Community Participation in Surabaya, Indonesia

Weekly reflections as I study urban policy in Asia

Based on the reading(s):

Dhakal, S. (2002). Comprehensive Kampung Improvement Program in Surabaya as a model of community participation. Urban Environmental Management Project.


I gathered some insights from this case study on the Comprehensive Kampung Improvement Programme (C-KIP) in Surabaya.

Humility; Community Participation > Community Representation

I thought it rather humble of city governments to implement KIP and C-KIP. For them to recognise that urban planners might not be the best innovators, decision-makers or implementers and to strive for community participation (CP), over and above community representation (CR), is commendable.

Based on the readings, CP entails “a voluntary process involving people with their firm influence or control over decisions affecting them”. In the process, individual and collective skills of a particular community – at agenda-setting, innovation, decision-making, implementation, supervision, etc. – are improved. In the longer-term, individuals and the community at large should gain increasing ownership and confidence in their living and working conditions. This is different from CR, which is arguably more passive and limiting.

Importance of Enforceable Rights and Agreements

I find that the reading understated the importance of according legally enforceable land rights to the dwellers in these unplanned, low-income urban settlements. As an individual, I would find it much more incentivising to improve my environment, should I be assured of my right to my fruits of labour. In this regard, the legislation of land rights was likely the most challenging task, and essential to KIP’s success.

Besides land rights, I find the setting up of independent institutions as important. Institutions help to enforce agreements and give a measure of assurance for individuals who are called to invest in their futures. Independently set up and run by the community, institutions also foster a sense of ownership and are likely to more quickly and accurately reflect the community’s sentiment and evolving needs.

Trust as Capital

The value of “trust” in reducing free-ridership and enhancing accountability is evident in KIP and C-KIP. This corresponds with existing literature regarding micro-financing. The choice to designate “RTs” – the smallest neighbourhood unit – as implementers of KIP and C-KIP initiatives appeared to be an excellent one. I can imagine how repeated interactions with members of one’s RTs would incentivise good behaviour – especially in such low-income urban settlements. In areas with poor provision of public services, I believe trust can be extremely valuable, as individuals rely on one another more for certain “goods” – security, babysitting, etc.

Faces of Oppression

As I reflect on last week’s readings, I can see how oppression has been alleviated through C-KIP. By encouraging community participation (CP) and the setting up of co-operatives and localised implementation groups, members of these kampungs are less exploited and gain their own political voice. The fruits of their labour are promised to them, and not scalped off as “surplus” for an external service provider. Besides community self-surveys, through which kampung dwellers could make known their needs and aspirations, these kampung dwellers are also represented in the Supervising Council by leaders from each tier of neighbourhood units. In sum, such an arrangement appears, to me, to accord (political) power to the powerless.

Replicable Elements

In the reading, Dhakal listed the following as replicable elements of C-KIP:

  1. Model of community participation and empowerment through community organisations
  2. Model of government and community collaboration
  3. System for financial mechanism including micro-credit scheme and mobilization of local resources

While unplanned, low-income urban settlements are rare in Singapore, I do know of one form of these settlements – Rental Housing / Interim Rental Housing administered by the Housing Development Board (HDB). These rental housing options are often situated within estates with “owned” housing and while residents of these rental housing options gain access to public amenities, they are often, for better or for worse, well blended into the estate. I suspect such an arrangement potentially reinforces marginalisation and a sense of powerlessness. Marginalisation, in that, these lower-income residents could be excluded from social and political life, given their differences in needs and purchasing power from the other residents in the estate. Powerlessness, in that, these lower-income residents risk becoming “invisible” or a non-concern in such housing arrangements. Yet, one could argue that the initial intent of such an arrangement might have been to encourage cohesion and inter-mingling.

Potentially linking to my paper and presentation on place-making and public spaces, I shall ponder more on how such housing arrangements can be tweaked or supplemented with the replicable elements stated above, in order to reduce oppression and to achieve community participation. Perhaps this would be a small yet meaningful step towards social justice, and even a list of essential capabilities for consideration by Singapore’s policymakers.

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