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Co-Designing Sustainable, Just and Smart Urban Living through Civic Engagement and Policy Advocacy


  May 25th 2021

International NGO Forum 2021

Human civilization has reached a stage where society is now led by another wave of industrial revolution that has brought new frontiers of knowledge and technology from integrated automatic systems, robotics engineering, and artificial intelligence. The potential applications are unlimited and have produced a number of technological breakthroughs and innovative solutions to multidimensional, complex problems at the personal, home, business, industrial, social, and government levels. As such, the so-called Internet of Things (IoTs) has enabled people to bring integrated and connected network systems. Many governments at the national, provincial, and local levels have high-tech applications and solutions for contemporary governance, administration, and procurement. Thus, there is a profound and fundamental change in the way society is governed. Somehow, this changed the way civil society members must engage in governance issues. Many high-tech solutions and social-business ventures have sprung that could potentially support this digital activism. The challenge is to find the most cost-effective, efficient, and transparent ways to involve changing governance structures and community dynamics. In the meantime, faith, religion, and spirituality seem to have no place in the New Urban Agenda. It almost assumes that cities of the future will be secularized and that urban dwellers will be deprived of their faith, religious, and spiritual yearnings. Such envisioning seems difficult to grasp or even imagine. Historically, cities have been the locus for the development of faith, religion, and spirituality. In fact, many cities of the world have witnessed how religious sentiment grew and expanded rapidly in urban centers. Furthermore, much of the religious and spiritual yearning including conservatism and fundamentalism have taken root primarily among the urbanites and the youths in cities.

In the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, cities and local governments face insurmountable challenges that many have never been seen nor imagined before. Cities and local governments performed quite well amid the crisis, but also witnessed communities ravaged by the virus across the world. Aligned with that, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS, UGM, Yogyakarta), in cooperation with Universitas Hindu Indonesia (UNHI), Denpasar, the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (LIPI), and the Ford Foundation organized two important events. The first was an NGO Forum held on April 6, 2021 and the second a Mayors’ Symposium on April 8, 2021. It is expected that these events will serve as a platform for civil society members, academics, community of practitioners, and local government officials to discuss and interface with one another to achieve sustainable, just, and smart urban living.

NGO forums specially invite many speakers with NGO activist backgrounds accompanied by prominent scholars. The NGO forum consisted of three sessions. The first Session entitled “Inclusive and Accessible City” was moderated by Dr. Nazrina Zuryani from the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Udayana University with four speakers. The first speaker was Anton Muhajir, a journalist, blogger, and editor. As an author, he works with Bale Bengong, a journalism website that began in 2007 for Balinese citizens to express their opinions as subjects of the news. Muhajir’s presentation was entitled “Citizen Journalism and Social Polarization”. In this presentation, he explained that journalism in Bali is not diverse in content, that is why Bale Bengong exists, to raise the voice of marginalized people, such as LGBT and people from remote areas, regarding social problems that they are facing. According to Muhajir, people need to engage with the government in facing the rise of hoaxes about COVID-19. Therefore, Bale Bengong strives to help Balinese society, especially those who lack digital literacy. Some of Muhajir’s recent writings and training are entitled: Belajar Kembali Jurnalisme Bersama Warga Desa (Learn Journalism Again with the Villagers), Desa Tembok Justru Menjadikan Pandemi sebagai Energi (Tembok Village’s Use the Pandemic as Energy), Memilih Bertani ketika Pariwisata Bali Mati Suri (Choosing Farming when Bali Tourism Died), Kepala Dinas Kesehatan Provinsi Bali: Kita Jangan Terlalu Pesimis (Head of the Bali Provincial Health Office: We Do Not Need to Be Pessimistic), Laporan Mendalam: Karut Marut Mendata Maut (In-Depth Report: The Complication for Recording Deaths).

