Thursday, October 30, 2014

On public leaders and public transport

The shape of a city depends on how it is planned. And how a city is planned depends on the transport assumptions of the planner. In most Indonesian cities, for instance, the planners tend to assume that people will travel on private vehicles, be it cars or motorbikes. This paradigm inherently leads to sprawling, unwalkable, and inefficient cities.

Compare this to the assumptions of Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor of London. At a public talk on 30 October, 2014, in Singapore, he said something like this:
"I don't drive a car to work, I take the public transport, just like most other Londoners. I don't even think about it (driving a car into the city). The public transport is the fastest and most convenient way to get around. I have a car parked in my home, which I keep just for the fun of it. It's a type of car that I'm trying to ban, because it has a big engine. But it doesn't really matter. I can't  really use it to go anywhere."
Good for you, London. They say that a developed city is one where the rich take public transport. As for cities in the developing world, how can we hope to have a good public transportation system if our public leaders don't even think about using it to work?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Political challenges facing local leaders

A few notes from the 3rd International Conference on Decentralization (ICODEC) at IPDN yesterday:

1. From Kevin I learned about the importance of distinguishing a leader's role as "head of state" & "head of government". A head of government is accountable for results and should not be allowed to "hide" behind symbols of state when s/he is criticized.

2. From Philips I learned about the high cost of a political system without trust. For example, for the province of West Java, each candidate/contender feels the need to place a witness at each voting station. Considering there are 70,000 voting stations throughout the province and Rp 100,000. for each witness' lunch on election day & training day, then we are looking at Rp 7 billion just for witnesses. Because there is no trust, politics becomes a very expensive affair.

3. I argued that the performance of local leaders can be enhanced by 3 things: a) a system of asymmetrical decentralization based on performance, b) some distance between local politicians (councillors) and their political parties, and c) political education for the people to become more informed voters.

Overall, I was impressed by the organizers' and participants' passion for learning & sharing. Debates were lively and involved  multiple IPDN campuses throughout Indonesia connected through smooth teleconferencing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where are the flats?

Vice President Jusuf Kalla wonders why Indonesian real estate companies are so slow in building low-income flats. FYI, last year the VP declared a national programme to build 1,000 low-income residential highrises in 10 big cities by 2009 (yeah, right..).

The Indonesian Real Estate Association answered as such: (local) governments are not providing land, and this makes it practically impossible for the private sector to supply flats in cities for the low income. Ciputra, the real estate mogul, said that any land priced over Rp 3 million (~USD 300) per square meter is not feasible to be procured by the private sector to be sold as low income flats. Furthermore, "even if the local government wants to provide land, there are many regulations that discourage it," someone from DPR said.

I guess we won't be seeing 1,000 low-income flats in the near future..

Privatizing what's not yours

I generally don't care much about Malaysia's recent claims over cultural products (i.e. batik, angklung, the song 'Rasa Sayange') native to peoples who now live in Indonesian territories. That is, as long as such products are left in the public domain.

However, this time some Malaysian academics have gone too far. As Kompas reported, they are now roaming over Indonesian villages, 'hunting' for classic Malay manuscripts, and place them on a site which people have to pay to use.

Really, I don't care if they claim it as part of their culture. But putting proprietary rights to something that they did not invent? Please...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Community Radio Social Impact Assessment

AMARC has recently finished its global assessment of the social impacts of community radios. The conclusion is clear: The main social Impact of Community Radio is Voice for the poor and marginalized. In further detail, community radios are effective in supporting poverty reduction, ensuring proper governance, ensuring inclusion of the marginalized, and are effective in conflict resolution and disaster prevention and relief.

The single principal barrier to CR social impact is absence of a friendly legislation; the existence of media oppression and military threats are a generalized barrier to the development of community radio.

Case studies from Indonesia are included in this report, as contributed by Ade Tanesia from Combine under the heading Women as Producers of Information. Nice work!

Third Global Knowledge Conference

The 3rd Global Knowledge Conference (GK3) – one of the most important knowledge sharing and creative development conferences in the world – will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 11 -13 December 2007. Themed "Emerging People, Emerging Markets, Emerging Technologies," GK3 promises to be a dynamic event focused on the future. GK3 will explore concrete solutions and possibilities within the inter-play, interface and interweaving of issues related to the Knowledge for Development (K4D) and Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) in the context of our globally evolving societies, economies and technologies worldwide.

For AMARC, network activities in Kuala Lumpur will focus on how women can use knowledge sharing in their community radio programming activities to empower other women so they can play a stronger role in good governance and democracy. This is one of AMARC’s most important theme areas for development in 2007.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pro-poor planning and budgeting

A new buzzword is floating around in the development world. Pro-poor planning and budgeting. What is it?

