The End of Urban Involution and the Cultural Construction of Urbanism in Indonesia

Abstract Urbanisation in Indonesia, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, has been low up to the 1970s, prompting some authors to speak of urban involution. Since then a giant mega-city has developed around Jakarta, known as Jabotabek, and other cities
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     Department of Southeast Asian Studies      Southeast Asian Studies Working Paper No. 21 Bonn 2005 ISSN 1437-854X The End of Urban Involution and the Cultural Construction of Urbanism in Indonesia Hans-Dieter Evers     2 The End of Urban Involution and the Cultural Construction of Urbanism in Indonesia 1   Hans-Dieter Evers Center for Development Research (ZEF) and Department of Southeast Asian Studies Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University of Bonn, Germany/EU Abstract Urbanisation in Indonesia, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, has been low up to the 1970s, prompting some authors to speak of urban involution. Since then a giant mega-city has developed around Jakarta, known as Jabotabek, and other cities like Surabaya, Bandung and Medan have grown to metropolitan proportions. This paper is, however, less concerned with the demographic aspects of urbanization, but with the culture of cities, with urbanism. Lacking a strong tradition of urbanism and having to battle with urban involution, Indonesian urbanism was symbolically constructed through the architecture of significant buildings, monuments and the planning of city space. During the post-independence Sukarno era the dream of Jakarta as the world capital of the emerging forces determined the image of the city, while New Order Indonesia under Suharto rediscovered the pre-colonial past. Global modernism is guiding the virtual construction of Indonesian cities into the third millennium. With the end of urban involution “real urbanism” replaced the “virtual urbanism” of the past and Jakarta evolved into a modern capital of a democratizing and decentralising state. Cases from several Indonesian and other Southeast Asian cities are presented as evidence for these assumptions. 1. Introduction This paper, focused on Indonesia, deals with the relationship between material and symbolic culture, between the forces of globalisation and the reaction of urban actors. It is preoccupied with the “disappearance of the real and its replacement by simulation, hyper-reality and models” (Gottdiener 1995). The paper is also concerned with a very practical, economic aspect of urban development. “The age of globalization has created a number of processes which implied increasingly complex roles for Asian city, regional and national governments. With foreign investments and the resulting inter-city competition, local governments of large Asian cities have increasingly understood the need to remain competitive by putting in place policies and projects to enhance the attractiveness of cities for potential investors”. In order to attract foreign investment and integrate a city into the global economy, the image of a city has to be polished. As the case of Singapore proves it was deemed necessary to build a concert hall, improve tourist spots like the zoo or the bird park, market its culinary delights, build world-class research institutes and universities and enable gambling in two state-of-the-art casinos. The government of Singapore, as those of other large Asian cities, have realized that nobody is eager to live and invest in a city without urbanism. Urbanism and the image of a city are essential selling points for city development. Building on this insight a hypothesis on urban development in Indonesia is proposed. 1  Paper read at a conference: Asian Horizons: Cities, States and Societies. Singapore 1-3 August 2005 Panel “Globalization and City Autonomies”. Chairman: Ho Kong Chong, Dept. of Socioloy, National University of Singapore   3 2. A Hypothesis of Urban Development The rate of urbanisation in Indonesia, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, has been low up to the 1970s and early 1980s. Since then urbanization has been accelerated and a giant mega-city has developed around Jakarta, known as Jabotabek, and other cities like Surabaya, Bandung and Medan have grown to metropolitan proportions. Diagram 1 % urban pop 19611971198019902000 Urbanization, Indonesia 1961-2000  Source: BPS Census data The pattern of urbanization in Indonesia has been described as one of “urban involution” (Evers 1972) during the 1960s and 1970s when intricate patterns of an informal urban economy developed without leading to the modernization of built structures, modes of transport, industries and occupations. Involution –in contrast to evolution- designates a process in which structures, patterns and forms become more and more intricate and complex without reaching a new stage of evolution. According to Geertz involution, an “inward overelaboration of detail” (Geertz 1963) leads to stagnation and underdevelopment. For most towns and cities the growing bureaucracy (Evers 1987) and informal sector trade have been the major driving forces of urbanization rather than industrialization or the development of a modern service sector. Quite detached from the reality of shared poverty, stagnation and underdevelopment the capital city of Jakarta was symbolically created as an exemplary centre of culture, national identity and power. A unitary post-colonial nation state had to have an “exemplary centre”, a capital. It was therefore necessary to develop a central capital city at least as a symbolic representation. “Virtual urbanism” was essential to gloss over the harsh reality of a large urban sprawl of squatters and semi-rural kampungs. It had to be demonstrated to the world that Indonesia was a unified nation and a leader of the “newly emerging forces” of the Third World. Jakarta developed for the “imagined community” of the Indonesian nation state a   4 symbolic universe of meaning, a virtual world of monuments, parade grounds and significant buildings following a pattern of