Cultural Construction of Jakarta

How Cities Mean: The Cultural Construction of Jakarta

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Jakarta and the Cultural Construction of the 21st Century

Chapter 2: Three Ways That Cities Mean: Infrastructure, Political Economy, Culture

Chapter 3: Suharto And the Cultural Construction Of New Order Jakarta [incorporate into chapter 2?]

Chapter 4: The Return of Dutch Planning

Chapter 5: New Landscapes of Automobility

Chapter 6: Design and Marketing an Imagined West

Chapter 7: Hybrid Cultural Formations and the Persistence Of Everyday Life

Chapter 8: The Social Function of Land

Chapter 9: Cultural Means of Power [was “Development” as the Ultimate Social Good]

Chapter 10: The New Spaces of Social Dualism

Chapter 11: Negotiating Jakarta’s Cultural Reconstruction

End Notes


Image Credits



Robert Cowherd, “Cultural Construction of Jakarta: Planning, Design and Development of Jabotabek in the late New Order, 1970-1998” (PhD Dissertation, MIT, 2002).

Abstract. Jakarta’s physical restructuring during the 1980s and 1990s was largely the result of choices made by a small circle of business and political elite surrounding President Suharto (1966-1998) in emulation of North American urban form. The insights of urban regime theory are useful in moderating any lingering economic determinism common in political economy and globalization approaches but fail to account for the successes of Suharto’s growth coalition. With media controls setting the terms of reference for public discourse, Suharto’s “New Order” regime deployed a rhetoric of “development,” functioning as the overarching paradigm to coordinate individual and collective values, priorities, and assumptions while reinforcing both fears of violent repression and aspirations for the trappings of modernization.

Examination of specific historical processes reveals that, unlike their dominance in the West, economic forces operated within, and subordinate to, long-standing culturally-defined structures of power, as but one of a long history of syncretically adapted forms imported from foreign sources.
With culture defining the goals and means of the controlling elite, the restructuring of architecture, urban design, and planning of the Jakarta Metropolitan Area became, not just a reflection of the dominant culture, but one of the most significant instruments for achieving the desired social order. The imagery employed in the design and marketing of Jabotabek suburban real estate development played off interwoven projections of life imagined to exist in the developed West (based largely on American television and film), while the internal spaces of California-style houses reveal a hybrid formation reflecting persistent social relationships and everyday practices. Planning’s normative function to remediate and avoid infrastructure shortages and a growing environmental crisis was acquiesced in the pursuit of the New Order elite’s rent-seeking projects, ultimately responsible for the financial crisis of 1997 and 1998 that ended Suharto’s rule. The inescapable spatial divide driven between the enclaves of high amenity (entertainment kitchens, gated communities, private automobiles) and the left-over spaces beyond the walls of privilege (servants quarters, the kampung, the street) left a shrinking public realm increasingly abandoned to the multiple crises of failing infrastructures, poor housing, and environmental degradation.


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