The second speaker was Gede Kresna from Rumah Intaran. Kresna is a Balinese architect who devoted his work to community service in the village of Bengkala, Kubutambahan, Singaraja. Rumah Intaran became his workshop in 2012, where he promotes the program of makan empat sehat lima madu (eat four healthy foods and the fifth is honey). In his presentation entitled ‘Inclusive and Resilient Community’, Kresna explains the importance of carrying out advocacy efforts and disseminating information about the pivotal role of humans in maintaining good food quality, away from chemical contamination that can endanger human health. For this reason, he hopes that people will be more literate in choosing food ingredients before they turn them into food. Furthermore, he also explains that Rumah Intaran also serves as a culinary lab, for healthy meals with no MSG and no additives, and a museum for spices. Kresna also documented the problems of the villages, planted 200 seeds of intaran, and 500 stems of lerak during the Rainy Season Festival (2016). He cited one environmental magazine which stated that “intaran is the most useful tree in the world.” On his website pengalamanrasa.com, he describes the meaning of Rumah Intaran and the activities helping the villagers and promoting the traditional culture to the local and foreign citizens.

The third speaker for the first session was Prof. Dr. Michael Northcott from the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta and Emeritus Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh (2018-). He was a Guest Professor at the University of Heidelberg in 2018. From 2013 to 2016 Michael was the principal investigator of a large grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and led an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh who investigated the temporal, political, and ethical frames of faith-based environmental activists in the UK and the USA, focusing especially on Eco-Congregation Scotland. In his presentation entitled ‘Environmental Justice in Yogyakarta in the Time of COVID-19,’ Northcott explained that the most serious causes of excess mortality in Indonesia in 2020 were air pollution and motor vehicle accidents. Furthermore, he explained that in Javanese cities, the main threats to environmental health are air pollution, traffic accidents, and lack of potable water.  In Yogyakarta, two of the greatest environmental health challenges include the need to increase the accessibility of safe public walking and recreational spaces and reduce air pollution from rubbish burning and poorly regulated vehicles. COVID-19 saw an increase in bicycle use in Yogyakarta but no increase in the bicycle or walking infrastructure. Yogyakarta has few public green spaces and  public parks. The idea of public green space is a distinctively Christian legacy as is also the idea of civil society independent of religion or sovereign power (Northcott: 2015). However, in the Indonesian context and especially in Yogyakarta, an inter-religious merger of the Islamic and Christian-rooted modern concept of 'parks' would arguably result in a cultural turn in Yogyakarta, away from the continued building of private pleasure places.

The fourth speaker of the first session was Risnawati Utami, from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Utami is an activist and together with her organization named OHANA (Organisasi Harapan Nusantara) advocates for the human rights of persons with disabilities for shifting understandings about to ensure that disabled persons are treated as full and equal members of Indonesian society. Currently, she is one of the Committee Members of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) (CRPD) for 2019-2022. In her presentation entitled ‘Disability, Pandemic, and Urban Space’ Utami argued that living in cities may already present health-damaging challenges for PWDs such as lack of access to public services and employment, physical barriers on streets and transportation, and smart city technologies that are not made universally accessible. Yogyakarta needs urban development and public health facilities that care for people with disabilities.

Utami also argues that from the side of the government and decision-makers there must be inclusive decision making.  Persons with disabilities and their representative organizations must be at the center of the program and policy decisions and implementation. This can ensure that the needs of persons with diverse disabilities are adequately met and their rights and dignity are respectfully upheld. COVID-19 responses should be inclusive by prioritizing the principles of Universal Design and Access as well as the Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities. Cities should continually consult with DPOs and use participatory approaches in policy design and implementation. Government and local authorities should establish Pandemic Responses Task Forces that include PWDs to make sure that the latter are consulted and accessibility, inclusivity, and universal design are mainstreamed into risk reduction responses.

The event’s second session was entitled “Urban Sustainability” and was moderated by Dr. Yeoh Seng Guan, Associate Professor in Social Anthropology, Deputy Head of School (Research), School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University, Australia. This session included five speakers. The first speaker was Ir. Henry Feriadi, M.Sc., Ph.D. Rector of Duta Wacana Christian University, located in Yogyakarta, and one of the members of the consortium that established ICRS. Feriadi’s main research interest is architecture and published various articles about sustainable development such as “Comparative Study of the Impacts and Best Practices of Green Building Rating Systems in Asia (2018)” and “Present and Future Challenges in Urban Resiliency and Sustainability of the Cities in Southeast Asia (2017)”. In his presentation entitled ‘Designing Sustainable Cities’, Feriadi argued that a sustainable city should meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Furthermore, he argues that in designing sustainable cities, there are at least three things that should be done. First is understanding and mapping the current and urgent urban problems, Second is designing based on priorities and resolving impact with three fundamental steps (Survive-Strengthen-and Sustain), and the last is co-transformation movement by transforming the people or society, planet or the environment, and profit or economic. Finally, Feriadi believes that God creates nature’s beauty to sustain human lives in collaborative and unique ways.