cultural, rather than material urbanization. Today for Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and Medan and some of the other larger provincial capitals the process of involution has come to an end and –in the early words of Terry McGhee a “true urban revolution” is under way (McGee 1967). Less than half of the Indonesian population makes a living from agriculture and an urban middle class, following global patterns of consumption, changes the cityscape (Evers and Gerke 1997; Gerke 2000; Clammer 2003). Open markets are still there, but shopping centres and malls have been constructed to cater for the new consumers and high-rise buildings mark the new CBD (Central Business District) with an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) infrastructure that enables world-wide networking. This process has far-reaching consequences, which we shall explore. Having set out the starting point of my hypothesis, let me elaborate the argument point by point. 3. Weak Nusantara Urbanism In contrast to China, Japan, Vietnam or Thailand, which had strong traditions of urban centres, Indonesia and the Malay World have a weak base in urbanism. In fact it has been argued that the Nusantara cultural area had no cultural concept of the city before the arrival of the Dutch (Yeung and Lo 1976; Evers 1984). Going back to the earlier Nusantara empires it can be shown that the centre of the realm was a palace ( kraton, istana ) rather than a town. Unlike Beijing or Ayuthia, which were surrounded by a wall and a moat, the capital of Majapahit or later on Yogyakarta had none of these attributes of urbanism. Linguistically there was no concept of a city with a bourgeoisie, as found in mediaeval Europe.  Bandar   or port and kota or fort had to be used to designate places which during the colonial days became cities with a city government. Peter Nas in accordance with my earlier arguments (Evers 1984) that there were no urban institutions and no conceptions of an urban area, uses the term “focal urbanism” to stress the importance of the palace (kraton or istana) surrounded by retainers, craftsmen and peasants (Nas and Boeder 2004:4). These areas surrounding the palace could hardly be called cities in the Weberian sense. They lacked most institutions of urbanism. Whatever the terminology, after the interlude of Dutch colonial urbanisation, the first phase of urbanisation occurred after Indonesian independence. It was, and this is my thesis, “urbanisation without urbanism”. What was the case for the larger cities of Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and Medan until the early 1990s still holds true for many of the small provincial or district capitals of Indonesia today. This weak concept of urbanism and the city was reflected in the administrative setup of independent Indonesia after 1945. Though settlements could be elevated to the status of kota raya , kota madya  or kota administratif  , the head of the city administration, the wali kota , had more or less the same rights and obligations as a bupati  or district head. Up to now there is no Lord Mayor of Jakarta, but a Governor as in any other province with four wali kota , or heads of the four districts making up the special capital region (or actually province) of DKI Jakarta.   5 4. Urban Involution “Weak Nusantara urbanism” was further weakened by “urban involution”. Involution means “more of the same”, i.e. complexity increases without evolutionary change, let alone revolutionary change (Evers and Korff 2nd ed. 2004). During the 1960s and 70s the occupational structure of Indonesia’s urban population did not change much in terms of economic sectors (Evers 1972). The service sector remained solidly petty trade dominated. More markets were opened and more small-scale trades thronged into the cities. More and more goods of the same type were sold by more and more small traders of the same category and more government servants were housed in government housing estates of the same type. Involution has also hampered the development of a clearly demarkated social structure. Gavin Jones alleges that despite urban sprawl and the growth of mega cities, no “real urban proletariat” has developed (Jones 2002) and Solvay Gerke shows that the emerging middle class in Indonesia was based on middle class symbols rather than on solid wage incomes or accumulated wealth (Gerke 2000). Ethnicity constitutes another element of involution. Ethnic diversity has increased with urbanisation, funnelled by in-migration. Though rural areas can also have an ethnically diverse population, ethnic groups tend to claim distinct territories. In cities we can also observe tendencies towards segregation into ethnic quarters, like China town or little India. Seen as a whole there is a tendency that a city has more ethnic groups within its limits than surrounding rural areas. Segregated areas are reproducing elements of each group, creating an involuted ethnic mosaic of distinct, but similarly patterned areas, organised by speech group, ethnicity, occupation and district or even village of srcin. As Bruner (1961) has shown in his classic study of Medan, North Sumatra, there has even been an intensification of Batak adat   and of the sense of Batak ethnic identity in the city during the Sukarno period. With the end of involution ethnic and regional separatism declines, larger areas evolve and class may become more important than ethnicity as a principle of structuring urban areas. During the census of 2000, the first time ethnicity was enumerated, Jakarta still had ten ethnic groups claiming a membership of more than 20.000 inhabitants each (see table 1) and many other smaller groups. Table 1 Major Ethnic Groups in Jakarta, Census 2000 Ethnic Group Number Percentage Javanese 2.927.340 35,16 Betawi 2.301.587 27,65 Sundanese 1.271.531 15,27 Chinese 460.002 5,53 Batak 300.562 3,61 Minangkabau 264.639 3,18 Malay 134.477 1,62 Buginese 49.426 0,59 Madurese 47.055 0,57 Bantenese 20.582 0,25 Bajarese 7.977 0,1 Others 539.529 6,48 Total 8.324.707 100,01 Source: Suryadinata et al 2003
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