Course:GEOG352/Urban Development of Jakarta

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In capitalist societies, the concept of social classes is used to represent the differences and divisions between different groups of people. Classes are often defined based on the wealth and power gaps between these groups, and this division can be visualized spatially in cities by examining the spaces that each class occupies, as well as the social relationships between different classes. This is an example of Harvey’s theory of class struggle, the relationship between those who have access to power and capital and their influence on those without such access.[1] Inevitably, the presence of these class divisions and struggles will shape the urban fabric of a city. These class divisions create a distinct spatial distribution of citizens across the urban landscape, as the ability to access true choice in land and housing options—particularly with regard to the location and quality of shelter—are most often primarily determined by class.

The social relationships that a citizen has with the government and private sectors are also affected by class, as Harvey's conceptualization of class struggle is often seen in the relationships and interactions between these parties.[1] Urban processes of gentrification and displacement exemplify this class struggle, as the lower and working classes are generally exploited through such processes by the upper class. These spatial divisions and class struggles are exacerbated in Jakarta, where the existence of two conflicting systems of recognized land rights further imbalances the choices available to different classes.

Infographic depicting concepts of spatial distribution of class in Jakarta


Jakarta is both the capital city and the most populous city of Indonesia, with a current population of around 10 million people.[2] Unsurprisingly, a city of that size has noticeable class divisions within its population, which can be seen through the spatial distribution of its citizens and the class struggles experienced by the city’s inhabitants. The origins of this social divide dates back to the 16th century, when the city was conquered by the Muslim Sultanate of Banten.[3] In the early years of the 17th century, the city was colonized by the Dutch, who remained in control of the city until World War 2, when it was briefly occupied by the Japanese. Jakarta, along with the rest of Indonesia, finally regained its independence in 1949; however, its colonial past still has consequences that affect modern day Jakarta. Jakarta’s history of colonialism led to class divisions and struggles between its original inhabitants and its colonial descendants, which shaped the urban fabric of the city. This is evident when one looks at the spatial distribution of upper and lower-class citizens. The spatial division of citizens and the class struggles are further intensified by Jakarta’s colonial legacy, as the city’s dual system of land rights and housing brings Jakarta’s traditional and colonial legacies into conflict.

The city of Jakarta presents an example of the ways in which class defines both spaces in a city as well as the class struggle seen between urban citizens of different classes. As a city with a colonial past, Jakarta has a history of being a spatially divided city. The city population was segregated into separate spaces for the local, European, and Asian populations. [3][4] This spatial division is still evident today, as the city contains a mixture of residential housing spaces for high-income residents as well as overcrowded, deteriorating, and often informal living spaces, called Kampungs.[4] Many of these upper class neighbourhoods evolved from the original exclusive neighbourhoods of the Dutch colonisers, while the Kampungs were the homes of villagers and the urban poor.[4]

Despite the apparent spatial separation of the city, the demarcation between the formal upper-class spaces and the informal lower-class spaces have started to blur as Jakarta continues to urbanise and grow. This is most apparent in the gentrification processes of cheap land and informal land such as Kampungs. Kampungs—neighbourhoods where the local indigenous people generally reside—are an important component of Jakarta’s aforementioned dual system of land rights and housing. They fall under the adat system, which is Jakarta’s traditional, informal, and unregistered system of land ownership.[5] As they are not recognized by the Western style formal land ownership system, leaving them vulnerable to the capitalist process of pushing property development into these spaces.[5] This process is not uncommon, and is often carried out by property developers working with government officials to evict kampung residents and replace the informal space of the kampungs with new urban residential areas.[4] Thus, the conflict between the traditional, informal system and the more formalized colonial system of land ownership portrays the spatial division and class struggles experienced in Jakarta.

Case Study of Theme/Issue

Brief History and Housing Overview

Jakarta is arguably not just one city, but many cities co-existing in the same space. Starting in the colonial era, Jakarta was divided between the European neighbourhoods, Mentengs, the Chinatown, Pecinan, and areas for the local Indonesian population, called Kampungs.[4] After the end of Dutch rule in 1945, this legacy of colonialism has continued to exist in the spatial distribution of class, specifically in the distribution of housing in Jakarta.[4] The Mentengs were re-purposed for the elite of Jakarta, and later would be joined in the 1970s with new American-style urban developments aimed at the more elite members of society in Indonesia, China and abroad.[4] At the same time, the government started a plan to help improve the Kampungs, yet many argue the energy of the government was more focused on creating new developments geared towards the higher classes. Today it is believed that around 20-25% of Jakarta’s total population lives in Kampungs, with about four to five percent living informally.[6] During the development of these new American-style middle-high and high income neighbourhoods, an estimated average of 50% to 60% of existing poorer residents are displaced.[7]