The second speaker for the second session was Diane Butler, Ph.D. who represents the International Foundation for Dharma Nature Time. She is a dance-movement artist, teacher, and cultural program director who has collaborated with traditional and contemporary artists from varied cultures and faiths in the Americas, Europe, and Asia for over 35 years and since 2001 has resided in the villages of Bedulu and Tejakula in Bali, Indonesia. In 2001, together with Suprapto Suryodarmo, Butler founded Dharma Nature Time, a cooperative international foundation with members in 8 nations that carry out activities to support inter-culture in cultural environments through sharing in the arts, religiosity, and nature. In 2009, Dharma Nature Time was granted roster consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Butler is also an alumna of the 2011 United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Session on the Management and Conservation of World Heritage Sites held in Japan. She holds a BFA in Dance from The Juilliard School, MALS in Dance & Culture from Wesleyan University, and is the first foreign scholar to earn a Ph.D. in Kajian Budaya (Cultural Studies) from Universitas Udayana, Bali and, in 2014, was appointed by the rector as a volunteer Associate Professor in that program.

In her presentation entitled ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage, Resilience, and Adaptive Capacity’, Butler argued that it is important to consider challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and create proactive solutions from the view of the interconnectedness of intangible cultural heritage, resilience, and adaptive capacity. Indonesia is a biological "mega-diversity" country. It is primarily rural people who are the bearers and transmitters of local and traditional knowledge and cultural practices relevant for sustaining bio-cultural diversity and thus the ecological, social and economic sustainability of our planet. Furthermore, the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture has declared over 960 sites as cultural heritage sites while more than 7000 elements of intangible cultural heritage have been registered. People and their creative artistic skills is how intangible cultural heritage or 'living heritage' is actualized for boosting social-ecological resilience to our adaptive capacity. Society needs to be proactive in encouraging artists and cultural communities to identify any new normal-friendly open-air cultural sites or facilities that exist in their vicinity. Society should also take steps for offering small-scale intergenerational programs and youth activities at cultural heritages sites. Thus, if our task is to imagine how modes of living and land use can be co-designing to 'suit the needs and challenges of the contemporary world and future generations', we need a dialogical approach to rural-urban sustainability. The good news is that awareness of the value of intangible cultural heritage or 'living heritage' within more and more communities since the mid-2000s has spawned many positive initiatives and the involvement of younger generations in the continuing of oral tradition, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftmanship. Other good news is increased evidence of the important role that intangible cultural heritage has in boosting the resilience of social-ecological systems. Resilience in this sense means that habitats, plant and animal species, and human communities can withstand changes or disturbances to their condition and have the adaptive capacity to cope, reorganize, and renew components while maintaining functions and diversity.

The third speaker was Andre Van Eymeren who represents the Centre for Building Better Communities, Melbourne, Australia. He is an experienced consultant, trainer, and practitioner in community development. For the past 20 years, Eymeren has worked with different communities around Australia, predominantly in lower socio-economic areas. Eymeren has extensive experience working alongside local governments, schools, faith groups, and the non-profit sector. His work has included community research, organizational reviews, planning, and network facilitation, the co-creation of a rooming house accord and reports into rooming houses, broadcasting on the radio, helping to organize community-wide celebrations, starting two not for profits aimed at improving local and broader communities, teaching on community development. Eymeren is also a Ph.D. student focusing on models for building social infrastructure in cities, where people can thrive and flourish. In his presentation entitled ’Flourishing People, Flourishing Places’ he argued that to build a better community, all people should contribute to providing basic needs. It is also related to the meaning of spirituality because there are two aspects of spirituality which are to lament and celebrate to understand and overcome the problem in the community and flourishing the community.

