PUBLIC SPACE TRANSFORMATION The role of collective space in the Boulevard Commercial Project of Manado - Indonesia

PhD defended at: 

the Arenberg Doctoral School, University of Leuven - BELGIUM


Cynthia Ratih Susilo



The new decentralization policy in Indonesia, which started in 2001, targets – among other things – the acceleration of development in cities in eastern part of the country. This policy results in the repackaging of city’s image through ‘spectacular’ mega commercial projects becoming a favorable means through which to win an acknowledgement as a new ‘center’. Manado, the second largest city in eastern Indonesia, pioneered with the construction of a mega commercial project in this region through its Boulevard Commercial Project (BCP). A new collective space is introduced by this project. However, critiques of ‘privatization’ and exclusion impacts have been stalking the BCP since its very arrival. As a consequence of a deficit in city’s inclusive regulation, land conflicts and conflict of interests between the BCP and the immediate local inhabitants often arise. It is thus not surprising that common initial prejudices regard the spaces produced by the BCP as highly exclusive and purely private oriented and as being not able to incorporate any facet of public interests and realms.

The realms existing along the BCP nevertheless show a different reality. In fact, both the indoor and the outdoor spaces of the BCP nowadays become the most vibrant and important urban ‘public’ places where city-scale events and [public] activities take place both daily and occasionally. There appears to be a contradiction between the critique that portrays the BCP as an exclusive space for the upper classes and the reality in the field that shows the co-presence of diverse groups in the BCP. This contradiction reveals the failure of urban critics to connect the locally circulating debates on the BCP on the one hand and the absence of research based on the actual observation on the uses, practices and discourses of the BCP on the other. Space [of the BCP] as it is actually experienced by the users and the citizens have never been observed. This contradiction raises the need for a careful observation on the lived spaces where collective spaces are produced by the project. Considering the significant impacts this project could have on Manado’s future (and on the development of other cities in eastern Indonesia), it is necessary to understand this dialectical urban transformation in its actual reality. A careful observation on the lived spaces can provide insightful information on the genuine responses and appropriations of local citizens as well as on how they deal with the project and transform its given space with a new meaning.

To understand the contradictions between circulating discourses on the BCP in Manado, the Introduction of this research suggests that fieldwork research on the interaction among the project, the city and its local citizens [through the lens of collective space] promises alternative knowledge from an angle that is different than the conventional one. Each chapter of the dissertation is then set to highlight the diverse collective spaces from various parts of the BCP where the significant concentration of ‘public’ activities takes place. Each chapter describes interactions and (co-) influences among a (parts of) concrete spatial structure of the BCP, the dimensions of its shifting activities, actions and reactions from its social actors comprising local users, local developers (and/or investors), the local governmental administrators and the immediate citizens living nearby the BCP. By observing the production of collective space in the BCP, this research attempts to draw potential lessons from collective space so as to supply the tools for dealing with the impacts of the typical project in a similar context.

The chapters of this dissertation consist of a collection of papers for publication. The first chapter introduces the physical urban development of Manado from its colonial era until today. It shows that variations in both internal and external influences were already at play, and they reformulated the urban space of Manado from time to time. Along with those influences, the city has never intentionally prepared its public spaces; however, it was the production of unplanned collective spaces that has played the major roles in mediating the local world of Manado. The second chapter unravels the development process of the BCP that expanded over time and the rhythms of changes in the government. It demonstrates the changes of narrations during each regime that accompanied the continuation of the BCP. However, the profit-oriented and the embedded exclusive characters of the BCP remain dominant and the inclusion of the public becomes less apparent than expected. The third chapter highlights observations in the indoor environment of the shopping malls of the BCP. It analyses how a contextual meaning [beyond a generic consumer value] gradually gets embedded within the shopping malls. The dynamics of the BCP shopping malls reveal that those shopping malls are not completely disconnected environments as many critics have conventionally pictured. Evidence is given as to how ordinary local people have the ability to transform the shopping malls into their daily social space. Taking a different setting of physical space, the fourth article observes local interpretations of the lived space in the outdoor environment at the BCP. It demonstrates that ordinary people has the capacity to transform a private but undeveloped vacant space into an outdoor collective space with a very large degree of publicness. The fifth chapter brings forward another side of the realities of the BCP. Although both the indoor and the outdoor spaces manage to reduce the exclusive image of the project through their collective uses, the BCP remains potentially excluding the weak segment of the community. Observation on the establishment of the Daseng at the BCP area informs how the project can trigger a production of a subaltern collective space by a marginal group that uses it to manifest its rejection of the BCP.

This overall research finds that a commercial megaproject and the ordinary local people significantly influence each other while at the same time being co-dependent on each other. Nevertheless, since ordinary people do not have a strong ‘formal’ decision-making position and they are only capable of appropriating a commercial megaproject spontaneously in a grassroots scale, leaving the physical development of the city to the grassroots appropriations of the ordinary people alone is insufficient to rebalance the massive domination of the near future, upcoming megaprojects.

ICAS is an initiative of the
International Insitute for Asian Studies