Dual Land Networks

Jakarta’s dual networks of informal and formal housing exist due in part to a colonial legacy—the imposition of Western freehold land ownership onto an existing system of indigenous customary law, the adat philosophy.[8] These parallel systems frequently intertangle and come into conflict as the city continues to rapidly develop.

Under the adat system, land rights can include hak girik, a land title which implies land ownership obtained through the consistent payment of land tax, as well as garapan, a right to land use as negotiated in agreements between individual parties.[8] These informally held rights make up a significant majority of land ownership claims as the process of registering land ownership under the Western-style freehold system is exceptionally difficult, lengthy, and expensive. To obtain these formalized land ownership rights, or hak milik¸ ownership must be registered with Indonesia’s National Land Agency, Badan Pertanahan Nasional (BPN).[5] The many steps and costs in this process are exacerbated by the costs of corruption and politically-motivated friction, making formalized land ownership extremely difficult for most low-income Kampung residents.[5]

A view of Jakarta's mix of high rises and low-lying Kampungs

Despite their implicit land claims under the adat system, girik and garapan land owners’ titles are vulnerable due to their existence outside formalized systems. A 2007 public order regulation made it illegal to “settle and build on streets, within 10 meters of rivers and other water bodies, in parks and green spaces, along railroad tracks, and under flyovers and bridges.”[5] This regulation codified a process started in 1988 of declaring certain Kampungs illegal, thus stripping residents of any land rights.[5] Residents of “illegal” Kampungs face the threat of mass evictions and neighbourhood razing, frequently in the name of flood prevention, as these “illegal” Kampungs are often built up on the banks of rivers. Although some compensation and replacement housing has been won by such residents through collaboration with urban development-focused non-profit organizations, replacement public housing is frequently found to be inadequate in size, poorly suited to the informal sector employment held by many of these Kampung residents, and leads to a loss of the social activities facilitated by the structure of the original Kampungs.[5]

Though residents of Kampungs deemed “legal” by the government are sheltered from the forced evictions faced by “illegal” Kampung residents, their land claims are also impeded and limited by structures of the neoliberal state. A system established during the rule of Indonesia’s authoritarian leader President Hajji Suharto enables developers to obtain development rights for entire tracts of land, generally in existing Kampung settlements.[5] These rights then obligate the residents of those Kampungs to sell exclusively to that developer, limiting their ability to negotiate prices and terms. Prices are highest for residents who hold the rare hak milik formal rights, which are required for developers to begin building, but those with lesser land claims can still receive a significant sum for their sale.

Even in these stifling conditions, sale of land is extremely alluring for Kampung residents with some title to their land, as the prices offered by developers for individual plots often constitute close to 40 years of wages, a life-changing sum of money for low-economic mobility residents.[5] Still, these processes ultimately hold the greatest gain for developers, who can profit massively through these enclosures and developments. A case study of Menteng Atas, a legal Kampung under sale, revealed that developers were paying residents less than 50% of the land’s market value—still a huge sum for Kampung residents, but far from the profit margins enjoyed by the developers. These complex dynamics create a continuous push and pull between formal versus informal rights, structural versus cooperative power, and neoliberal capitalism versus traditional indigenous collectivism.

Degrees of informality

As with many cities of the Global South, there is both a formal and informal sector when it comes to the housing market. In Jakarta, however, that line between formal and informal is blurred in many ways, including along class lines. As a response to the increasing price for housing in Jakarta, and increasing density, a form of informal housing emerged called Kosts, a term used to describe the renting out of one room or a group of rooms in a settlement, usually by the resident-owner who is occupying the rest of the space.[9] Being unregistered with the government, these arrangements allow for flexible contract periods and profit-oriented tax evasion.[9] A Kost generally is developed spontaneously, and although informal, present a form of housing that exists in different sectors of the low and economically-mobile middle class.[9]

Impacts and Adaptations

Increased density has had its fallout on the residents of Jakarta. Shared housing, such as the Kosts, have made for those who live in them, or rent them out, to have to alter their lifestyles in some ways.[9] For example, in some Kosts tenants or owners may not bring guests over or limit their use of the kitchen space. In the Kampungs, although there is a greater sense of social cohesion because of this highly dense space and “alleyway culture,” most residents indicated they felt cramped or had a lack of privacy. For many they buy food outside because of the poor hygiene in shared spaces or Kost rules not to cook or make a mess.[9] Yet, those who lived in Kampung neighbourhoods were found to have a better tolerance to increased density and over-crowding of the home than other sectors of society in Jakarta.

