What are we improving here?

Kampung Pulo Settlement, source: news.detik.com, 2017
Kampung Pulo Settlement, source: news.detik.com, 2017


“People used to come to my shop; kids, parents, youngsters. Now since we have been moved here, we do not talk as much as we used to. If you ask me Miss, yeah i do miss Kampung Pulo.”, said a grandmother when i asked her about her new setup unit in Rusunawa Jatinegara Barat, East Jakarta.

I was on an assignment during my work as a research assistant for my department, mostly for enumerating. Anyway, I love stories like this. I like the way it opens my perspective, in this case; poor people do not have much option. Apparently, that notion happens to urban planning as well, at least in Jakarta. In a piece of conversation above, the grandmother talked about the relocation of Kampung Pulo community to a vertical housing, Rusunawa Jatinegara Barat. The relocation happened in effort of Ciliwung River normalization in the area of Kampung Pulo, to improve the catchment area and flood control.

Principally in urban planning, there are areas that need to be free from buildings or settlements. One of the areas is definitely the riverbank. The riverbanks serve as important ecological entity to urban system, as they contribute to water conservation, increase the green space and are part of flood management. Many riverbanks in Jakarta do not functioning properly because its function was switched, legally or illegally.

When talking about the illegal part, the government considers Kampung Pulo as an illegal settlement that needs to be relocated because its presence ‘is not supposed to be on a riverbank of Ciliwung River”. That is why the government applied the relocation policy in 2015. For many former residents of Kampung Pulo who live with limited income, they can only wish the relocation plan was undo after they lost in cassation suit on the same year. The cassation was rejected by the Supreme Court (MA) because the relocation program was fit and did not against any regulation.

Life After Relocation

Rusun Jatinegara Barat is located approximately 1,6 km from Kampung Pulo, has 2 towers, 16 storeys and 520 units and is supported by facilities that considered as a “lost if they refuse to live there”, as it was said by the chief of Jakarta House of Representative in that period. Let’s take a closer insight to a realm of losing in this term.

Rusun Jatinegara Barat, source: megapolitan.okezone.com, 2015

“Ever since we moved here, the first thing that i noticed was how quiet we become. We have to move to upper or lower storey just to talk to our friends. The story is different in Kampung Pulo; i used to talk everyday with my neighbors, while watching the kids play outside or nearby the river. If i could choose, i want to go back to my old house, in Pulo.”

I met this mother when she was sitting on the stairs while breastfeeding her baby, and watch the other kids. I was a little bit surprised when she said the last line, “i want to go back”. I was thinking pretty much like the government back then, that the relocation was to benefit them, at least they’ll be safe from flooding, or i thought life will be better because of the upgraded facilities. But turns out, almost everybody who i interviewed pretty much gave similar responds; they wanted to go home. And i was asking myself, “if so, what is the meaning of relocation, really?”

In 2015, the government standarized the rent price for each unit, Rp300.000/month. For electricity they have to pay around IDR 50-100.000 and water for IDR 100-200.000. So in total, their monthly cost to live in Rusunawa is about IDR 600.000. In contrast, the price of living in Kampung Pulo was IDR 50-100.000 per month and it’s only for electricity. The land was mostly inherited by their parents and the water they used was groundwater, free but unfortunately not sustainable. When talking about the money, which was always interesting, i asked if they could afford all the cost. The answer once again, similar, “the price of living in here is too high for us. I am not sure if i can pay this regular monthly rent, not to mention the other costs.”, and that is just right. According to some local news, most of the Kampung Pulo community here do not have a fixed job; arrears is unavoidable and therefore could threaten their occupancy status, which means that there is a possible chance for them to be homeless because they cannot pay their monthly rent.

Let’s think again. A program like this supposed to ensure people that they have a certainty. They were moved because their settlement was illegal but it seems to me that this program could not properly provide them a firm access of their living either. It’s just like they are coming from post-eviction to pre-eviction. Sometimes i think that this what makes urban planning harsh to low income community. It’s not fair to just standarized people’s live with this approach. In Kampung Pulo, they are free from land rent and water cost. They live in a sense of togetherness among neighbors, friends and relatives, even though they live in a middle of risks, like flooding. So what are we really improving when we think it’s good but instead they want to go back?

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