Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TV Turnoff Week: April 23-29

It's that time of the year again. OK, so maybe we would dare turn off our TV. But what about our DVD player, video iPod, XBOX 360, laptop, or PSP? All for seven days of unplugged life?

Adbusters says:
But there’s a lot more to TV Turnoff Week than shaking up your relationship with passive entertainment. It’s all about saying no to being bombarded with unwelcome and unhealthy commercial messages. It's about saying no to unfettered corporate media concentration and to the democratic deficit that results. And it's about challenging the heavily distorted reflection of the world that we see on the screen, a reflection that is keeping us ill-informed and unaware of the very real political and environmental crises that we all currently face.
The decision is up to you. But please do reflect on the topic.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Traditional market vs. modern market

Another mall, another conflict. The Indonesian Association of Traditional Market Traders (APPSI) is protesting the plan to develop a new Koja Trade Mall (a "modern" market) in North Jakarta, right next to a still thriving Koja "traditional" market (Pasar Koja).

Sumardiyanto, the association's head, said that Pasar Koja currently acommodates some 2,000 traders, the biggest number of traders compared to other 15 traditional markets in Jakarta. The daily turnover is Rp 600,000 ($66) a day a trader, totalling to Rp 1.2 billion a day. Quite significant.

Jakarta Regulation No. 2/2002 specified that modern markets as large as 2,000 to 4,000 sqm has to locate at least 2 km away from traditional markets. Modern markets larger than 4,000 sqm at least 2.5 km away. Koja Trade Mall will be as large as 28,000 sqm.

Apparently the school community in the area is also opposed to the mall. Meanwhile, President SBY some time ago asked that traditional markets not be let to free competition with the burgeoning "hypermarkets".

I feel what the traditional market traders are fighting for. For me the problem is not about "traditional" or "modern", but about the number of economic actors involved in each side of the tension. Traditional markets, clearly, employ more people and acommodate more & more diverse shareholders than modern markets.

But really, is protection the more appropriate and longer term solution to this? I believe capacity building and some kind of subsidy (not simply in the form of physical improvement of the market) are better answers. For example,
  • Perhaps somone should build the capacity of traditional traders to apply better, more modern management so that traditional markets are not synonym to dirty, smelly places?
  • Or perhaps somone should facilitate some kind of capital & business consolidation among the traditional traders to increase their pecuniary advantage against the likes of Carrefour, so that traditional markets are equally able to buy at large scale and sell at lower prices?

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Flood cause in the making

Here you have it: another cause of future Jakarta floods, in the making. Bekasi (a municipality to the south east of Jakarta) citizens are rallying against Bekasi Square: a new, 4-hectare mall development in their city that has been reluctant to build a proper drainage towards the Bekasi river. Because of this, Pekayon, the area where the mall is situated, was almost flooded due to heavy rain last week.

The developer said that they have planned this drainage, but could not build it soon because they need to get Government approval since the drainage will cross a major road. Hmm.. Shouldn't this be settled before the mall was built?

Often time, we encounter a problem that will lead into a bigger problem in the future, but we just keep quiet or act ignorant. Then suddenly the big disaster happens, and we become all very talkative, all too late.

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Internet price to go down by 30%

I just found this article on the Indonesian ISP Association (APJII) website. Apparently open competition in the telecommunications industry is finally going to take place.

Based on the new Ministry of ICT's Regulation No. 3/2007, the price paid by ISPs to network operators like Telkom, Indosat, and Excelcomindo for leased lines will likely go down by 50%. As this infrastructure rent represents 50% of an ISP's operational costs, then ISPs will likely decrease internet service price by 30%.

A good thing for the development of an Indonesian information society. A true information society is a society in which a large part of the added value is created from information & knowledge (content), not rent.

FYI: I don't have the latest figures, but in 2003, the total cost of 20 hours of dial-up Internet access per month was about US$ 22/month, which corresponds to 38% of Indonesia's GNI per capita. While in high income countries, internet costs are comparable to an average of 1.7% of GNI per capita.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Murray and Homelessness

UCLA tonight is featuring a lecture by Malcolm Gladwell, author of that really cool book The Tipping Point. Gladwell will talk about a specific issue that he wrote about a year ago in the New Yorker: "Million-Dollar Murray: Why problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than to manage."

