The cosmopolitan grassroots city as megaphone: Reconstructing public spaces through urban activism in Jakarta

Padawangi, R.

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Padawangi, R. (2013). The cosmopolitan grassroots city as megaphone: Reconstructing public spaces through urban activism in Jakarta. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(3), 849–863.

Demonstrations , Indonesia , Jakarta , Media , New Order , Public Space , Social Movements

Discussions on social movements in Asian cities are inseparable from the abundance of public rallies in the region. In this article, I look at the case of Thamrin-Sudirman, the main thoroughfare in Jakarta, Indonesia, to uncover how physical urban spaces constituting part of the city as living systems broaden the reach of social movements’ agendas. The study involved continuous observation at rallies, interviews with social movement leaders and participants, and a look at simultaneous public rallies in various cities. This article analyzes the sites of public rallies as ‘megaphones’, based on the patterns of issues featured in the rallies, the groups participating, and the nodes and paths that they constructed. Two key dimensions of the megaphone are: (1) the symbolic and historical significance of the sites of rallies; (2) the relationship between the space and the media. Particular sites in cities become places where information is gathered, distributed and transferred through the media, facilitating a network among cities. This article concludes that cities are agents of political actions that amplify ideas and spread them across the globe. The urban centers’ megaphonic function results from the synergy between the public space in the built environment and the public sphere, and is reflective of the recentering of the city.

Main finding
The author conceptualizes how the city’s physical urban spaces can bolster social movement agendas. Using the metaphor of 'megaphone' for public rallies, the author argues that two dimensions of ‘megaphones’ are the site's symbolic and historical significance and space-media relations. In the city’s post-independence, a demarcation of high-level public spaces and the exclusion of the disadvantaged yielded contradictions. The main public space corridor both hosted mass rallies of dissent while the military prevented ‘unwanted people' from being a part of such demonstrations, thus asserting their power. The corridor's centrality and role in national independence made it a symbol for citizens on a local, national and international level. However, the government’s control over the physical space extended to the media as well through ownership and consumption patterns and the media’s influence on the prospect of mobilization.

Description of method used in the article
The author conducted continuous observations, interviews with social movement leaders and participants, and looked at public rallies on other cities to analyze one public rally site and conceptualize the 'megaphones' metaphor. The author questioned the significance of urban public space to mass rallies and considered how the messages delivered at the rallies travel around the world.

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