyed. That means we had to build also all related infrastructures and community facilities: roads, sanitation, drainage, water supply, electricity, 3 mosques, 23 community centers, etc.

Actually our organisation also helps in economic recovery programmes as well as trauma healing, and  organic rehabilitation of damaged and salted farmlands. We were responsible for 30 millions USD funding.

From the very beginning, we advocated a total community participatory approach. My colleagues worked together with the survivors (a term we insist in using, instead of “victims”) to build temporary shelters on their original plots already since early February 2005, and then very quickly engaged them in re-organising themselves to revitalise their communities. A thorough and accurate digital survey was done participatorily even before the government and the World Bank came with their land-survey (and certification) programme, which was later cancelled anyway. We were the first organisation to have two complete sets of digital Total Station Survey instruments, as well as a large scale plotter machine.

The NGO’s social team had done an amazing job or community organising when I started in May 2005 to organise and lead a technical team to start planning, designing, and started the construction of the first batch of houses and village infrastructures.

The types of participation where the survivors are engaged can be listed as follows (while the inter-relation between these different types are as important):

–       Lands/plots survey

–       Village mapping (covering not just physical, but also social, economical and cultural features)

–       Village planning

–       Area planning (integrating the 23 villages and their surrounding)

–       Designing Houses

–       Construction of the houses, including tendering, execution and supervision

–       Manufacturing of building materials (iron frame, timber works, compacted soil cement blocks,…

–       Budgeting.

Modes of participation differ for different types of decisions to bemade, involving countless meetings, small and large, and with helps of many specialist experts or resource persons. There also have been special meetings for women. It was painful in the beginning, and very difficult to convince people, including many levels of authorities, of our approach.

However, in February 2007, after 18 months of constrcution, we are the first to officially deliver 3300 houses (plus most of the village infrstructures) to the survivors, outpacing all other organisations, including the World Bank, ADB, UN-Habitat and international NGO’s such as the Red Crosses. All success factors lead to one key succes factor: the participatory approach managed to channel the full potentials of the survivors themselves in different roles, making them the most efficient owners, quality assurance agents, builders, and project managers in different capacities.

The project won 2009’s Dubai International Award for Best Practices in Improving Human Settlements and Indonesian Institute of Architects’s Award for best social project.

UN-HABITAT survey ranked our villages as the best in two categories: technical quality and beneficiary satisfaction.

Case 2: Advocacy for a Participatory Process for Jakarta Spatial Plan 2010-2030

Jakarta’s Masterplan of 1985-2005 was hastily revised in 1999, one year after the reform movement, to accommodate legal and illegal changes to the plan. A new plan called Jakarta 2010 was produced.

There was a limited campaigns and protest against it, but nothing much can be saved. I was personally very much in the forefront and pioneering for this limited, very unorganised and unsuccessful campaign.

The reasons for failure of this campaign are obvious: civil society was not really aware of their rights on these seemingly technical issues of spatial masterplanning, given the recent shock of new-found freedom; and the bureaucracy had still a very strong hand to conduct this revision exercise behind closed doors.

Nevertheless, this case managed to bring the importance of the spatial masterplanning to the public knowledge, and hence it really launched spatial planning to become a popular subject for the press and general public.

In 2008, the review process of Jakarta 2010 was started. The goal is to produce a new, long-term (20 years) spatial masterplan called Jakarta 2010-2030. Not much is known about its process. Despite the claim by the government that several consultative meetings have been organised, there is very little coverage in the press and it was almost unknown among the population. received  and posted an “unauthorised” copy of the presentation by the masterplan consultant in January 2010. Soon it attracted attention among activists. The first attempt to get a copy of its Academic (background) Paper was turned down by city official. After we downloaded a draft bylaw on the spatial masterplan, and give on-line critiques, it was revised more than 5 times in 10 days, with the first three revisions were not properly dated.

A coalition ( was founded with a demand that the process be repeated in a participatory way.[8] The coalition then organised series of discussions on several topics (habitat, water, arts, mobility, particiatory methodologies,…). The government responded with organising also series of thematic discussions. The coalition sent letters to each and every discussion, stating that it is not the participatory process that the coalition advocates, and it is not that the coalition promotes itself to be invited to those unstructured “consultative” meetings with uncertain future as what to do with their results.

The Coalition discovered many formal/legal requirements are not satisfied with regards to the process. At the same time, we also discovered many silly, indeed embarassing mistakes with regards to the content of the draft bylaw.  A few examples can be mentioned.

–       The vision statement for the spatial masterplan (which is. nota bene, a long-term plan) was adopted in raw form from the Governor’s vision statement for his current term (which is, note bene a medium-term action-plan): “Jakarta is a service city that is prosperous, convenient and sustainable.” There is no reasoning about its factual and aspirational basis.

–       The Neufert standard for calculating floor space requirement is used to calculate land requirement (in effect assuming that all Jakarta buildings are to consist of one floor…?!).

–       Population projection is based on aggregated trend, while natural growth rate and migration growth rate are moving significantly in different slopes.

The coalition is now preparing a law-suit against Jakarta Government on the basis that the draft bylaw on the Jakarta 2010-2030 Spatial Masterplan has not satisfied a number of laws and regulations issued by the central governments, among others:

–       The law No. 32/2009 on Management and Protection of the Environment that requires first a Strategic Environmental Assessment be made before a spatial planning process is initiated.

–       The law No.14/2008 on Freedom to Public Information that guarantees public access to public information (in this case the Academic (Background) paper)

–       The law No. 25/2005 on Minimum Standard of Public Services.