The basic lesson behind "Murray" is similar to that behind "the law of the few" in The Tipping Point: pay attention to the few people who really make a difference. Why?
In the nineteen-eighties, when homelessness first surfaced as a national issue, the assumption was that the problem fit a normal distribution: that the vast majority of the homeless were in the same state of semi-permanent distress. It was an assumption that bred despair: if there were so many homeless, with so many problems, what could be done to help them?
Then, Dennis Culhane discovered something that "profoundly changed the way homelessness is understood":
Homelessness doesn't have a normal distribution, it turned out. It has a power-law distribution. "We found that eighty per cent of the homeless were in and out really quickly," he said. "In Philadelphia, the most common length of time that someone is homeless is one day. And the second most common length is two days. And they never come back... The next ten per cent were what Culhane calls episodic users. They would come for three weeks at a time, and return periodically, particularly in the winter... It was the last ten per cent—the group at the farthest edge of the curve—that interested Culhane the most. They were the chronically homeless, who lived in the shelters, sometimes for years at a time. They were older. Many were mentally ill or physically disabled, and when we think about homelessness as a social problem—the people sleeping on the sidewalk, aggressively panhandling, lying drunk in doorways, huddled on subway grates and under bridges—it's this group that we have in mind.
This last ten per cent includes Murray Barr, a chronic homeless from Reno, Nevada, who - although a nice person - had severe drinking problem that that costed the state one million dollars in "all his hospital bills for the ten years that he had been on the streets—as well as substance-abuse-treatment costs, doctors' fees, and other expenses..."

Gladwell suggested that we (meaning Americans) should just solve the homelessness problem, rather than keep trying to manage it.
because when a problem is that concentrated you can wrap your arms around it and think about solving it.
A small portion of society is bound to need help/support from others, anyway. If we could just identify who they are, and not just lump them all together in our self-made categories, we may actually be able to solve the most important part of the problem (if not the whole problem).

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Immigrants and the city

Planetizen summarizes a Wall Street Journal article titled Save Our Cities (WSJ subscription needed, but I've copied the full text here):
While some cities are attempting to drive immigrants out, others are welcoming them with open arms. As a Wall Street Journal writer asserts, "All booming American cities are immigrant cities."

"The fate of a two-year-old war on illegal immigrants declared by the mayor of tiny Hazleton, Pa., a former coal town, is now in the hands of a federal judge. He will rule by June on Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which penalizes local businesses and landlords who employ or rent to illegal immigrants."

"During the nine-day trial that concluded last Friday, Mayor Lou Barletta argued that some 10,000 undocumented immigrants have ruined Hazleton's quality of life...Yet business owners and landlords argued the opposite -- that immigrants had revitalized Hazleton's moribund economy, filling once-vacant apartments and patronizing once-declining businesses."

"In other cities the verdict is already in: Immigrants have significantly improved the quality of life in many of America's most successful cities. Take Flushing, Queens."

"All booming American cities are immigrant cities. It's practically tautological. Cities that welcome immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- tend to have vital economies that expand exponentially as immigrants open new businesses, fill vacant jobs and move into declining neighborhoods."

Here's my favorite quote, though:
In the 1960s Flushing was a wasteland, those same storefronts boarded up and the sidewalks empty -- so derelict that the area was designated in the city's 1975 federal community development block grant application as eligible for urban renewal money. Then came the Chinese immigrants, first in small numbers, then in great waves, through the 1980s and '90s. Long-time city planning official Sandy Hornick summarizes the 1970s as "back when we were trying to figure out what to do with Flushing before Flushing figured it out for itself."
Apparently, immigration is back to being a hot topic. Maybe because we're approaching the one-year commemoration of the big rallies against Bush's proposed immigration policy. Here's something from The Guardian, a few days ago:
New York would lose around 100,000 residents a year if overseas immigrants were not filling the void, the census bureau figures for 2000 to 2006 show. Los Angeles and Boston would also shrink without immigrants, threatening their economies and property markets.
It's a pity that many Indonesian urban planners still view urban in-migration (i.e., people coming from the villages into the cities) as a liability rather than asset.

PS: "We're all Immigrants" photo from

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