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Informal inhabitations: the interior urbanism of Jakarta streets

In Jakarta, the street is a space with remarkable economic value.[1] This value emerges from informal inhabitation, an urbanisation mode performed by ordinary citizens to make ends meet. In this research, the term specifically refers to the activities performed by the likes of street vendors, hawkers, and repairers. However, despite its significance, informal inhabitation is overlooked, with the provincial government, pursuing planning approaches that rely upon the well-established Eurocentric urban methodologies. This direction makes the informal inhabitants are actively prosecuted.[2] Yet, despite living with the threat of raids and evictions, they have continued to thrive and thus shape the urban experience. Even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, where stricter regulations were imposed, their presence was still a fixture of Jakarta’s streets.[3] Whilst, in recent years, the provincial government has shown a minor shift in attitude,[4] there is still much more to be done to not only recognise informal inhabitation right to utilise the street but also to learn from their methods and approaches and incorporate their forms of design, organisation and planning, into a more representative urban approach that is Jakarta-specific.

This research originates a critique of Jakarta’s western-centric top-down urban planning strategies. It would then analyse various forms of informal inhabitation to eventually formulate an alternative urbanism framework that situates informal inhabitation as an enduring urban element, one that qualities are assimilated to generate a Jakarta-centric street environment. To start the process, I posit informal inhabitation as interior urbanism, an intimate and micro-scale approach that appropriates existing urban fabric to produce temporal inhabitations using two mechanisms; domestication and situated practice. As an outsider to the community, to record these interior mechanisms without compromising them, I employ research methods that combine the anthropological approach of walking, conducted through social media platform Instagram and on-site, and grounded theory’s inductive coding. The analysis is undertaken via Instagram post datasets, observations, documentation and interviews. Furthermore, as an interpretative tool that is less intrusive, drawing is used in the analytical process to distil spatial qualities and exemplify different modes of spatial engagement. The employment of these methods and tools allows the investigation free from pre-established biases to defamiliarise[5] the concept of urban informalities while at the same time advancing an emerging discourse of interior urbanism.

It is anticipated that this research will produce a set of findings that can be synthesised into a toolkit of interior urbanism strategies for an inclusive and locally-based urban street development. This toolkit will consolidate the presence of informal inhabitation by offering new walkability configurations, alternative economic models, and an instrument that allows citizens to participate in street development actively. Eventually, the toolkit is expected to reduce Eurocentric and western planning influences and replace it with a system that recognises and celebrates Jakarta’s urban informalities. It may also become a model for other cities where western approaches are still imposed while simultaneously inequitable. Ultimately, by accommodating informal inhabitation in Jakarta’s streets, policymakers and other parties involved can move towards more socially equitable city development.


[1] It was reported that the street vendors alone can bring about £950 million per year. See: Ian Douglas Wilson, ‘“The Streets Belong to Who?”: “Governance” and the Urban Informal Sector in Jakarta, Indonesia’, in The Elephant in The Room: Politics and The Development Problem (Murdoch University, Perth: Asian Research Centre, Murdoch University, 2010), 113–33.

[2] Republic of Indonesia Acts Number 38 2004 declared street as “a transportation infrastructure” and “it is forbidden to disrupt the function of the street. Along with this Act, there are three others active laws made to prosecute the informal: Public Order to Jakarta bylaw No.8 2007, Constitution Law Article 27 No.22 2009 & Jakarta Governor Regulation No.10 2015.

[3] See various news reports for example: Endri Kurniawati, ‘Pedagang Kaki Lima Di Pasar Tanah Abang, Satpol PP: Biasa Kucing-Kucingan’, Tempo, 5 May 2021, https://metro.tempo.co/read/1459579/pedagang-kaki-lima-di-pasar-tanah-abang-satpol-pp-biasa-kucing-kucingan.