On the one hand it's an ADB-Bappenas technical assistance project that will "contribute to improvement of access of the poor to quality social services and infrastructure." But more than that, pro-poor planning & budgeting seems like an operational answer to questions like "how can we make sure that the government is taking MDGs seriously?" Especially given that planning documents are usually very general/thematic with no specifically measurable targets and not linked to budgeting process, etc. etc.

So what makes a plan and budget "pro-poor"? The project team said there are four indicators:
  1. it answers the root causes of poverty
  2. it will have impact on improvement of poor people's lives (as stated in MDGs or government mid-term development plans)
  3. its targets are majority poor
  4. the poor are included in the planning & budgeting process
Hopefully this will not be merely hype.

More on rural-urban migration

I still can't get enough of supporting people to move to cities. It's good that Kompas has got another FOKUS on this topic, under the heading "Fencing Jakarta from the Poor." Of course, this is quite a late post, and the features are still related to post Idul-Fitri movement of people into (back) into big cities.

Let me just take this opportunity to highlight other articles I've recently found. The first is something from the Guardian, UK, that says "migrants are a boon to UK economy."
Migrants are more skilled and often more reliable and hardworking than British workers, and are fuelling the country's economic growth to the tune of £6bn a year...
To put things into perspective is this excerpt on urbanization and migration, taken from the Address given at Commonwealth Youth Forum Opening ceremony by Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Migration to urban areas takes place not because of real opportunities for better wages and livelihood but due to the expectations of such opportunities... In other words, people move or migrate not because they will be better off, but because they expect to be better off.

Unchecked flows of rural poor seeking better lives have exerted an unbearable strain on Africa's capitals...

But then we know that migration has historically improved the well-being of individuals and humanity as a whole. Just think how many countries and cities around the world were founded by migrants. Or today, how many economies are driven by the energy and initiative of new-comers. Let us not forget that what we call the “New World”, namely the Americas and Australasia was populated by immigrants from Europe.
Let us not forget that without migrants, Jakarta would not be Jakarta as it is.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Piracy good for fashion industry

Open source software proponents have long argued that "relaxed or non-existent intellectual property restrictions" is good for the development of the software industry in general. Ideas get shared and exchanged quickly, and as a result we (consumers) get more frequent improvements in existing softwares as well as new software innovations in whole. Of course, on the other hand proprietary software proponents have claimed this all to be "piracy" and that it harms the software industry.

James Surowiecki recently pointed out that piracy is actually good for the fashion industry.
"There’s little evidence that knockoffs (cheap fakes - muli) are damaging the business. Fashion sales have remained more than healthy... and the high-end firms that so often see their designs copied have become stronger. More striking, a recent paper by the law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman suggests that weak intellectual-property rules, far from hurting the fashion industry, have instead been integral to its success. The professors call this effect “the piracy paradox.”
Copying enables designs and styles to move quickly from early adopters to the masses. And since no one cool wants to keep wearing something after everybody else is wearing it, the copying of designs helps fuel the incessant demand for something new.

The situation is not necessarily easy on designers, who have to keep coming up with new ideas rather than being able to milk a trend for years. But it means that in the industry as a whole there is more innovation, more competition, and probably more sales than there otherwise would be."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is anti-urban-migration growing?

Jakarta's hate for new incoming migrants from rural areas seems to be spreading.

Now the government of Cilegon, an industrial city in Banten, expects new migrants to provide cash collateral to the municipality. Meanwhile, in Serang, people who don't have local ID cards are facing a fine of Rp 50 million (~USD 5,000) or six months of jail.

Can't the national government (i.e. the ministry of law and human rights) do something about this?

From wheat to web

Nature News has a good profile on M.S. Swaminathan and portrays a balanced view of the current state of India's "ICT for rural development" initiatives.

Still, what we have are anecdotes. After more than a decade of ICT for development initiatives, shouldn't we have hard data already?

Ashok Jhunjhunwala, head of the Telecom and Networks Group (TeNeT) at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, [...] says that the dozens of ICT projects across the country are a series of ongoing experiments, “some of which have worked”, he says, but “most of which haven't”.

“You'll hear about a village where ICTs have helped farmers get a better price for grain, or a village where someone has got better access to health care, but these are all anecdotal cases and don't represent the majority of ICT projects,” says Jhunjhunwala.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Papua Governor: environment hero

In this recent post, I applauded Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu for his commitment to preserve Papua's forests through carbon credit.

Now Mr. Suebu has been named by TIME as one of the 43 Heroes of the Environment 2007. Other heroes include Mikhail Gorbachev, Al Gore, Prince Charles (huh?), and the Toyota Design Team. Guardian's Climate Change has a quick and short recap of this year's heroes, who come from 4 categories:
  1. Leaders and visionaries,
  2. Activists,
  3. Scientists and innovators,
  4. Moguls and entrepreneurs.
However, as Climate Change pointed out: there are only 7 females among the 43 names.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Would you prefer rice or cement?

