Why public space matters for poor children in urban area: case of playground conversions in jakarta, indonesia

Diningrat, Rendy Adriyan; Izati, Mirza Annisa (2018). 'Why public space matters for poor children in urban area: Case of playground conversions in Jakarta, Indonesia' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Children—as part of the social structure—in this urbanized region rarely given proper attention. Following the expansion of urban area at an unprecedented speed, urban space is reproduced and seen as a commodity. In the urbanized regions, land as a capital often times were contested, grabbed, and privatized for the sake of economic growth and investments. This phenomenon, while common, is potentially disturbing the public discourse and the vision of ‘city for all’.

Urbanization also comes with many other challenges, such as air pollution and inadequate basic services and infrastructure. This has resulted in an inhuman settlement with limited to no proper facilities for a good life. Therefore, during the Habitat III, a New Urban Agenda has been agreed upon by hundreds of UN Member States in 2015. This agenda envisions urbanization which respects, promotes, and protects human rights to all people without discrimination. This agenda is also seen as the extension of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly to the goal 11 on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable by 2030.

The New Urban Agenda has underlined the commitment to provide equal access to public service and respect the rights of every citizen, including to children. Yet, we suspect, this will result in a similar practice to the previous global commitments—not enough concern is given over the most powerless in our social structure. While holding the same importance, children are often powerless in determining their needs, resources, and possibilities. As a result, the decisions about their lives are predominantly adultism and ignoring a set of functionings which children value.

Using Capability Approach lens, this paper aims to elaborate the existence of children rights to the city, particularly on their reasonable perspectives on public spaces. Capability approach allows us to recognize children’s rights to fully participate in the community regardless of their perceived capacity.

Choosing two kampung (informal settlement) in Jakarta as our case study, we utilized a qualitative-participatory approach to study poor children age 6-17 years old. The growth of Jakarta, the most populated city in Indonesia, has pushed the conversion of existing squares and parks into various buildings. Our findings show that poor children, compared to their wealthier peers, depended on free public spaces that could be accessed easily and safely. Thus, the conversion of public space in two kampung has cost the most vulnerable in the social hierarchy—the poor children.

The analysis shows that public spaces have important values for children’s freedom as well as well-being. The conversion has removed poor children’s access to a safe playground, one of the important aspect of a good life. Children’s options for playing, relaxing, and socializing without adult interference (but still under adult supervision) were limited. No wonder, we found, that these poor children were prone to juvenile delinquencies.

Unfortunately, the capability of these poor urban children to have access to and power to determine open public space, hampered by the lack of opportunities to participate in the public forum. Jakarta as one of Child-Friendly City formally requires children to participate in child forum. However, the current format, as we found through discussion with our participants, still employed top-down approach. Hence, the reformation of child forum is necessary for increasing not only children’s capability to have a good life that they value but also political capability and considered equal human being in all areas of their life.

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