A 2016 study of Kampung Cikini, a neighbourhood of central Jakarta, illuminated the myriad of ways in which Kampung residents creatively adapt to crowded multifamily living situations. A variety of coping strategies to mitigate a feeling of crowdedness in small quarters were employed, ranging from choosing to spent most waking hours outside of the home to using small-space storage solutions to maximize efficiency to space usage to voluntarily choosing to give up space for economic purposes, by engaging in a Kost agreement.[6] Although crowding remains a significant challenge for Kampung residents, their active resistance and challenging of their living conditions is an important piece of the narrative to acknowledge when looking at this urban issue.

Lessons Learned

With an increasing population, the growing density of different housing areas in Jakarta is causing changes in lifestyle, and the housing network too. The line between formal and informal housing is blurred, as the adat philosophy is still imposed onto the cities housing system. Because of increasing costs, forms of housing such as Kosts emerge as a response for the people of Jakarta, and this has been an issue as governments have focused more on developing areas geared towards the higher classes, and less focus on Kampungs for the local citizens. This shows that the legacy of colonialism is still present and is reflected in the spatial distribution of class and housing in Jakarta. Areas such as the Mentengs started off as areas for the elite of Jakarta, and these continue to last and are now still present today. The socioeconomic situation for the different classes continue to be the same, which explains why different areas are still separated the way they are since the rule of the Dutch in Jakarta.

We can then apply the concept of a multi-layered city and informal ‘grey zones’ in housing to other cities around the world, especially in the global south. As with many cities in the global south, most of the lower class within a city seek employment and housing in the informal sector, especially if they are migrants. However, because the informal sector in housing provides cheaper housing and to a certain extent, services, it acts as a confinement for the informal sector to stay in the situation that it is in. From the example of the Kampung, we can see that informal settlements aren’t only a spatially related problem, but also tie in with political, social and economic problems. Therefore, the situation of the informal housing sector can’t be solved simply by one action such as improving welfare. Also, as many cities in the global south focus on developing their economy, much of the focus may be steered towards developing the economy in order to attract investment, and this would be a focus on the upper class, and ultimately neglecting the lower class, creating more of a spatial division within a city.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Harvey, D., 1978. The urban process under capitalism: a framework for analysis. International journal of urban and regional research, 2(1-3), 101-131.
  2. ABC News. (2018). Jakarta, a city under pressure from a growing population. [online] Available at:,-a-city-under-pressure-from-a-growing-population/8480226 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2018].
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cybriwsky, R. and Ford, L.R., 2001. City profile: Jakarta. Cities, 18(3), 199-210.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Permanadeli, R. and Tadié, J., 2014. Understanding the Imaginaries of Modernity in Jakarta: A Social Representation of Urban Development in Private Housing Projects. Papers on Social Representations, 23, 22.1 – 22.33
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Leitner, H. and Sheppard, E., 2017. From Kampungs to Condos? Contested accumulations through displacement in Jakarta. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 50(2), 437 – 456.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ellisa, E. (2016). Coping with Crowding in High-Density Kampung Housing of Jakarta. Archnet-International Journal of Architectural Research, 10 (1), 195-212.
  7. Nurdiani, N. (2011). The Influence of Displacement to the Success of Sustainable Multi-Storey Housing Development for Low-Income Society in Urban Area: Case Study- Multi-Storey Housing in Jakarta. Journal of Civil Engineering and Architecture, 5 (10), 950-955.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Zhu, J. and Simarmata, H. (2015). Formal land rights versus informal land rights: Governance for sustainable urbanization in the Jakarta metropolitan region, Indonesia. Land Use Policy, 43, 63-73.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Wulandari, D.W. and Mori, S. (2014). Characteristics of the Spatial Structure of Kosts Private Rental Housing: A Case Study of Urban Settlement of Jakarta, Indonesia. Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering, 13 (2), 309-216.

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