[4] Recently, under the leadership of governor Anies Baswedan, Jakarta’s provincial government started to accommodate citizens’ aspirations and give them access to regulations and policies surrounding city development through an integrated online platform called Jakarta Satu (jakartasatu.jakarta.go.id). Along with this, in 2017, the provincial government also legalise the presence of street vendors in Jati Baru Street, Central Jakarta. However, this last venture was cancelled in 2018 by the supreme court due to political pressures.

[5] Defamiliarize is the word used by Varley as the analogous of decolonise. See: Ann Varley, ‘Postcolonialising Informality?’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31, no. 1 (February 2013): 4–22, https://doi.org/10.1068/d14410.

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More about Rara

Rara is a designer and researcher with a background in interior architecture. Until recently she was working as a flying academic of Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), stationed at Shanghai College of Fashion (SCF). Prior to that she was a lecturer at Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Indonesia, teaching Interior Architectural Design Studio for two years. She is still part of the Research and Design Team at Architectural Design Research Cluster at Universitas Indonesia where most of her projects since joining the team in 2012 explore the way people inhabit interior spaces. Currently, Rara is a managing editor of interiority journal.

B.Arch, Universitas Indonesia, Indonesia, 2012

MFA Interior Architectural Design, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, 2016

Flying academics, Interior Fashion BA programme, SCF - ECA, 2018-19

Lecturer, Interior Architecture B.Arch programme, Universitas Indonesia, 2016-18

Teaching & research assistant, Interior Architecture B.Arch programme, Universitas Indonesia, 2012-14

Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP)

(2017) Tanahku Indonesia, vol.1. Dia lo gue artspace. Jakarta.

(2016) Summerhall's observation platform & inflatable street of Faik Pasha. Evolution House. Edinburgh, UK.

Warakanyaka, A. and Yatmo, Y. (2018). Tracing the Progression of Inhabitation through Interior Surface in Semarang Old Town. Interiority, 1(1), pp.64-78.

Atmodiwirjo, P., Warakanyaka, A., and Yatmo, Y. (2018) Colors of the Earth: Enhancing the Sustainability of Earth-based Local Materials. In: 4th Biennale International Conference on Indonesian Architecture and Planning Proceedings, pp.200-205.

Warakanyaka, A. and Andri Yatmo, Y. (2018). Understanding the Importance of Time in Interior Architectural Design Method. SHS Web of Conferences, 41, p.04009.

Warakanyaka, A., Johanes, M. and Yatmo, Y. (2017). Let There Be Light: The Informal Interiorization in High-Density Urban Settlement. In: CUI '17/V. International Contemporary Urban Issues Conference. Istanbul.

Warakanyaka, A. and Atmodiwirjo, P. (2017). Live Beyond Buildings: The street as the everyday living space in Istanbul, Turkey. Environment-Behaviour Proceedings Journal, 2(6), p.303.

Warakanyaka, A., Zhara, L. and Atmodiwirjo, P (2017). Feeling at Home in Starbucks: Revealing Transient Urban Interior. In: UIA 2017 Seoul World Architects Congress. Seoul.

Warakanyaka, A. and Atmodiwirjo, P. (2014). The Role and Presence of Cultural Objects as Temporal Attributes in Balinese Ngaben Ritual. In: The Asian Conference on Arts and Cultures 2014. Bangkok, pp.91-102.

Warakanyaka, A. and Andri Yatmo, Y. (2013). Understanding the Heart of Living Space in Balinese Traditional House Through Cinematic Approach. In: HABITechno International Conference “Innovation Housing and Settlement Technology” 2013. Bandung.

Design and Planning in the Disruptive Era, International Conference on Indonesian Architecture and Planning, Yogyakarta, 2018.

Seoul World Architects Congress, Seoul, 2017.

Quality of Life, 3RD ABRA International Conference on Quality of Life, Kuching, 2017.

International Contemporary Urban Issues Conference on Informality, Istanbul, 2017.

International Conference on Architectural Education in Asia, Yogyakarta, 2017.

The Asian Conference on Arts and Cultures, Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok, 2014.

Innovation Housing and Settlement Technology, HABITechno International Conference, Bandung Institute of Technology, 2013.