Sunday, September 17, 2017

Book review: Jakarta Drawing the City Near by AbdouMaliq Simone

On August 20, 2014, I received an email from the book review editor of Journal of Planning Education & Research (JPER) who invited me to review a new book titled Jakarta: Drawing the City Near by AbdouMaliq Simone. It's my pleasure to accept the invitation. I received the book from the JPER and started reading it. After some delays, I finally completed and submitted the review of the book to the book review editor in May 2017. 



This book review is my fourth book review for academic journals and my third book review on Indonesian cities. My previous book reviews are as follows:
  • Rukmana, Deden. (2016). Urban Sustainability: A Global Perspective by Igov Vojnovic. Journal of Planning Education and Research 36(1): 132-134
  • Rukmana, Deden. (2011). The Appearances of Memory: Mnemonic Practices of Architecture and Urban Form in Indonesia by Abidin Kusno. Pacific Affairs 84(2): 399-401
  • Rukmana, Deden. (2008). Planning the Megacity: Jakarta in the Twentieth Century by Christopher Silver. Journal of the American Planning Association 74(2): 263-264.
My review of Jakarta: Drawing the City Near  has been published by the JPER and available online on August 24, 2017 at this linkI am pleased to share my review of this book in this blog as you can find below.


In the first half of the twentieth century, Batavia, the colonial capital of the Dutch East Indies, was a small urban area of approximately 150,000 residents. In the second half of the twentieth century, Batavia became Jakarta, the capital of independent Indonesia. Jakarta is now a megacity of twenty-eight million residents and is the largest and one of the most dynamic metropolitan areas in Southeast Asia. It is also beset with most of the urban problems experienced throughout the region.

Jakarta: Drawing the City Near offers new perspectives and critical analyses of the urbanization process in Jakarta. Abdoumaliq Simone’s main thesis is how urban residents live with uncertainty and have emerged as active players in the urbanization process. Based on a multiyear ethnographic study in three central city districts of Jakarta, Simone sheds light on how the city affects its residents. He argues that Jakarta has many modes of existence but does not exist unless its residents are able to see and feel it.

This book explores the ambiguity of Jakarta’s physical and social landscape and the way of life of its residents, focusing on Jakarta’s urban common. Simone’s main thesis posits that cities, including Jakarta, are filled with ironies and deceptions, but that residents seem to find ways to make things work.

This book continues and complements other excellent studies on Jakarta’s contemporary development issues, particularly Kusno (2010) and Silver (2007). It is a pleasure to read, intellectually stimulating, and logically organized. A variety of figures also supplement the narrative in the book. The book is organized into five chapters that cover four unique concepts that illuminate Jakarta’s urbanization trajectory (near-South, Urban Majority, Devising Relations, and Endurance) and one innovative policy. In the introduction, Simone revisits previous studies of Jakarta on various aspects, including land use planning, living conditions, economic and political events, and religions. Then, he introduces the four concepts that shed light on how Jakarta’s urbanization trajectory has affected its residents, including living conditions and everyday struggles.

Chapter 1 introduces the “near-South,” offering a new perspective of major metropolitan areas of the Global South that is neither the developed North nor the underdeveloped South. Simone focuses on nearness rather than on the distinction between the North and the South. The near-South does not only simply mean the proximity of these cities to the underdeveloped South, but also the proximity to the conditions of cities elsewhere. His emphasis is on “the way cities feel, their impact on all of the senses, as well as an intuitive knowledge” (26).

In chapter 2, Simone discusses the concept of urban majority in more detail and defines the urban majority as urban residents who are neither strictly poor nor middle class. They live within a highly differentiated “in-between” who make up the majority of urban residents. He argues that in some cities in the Global South, including Jakarta, the urban majority is an actual majority. The urban majority include nurses, shopkeepers, transportation workers, teachers, and police officers. They live in central cities and suburban diverse districts characterized by economic activities. The notion of incrementalism is also important for the urban majority. They are able to transform urban spaces through incremental activities.

In chapter 3, Simone discusses the concept of devising relations and explores the relationships between residents and “non-living things” in Jakarta. He argues that the close proximity and intensities of residents and “non-living things” does not necessarily guarantee relations. He applies different metaphors such as “the lure,” “the hinge,” “captivation,” and “hodgepodge landscape” to illustrate the dynamic relations between residents and urban spaces in Jakarta and examines how Jakarta follows the trajectory of Global urbanization.

Chapter 4 offers the concept of endurance that draws on the dynamic processes of the urban majority that lives in Jakarta’s urban spaces and deals with uncertainties, including unexpected dangers and opportunities. This concept explores the continuation of efforts by residents to discover and reach each other. Communities and institutions endure to constantly link distinct entities into a common purpose and also point to the breaks and frictions for working together. Simone posits that endurance is “the willingness to suspend something familiar in order to engage something unexpected” (213–14).

In chapter 5, Simone concludes with innovative policies and ways to shape the future of urban development. He discusses the need for maximizing the use value of urban space, the privatization and industrialization of development devices such as land, water, or energy, and the concretization of development rights, that is, maintaining substantial areas of green space and creating a denser urban area through systematic in-fills of new housing. He suggests increasing integration and involvement of residents’ views and aspirations to run the city and make the city work. Communities and institutions should be visible and intelligible during the policy-making process.

In sum, Simone offers an intriguing analysis of the trajectory of urbanization and everyday struggles of the residents in Jakarta from his rich ethnographic stories. His deep knowledge of other parts of the Global South, particularly African cities, makes his analysis more stimulating and well conceived. He compares and contrasts Jakarta with other cities of the Global South in a variety of aspects of urban development. Such analysis is unique and will contribute significantly to the literature of urban studies and development, not only in the Indonesian context but in the Global South. In this book, Simone also uses such terms as “near-South” (23), “pluri-district” (72, i.e., the residential areas that function as complex machines to produce economic opportunities), the urban majority (83), and “endurance” (209), which could apply to cities in other parts of the Global South.

I found many compelling discussions in the book, particularly those on Jakarta’s contemporary development, including the development of new towns, megaprojects, mass-produced housing projects for lower middle income people, and traditional markets, and on Jakarta’s social issues including tawuran (violence) and preman (thug).

Despite its many virtues, the book does not discuss the most acute problem in Jakarta, that is, traffic congestion, which affects everyday struggles of Jakarta’s residents and which is estimated to cost US$3 billion per year, caused by the high growth rate of car and motorcycle ownership (9 to 11 percent per year), facilitated by the ease of ownership. For example, in order to take out a loan for a motorcycle, a popular and affordable mode of transport to commute from the suburbs to the city center, the borrower only needs a down payment of $30, resulting in severe congestion.

A somewhat minor issue is that the author uses the abbreviated term dekel (democratically elected districtwide village committee). Instead, he should have used the term Dewan Kelurahan.The committee was established in October 2000 by Jakarta’s provincial law 5/2000 but was replaced in November 2010 by law 5/2010. The new term of democratically elected districtwide village committee in Jakarta according to Jakarta’s provincial law 5/2010 is Lembaga Musyawarah Kelurahan (LMK).


Nevertheless, this book is carefully researched and provides detailed descriptions and analyses of living in contemporary Jakarta. The author enriches the discussions with a literature review of relevant topics, which give a good theoretical background, in most parts of the book. Anyone with a scholarly interest in the urbanization process of cities in the Global South should read this book which may be a very useful reference for urban researchers who focus on the Global South.



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