Another rice producing region will be gone soon. This time we're talking about Kecamatan Bayah, Kabupaten Lebak, Banten - an area dubbed "rice deposit" by Kompas. Next year, Bayah may be replaced by a complex of Boral cement factories.

It's interesting that the most urbanized and urbanizing area in Indonesia is Java - which is also the most fertile and productive area for rice-growing. My colleague and I once tried to find data on how much productive rice fields (sawah, not just any agriculture areas) in Java have been converted into urban areas. We didn't succeed.

On the one hand, it's ironic that we have all this fuss about the pros and cons of rice import, but we're quite calm about another productive rice field being converted into urban/industrial functions. When it comes to this, it seems that we only care about the amount of money being paid to farmers/landowners to purchase the land, not about the loss of fertile land. [My personal take is that landowners shouldn't be paid 100% in cash - but some of the payment should be in the form of stocks or bonds.]

On the other hand, should we let this happen - considering/assuming that cement has more value than rice?

Bayah seems to be growing economically. Kompas reports the increase in gold shops, electronic stores, franchise minimarkets, and hotels over the past few years. They wonder whether these may be related to Bayah's readiness to welcome PT. Boral Indonesia, the envisaged economic locomotive of South Banten.

Stop stopping them from coming to Jakarta!

Every year after the Idul Fitri holidays, the Jakarta government conducts Operasi Yustisi. That's the hunt down of "illegal" migrants coming into Jakarta from Indonesia's rural areas. This year is no different. The sad legacy, unfortunately, is kept by Jakarta's new Governor, Fauzi Bowo.

Mr. Bowo cites Jakarta Bylaw no. 4/2004 as the legal basis of this ironically named operation. He said, "Jakarta is dense enough already. Those who don't have a job and place to live will only burden the city." Illegal migrants (those who are caught without Jakarta ID card) will be fined Rp 5 million (~USD 500) or jailed for 3 months.

Of course, the policy is useless, as Supriatna argues. The poor (which is the reason they came to Jakarta in the first place) don't have that kind of money. And if they are "returned" to their original village, they are sure to come back as there is very few economic opportunity in rural areas. As bad the condition they face in the city, it is almost always much better than if they stayed back. That's called hope. And surely the hope is quite high, at least as high as the demand for low-skilled labor in big cities.

So it makes all sense to let the rural poor come into cities. So why oppose? Is it because we get sore eyes from seeing poor people in the streets? Is it because we don't want Jakarta to be more crowded and messy? Let's not forget: Most of us in Jakarta (at least our parents/ancestors) were once migrants, maybe as poor and as "kampungan" as the villagers are now. Who are we to now deny other people the opportunity that we've received in the past?

PS: This is what I wrote about this issue last year. Do I have to do this every year? Bring it on!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pedestrians as Anarchy

My friend and I talked at length the other day on anarchy. Initially were talking about squatters, and then he said, "You can't do whatever you want. That's chaos, that's anarchy!" Putting the discussion on squatting aside, I said anarchy does not necessarily mean chaos.

In case you haven't noticed, there is a lot of (created?) misunderstanding of big words here, just like communism is misunderstood as atheism. After arguing what anarchy really means (see some links on the right), I realized that I should have just quoted what James Surowiecki wrote about William Whyte in The Wisdom of Crowds. That should be easier. An example of simple anarchy in action, no chaos included.
No one has ever paid more attention to the streets and sidewalks of New York City than William H. Whyte... Whyte's work, which was eventually published in his book City, was full of fascinating ideas about architecture, urban design, and the importance to a city of keeping street life vibrant. It was also a paean to the urban pedestrian.

"The pedestrian is a social being," White wrote. "He is also a transportation unit, and a marvelously complex and efficient one." Pedestrians, Whyte showed, were able, even on crowded sidewalks, to move surprisingly fast without colliding with their neighbors. In fact, they were often at best when the crowds were at their biggest...

New Yorkers mastered arts like "the simple pass," which involved slowing ever so slightly in order to avoid a collision with an oncoming pedestrian. They platooned at crosswalks as a protection against traffic. In general, Whyte wrote, "They walk fast and they walk adroitly. They give and they take, at once aggressive and accommodating. With the subtlest of motions they signal their intentions to one another." The result was that "At eye level, the scene comes alive with movement and color - people walking quickly, walking slowly, skipping up steps, weaving in and out in crossing patterns, accelerating and retarding to match the moves of others. There is a beauty that is beguiling to watch."

What Whyte saw - and made us see - was the beauty of a well-coordinated crowd...

Anarchy is simple the absence of a ruler. And as the streets of New York shows, the absence of a ruler does not have to mean chaos. People - in many cases - can coordinate themselves beautifully.

PS: The picture above, is actually not of New York's pedestrians, but of Tokyo's. It's from UNFPA site.