The fourth speaker for the second session was Irma Hidayana. Hidayana is the initiator for LaporCovid-19, a forum for public complaints regarding the coronavirus problem. LaporCovid-19 built a citizen reporting platform that is used as a place to share information about incidents related to COVID-19 discovered by residents, but so far it has escaped the reach of the government. Using a crowdsourcing approach that involves citizen participation to be involved in recording COVID-19 numbers and reporting issues around COVID-19 in the vicinity, is a bridge to record the number of COVID-19 incidents in the country. LaporCovid-19 is a forum to help the government and other citizens to find out the spread and magnitude of COVID-19 in Indonesia. The data collected in the LaporCovid-19 channel provides valuable input for the government to formulate policies and steps to deal with COVID-19 based on data in the field.

In her presentation entitled ‘Public Health in Pandemic’ Hidayana explained that the situation in Indonesia today related to the COVID-19 pandemic reflects the following issues. First is data transparency. According to her, there is no available data on the number of daily Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests at the city and province levels. The second crucial issue is poor epidemiological measures (lack of testing, tracking, and treatment). The third pivotal issue is weak public health surveillances  (healthy protocols) and travel-related measures, corruption of COVID-19 social assistance funds and risk of corruption, conflict of interest and commercialization of the COVID-19 vaccine (according to PP No. 14/2021). All of these problems influence and affect the economy, politics, and public health. Concerning this situation, Hidayana and her organization LaporCovid-19 offer some suggestions, especially to the government. First is the need for a strong political commitment to control and prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. The second is to place human rights as the fundamental approach to control the pandemic to protect individuals’ health and life. Finally, they also suggest that government and society promote scientific and evidence-based public health policies (epidemiology, data, risk communication, and preventive measures).

The last speaker for the second session was Choerunisa Noor Syahid, S.Sos., M.Sc. representing the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. Syahid graduated as Sarjana Sosial in Anthropology. She took her master's degree at Erasmus University of Rotterdam, The Netherlands [October 2010- September 2011] as a Master of Science (M. Sc) in Urban Management and Development Studies with a specialization on Urban Regional Development Strategist. Her thesis topic is “Regulation vs Reality: Analysis about Companies Interpretation of CSR Policy in Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) Project, Merauke, Indonesia”.

In her presentation entitled ‘Sustainable Cities in the Netherlands’, she explained that the sustainable development goals (SDGs) make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. However, global warming affects the quality of life of the human environment. Therefore, she takes an interesting example from the city of Rotterdam, a city that constantly collaborates with stakeholders in developing sustainability. According to Syahid, there are three main points or aspects in determining the environmental sustainability of a city, which are water, land, and air. Furthermore, it is also pivotal to create a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) which is related to transportation that has a huge impact on people and the environment.

Lastly, the third session, entitled “Faith and Human Dignity during Pandemic”, was moderated by Ni Wayan Radita Novi Puspitasari, lecturer at Udayana University, and ICRS Staff who is now studying at the Ural Federal University, Russia. There were four speakers in this session. The first speaker was Putu Yosia Yogiartha (Protestant Christian Church in Bali). He is the leader of Christian Ministry Conference (Musyawarah Pelayanan Umat Kristen/MPUK) in Buleleng regency. He is a pastor in the Protestant Church in Bali. In his presentation entitled ‘Balinese Christian Response to Public Health Crisis’ he explains that out of 4.32 million people in Bali, 1.66% of them are Christian. Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the general response is both belief and unbelief "Meboya" (to reject and to protest) because they think that it is a global conspiracy. Members of GKPB include 13.135 people within 87 congregations with 65 pastors. From those numbers, COVID-19 cases within the GKPB community numbered 178, with 10 deaths, and 89 recovered through March 24, 2021. Furthermore, Pastor Yosia explained that the first response of the GKPB community is 'obedience by all pastors and church activists, striving to socialize the health protocol that is obligated by the government such as wearing a mask, washing hands with soap and running water, avoiding crowds, maintaining distance and limiting mobility/interactions. Secondly, the GKPB community also did  'creative activity: back to nature and virtual ministry' in which they encouraged the members of the congregations to start doing farming around their house and join worship online. Finally, Yosia encouraged all members of GKPB and the audience to keep their faith, stay healthy, stay alert, and stay creative during the pandemic.

