III: Everyday global urbanisms



Global urbanism inside/out: Thinking through Jakarta

Helga Leitner and Eric Sheppard


In megacities across the postcolony, towers of glass and steel have come to signify ascendancy to global city status. In Jakarta, the urban majority (Simone, 2014) lives in the shadow of its rapidly burgeoning skyscrapers in largely auto-constructed informal settlements of widely varying housing quality, referred to as kampungs. Informal settlements such as kampungs (containing 70%-80% of Jakarta’s residents, Kusno, 2019) support dense social networks, sociability and distinct cultural and commoning practices, providing essential support systems and a safety net for residents’ livelihood practices. In this chapter, we suggest that the informal settlements so common in cities of the postcolony are not simply being transformed by neoliberal global urbanism but are places from which it can be challenged.

Proponents of global urbanism see informal settlements as spaces of arrested development: as an obstacle preventing ‘modernizing’ southern cities from realizing global city aspirations (World Bank, 2009). From the perspective of Jakarta’s developers, they are an impediment to converting valuable urban and peri-urban land to its highest (most profitable) and so-called best use. From the perspective of Jakarta’s kampung residents, the drivers of neoliberal global urbanism (Sheppard et al., 2013)— global discourses and policies shaping global city aspirations, the imaginaries of profit-seeking developers and finance capital and the demand by emergent middle classes for modern residential, commercial and recreational spaces — are more or less invisible.Yet they are a very real force: kampungs are replaced with high-rise apartment buildings and office towers; walls appear, enclosing and separating kampungs from the formal city; and residents’ livelihood practices are transformed and often undermined. However, as we discuss in this chapter, kampung residents and their allies do not necessarily embrace global urbanism but are fighting for a right to the kampung as a viable mode of living in contemporary Jakarta, recreating it in new locations or in some cases in situ, reaffirming the value of spaces of alterity that enable alternatives to global urban imaginaries and practices

In this chapter, we draw on our multi-year and multi-sited research on urban land transformations in the Jakarta metropolitan area to advocate for taking kampung alternatives seriously.1 We examine, first, how global urbanist discourses dismiss kampung living as not fit for purpose in a global city, legitimizing the eviction and displacement of kampungs and their residents.

Second, we discuss how kampung livelihoods can be seen as distinct and valuable alternatives to global urbanism. Finally, we highlight kampung agency and its potential for preventing the global homogenization of urban life.

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