–       The Public Works Ministrial Regulation on Guidelines for Provincial Spatial Plannning Process (no. 15/2009) that stipulates in detail public communication required to make spatial planning process a public knowledge and engagement

The coalition is currently conducting Opinion Survey (on-line and off-line) with five questions:

  1. What do you think are three most important potentials or encouraging advantages of Jakarta?
  2. What do you find as three most important problems of Jakarta?
  3. What changes would you like to see 20 years from now?
  4. How do you think we should have the changes?
  5. What would you personally do to help making the changes?
  6. Have you ever asked your opinions for Jakarta 2010-2030 spatial masterplan before?

The coalition will in early next month conduct a workshop to draft vision and mission statements based on the above survey. Answers to the first two questions will provide material basis for vision statement; while those to the rest will provide material basis for mission statement.

More than 1,500 questionaires have been returned. Almost all  of them mention public trasportation as number one problem. For number two and three, the most mentioned problems are waste disposal, flood, lack of green open spaces, and safety. Diversity, abundance, centrality, job opportunities, are mostly mentioned as the three most important potentials of Jakarta. It is easy to draft a responsive and measurable alternative vision for Jakarta: “Jakarta in 2030 is a city free of flood, with a sustainable management of waste disposal, and a convenient public transport for most of its inhabitants, while promoting its diversity and job creation in the process.” Sounding mundane, it is already much better than the current raft vision which is based solely on the Governor’s political mid-term vision.


A need for an Urban Studies Center

Participation and citizens’ initiative, while themselves are a process of knowledge generation, require continuous inputs from policy and other policy researches, as the world is changing rapidly and in abundance. Many and much urban dynamics are rapidly taking place at all levels of societies and built and natural environments, in close ties with national and global economic dynamics. Because of this, there is a huge gaps in knowledge capacity among city and regional actors. Even when there are data and knowledges, it is not always easy to identify their locations. There is a need to develop analytical capacities and frameworks that could maximize interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral exchanges that can be employed to facilitated participatory process. In the long run, there is also an apparent need to restructure urban governance in Jakarta and possibly also many other metropoles in Asia, to better serve the decentralised population and to adapt in time to global waves of changes. Local political dynamics need to reconceptualise its ties with the national and the global, especially in dealing with economic issues. Jakarta, as well as other Asian metropoles, are experiencing restructuring process of both their urban centers and peripeheries, as consequences of both internal and external pressures. At ground level, urban managers have to acquire new kills in dealing with permits, building sustainable infrastructures, in working much more with citizens, etc. to maintain consistent transition towards sustainability.

An urban studies center could serve to fulfil such knowledge gaps above, through research and training. Otherwise, participatory and citizens’ initiatives will be sufficiently informed and might be misguided.

Sustained Change

In our quest to change towards sustainability, we inevitably find that we need a sustainable change, which is possible only if there is a popular ownership and personal commitment from every one on this only planet. Mobilising sustainable change is possible only when people feel that they are not moved by any outside agent, but by their own will.   They must become the agents for change themselves. They must be the change they wish to see in this world.[9]

Participation is not without problems, and it is not a rosy road to development. It is simply a necessity for people to become the agents for changes themselves, to own and sustain changes that they want for themselves. Hence we must see difficulties and problems of participation as chalennges to be dealt with, instead of using them as arguments against them. We have experienced resitance against participation comes from either ignorance or fear of the collective energy, or a combination of both.

Given the current context of Indonesia, I see the way to advocate for participation is to nurture, facilitate and catalyse citizens initiatives as show cases of positive energy of the will to change, while at the same time influence legal framework, develop methdological practices as tools to convince authorities.

Last December, the Directorate General of Spatial Planning at Indonesian Ministry of Public Works awarded 6 grants for citizens’ initiatives which were selected competitively based on a call for proposals. The programme is called “Citizens’ Initiatives for Sustainable Cities”. The whole process is co-organised with editors of as yet another citizens’ initiative.  I put this last example of citizens’ initiatives in this conclusion as an optimistic afternote, that change might be happening. But, nothing should be taken for granted, and there is no stop in doing the nitty-gritty to make democracy work in this imperfect world.

[1] Paper written for Tokyo University’s “Sustainabel City-region Workshops,” 23-24 February 2010, Shangri-La Hotel, Tainan, Taiwan.

[2] In 2000 I worked with The British Council in Indonesia to conduct participatory workshops for conflicting parties in the Mollucas.

[3] I was Team Leader for City Development Strategy programme in 9 cities in Indonesia in 2001-2003. It was funded by Cities Alliance, through the World Bank and UN-HABITAT offices in Jakarta.

[4] In 2005-2007 I was involved in a number of assignments in post-tsunami Aceh. The longest one, reconstrcution of 23 villages in Aceh, is presented as a case in this paper.

[5] See Coalition’s website: and an article published in the Jakarta Post:

[6] Karl Polanyi’s substantive economy: people acquiring material means by having an impact on the natural environment and/or through relationships of mutual interdependence in order to satisfy their various needs that arise as they engage in their day-to-day lives; and economy in formal sense: the process of obtaining the maximum effect by making the best use of a scarce means, in Makoto Maruyama, Sustainable Economy and Urban Sustainability, in Hidenori Tamagawa, ed., Sustainable Cities, United Nations University Press, 2006, p. 771-72.

[7] Referring to Sherry R. Arnstein’s 8 steps of participation (in A Ladder of Citizen Participation, 1969)

[8] See article in the Jakarta Post:

[9] Mahatma Gandhi: “You ought to be the change you wish to see in this world”

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