The second speaker of this session was Prof. Dr. Phil. I Ketut Ardhana, M.A. He is a professor at Udayana University. He is also the Head of S3 Cultural Studies at Udayana and the Head of Yayasan Pendidikan Widya Kerthi. His doctoral degree was taken in Philosophische Fakultat (Faculty of Philosophy), Universitat Passau, Germany in 1996-2000 with his dissertation of “Nusa Tenggara nach Einrichtung der Kolonial Herrschaft (Nusa Tenggara Arrangement during the Colonial Period 1915-1950).

In his presentation entitled ‘Human Dignity in the Time of Pandemic,’ he argued that human dignity is closely related to the thought that human nature is different from other beings. Human dignity or 'martabat kemanusiaan' is rooted in the context of historical and migration processes that tend to show the honorable position of humans and a recognition that human beings possess a special value intrinsic to their humanity and as such are worthy of respect simply because they are  human beings. Thus, human beings regardless of their age, ability, status, gender, or ethnicity are to be treated with respect. He also argues that within Hindu concepts, the term human being or manusia comes from the word Vmanu meaning 'who thinks or uses the mind'. Humans are also perceived as Tri Pramana beings because they have three main abilities: thinking, speaking, and doing which makes them different from another being. Furthermore, there is also the concept Tri Kaya Parisudha as part of the Susila teaching in Hindu Bali. Within the three basic frameworks of Hinduism is firstly, Manacika Parisudha, or good thinking. Second, there is Wacika Parisudha or saying what is good, And, third, Kayika or behaving well. Moreover, within the Balinese cosmology, three worlds are known. The first is the demon world that is thought to exist in the watery underworld. Second is the abode of the Gods who live in the upper world. Human beings live in the middle realm between the two. Humans have the responsibility to maintain the proper balance between these three worlds and it should be applied also in the time of the pandemic.

The third speaker of the third session was Dwi Setiyani Utami who represents Puan Hayati a religious belief organization consisting of women. She is a Chairperson of Puan Hayati Central Java and treasurer at Puan Hayati Pusat. She has been active in studio activities since he was a teenager and in organizations at Puan Hayati Pusat. In 2016 she joined the Puan Hayati Central Java organization to become the secretary. In 2018, she joined MLKI Pusat. After joining MLKI (the Indonesian Trustworthy Council), she was finally asked to become the Chairperson of Puan Hayati, Central Java Province for support and recommendations from various parties. There are three main missions of Puan Hayati, namely preserving the teachings, empowering women worshipers for social and economic independence, and strengthening women's capacity.

In her presentation entitled ‘Indigenous Women & the Strategy of Resilience’ Dwi Setiyani Utami argued that although indigenous women in her organization have many limitations, in terms of skills, education, and economic capacity, they are actively involved in increasing resilience during the pandemic, especially food resilience. This resilience is rooted in the reflective attitude of 'nrimo ing pandum' literally meaning acceptance or sincerity for what we receive in life or "legowo" in facing every twist in life. Furthermore, it is also fundamental to build cooperation and increase innovation to maintain food security based on family and community and to build togetherness as a manifestation of humanity regardless of ethnicity or religion in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, there needs to be a solution to fundamental problems related to land disputes or agrarian conflicts between stakeholders, namely the government, military, private sector, farmer groups, and even indigenous peoples in the principle of social justice for all Indonesian people. Puan Hayati appreciates the government’s efforts to protect existing agricultural land as production land, manage food estates in the logistics system, and maintain the stability of the prices of nine staples, as well as various social assistance provided during the pandemic. This will be very good if followed by reforms of agricultural policies and systems to achieve food security and sovereignty as well as protection for farmers from global industrial and business competition. This can be done, for example, by providing superior seeds, advancing environmentally friendly agricultural technology, creating agricultural schools for farmers, improving the quality and quality of healthy and nutritious food, empowering farmer groups, minimum price policies for all agricultural products and cheap credit policies, and agricultural insurance.

The last speaker for the third session was Dr. Paul Martens from Baylor University, USA. He has been teaching at Baylor since 2006. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2005 and spent the subsequent year as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Notre Dame. specializing in Christian ethics. His research focuses on Søren Kierkegaard, Anabaptist theology and ethics, and issues surrounding Christian articulations of pacifism and just war. Martens' academic interests and research are Christian ethics and theology; global ethics; environmental ethics; peace, violence, and war; Søren Kierkegaard; and Protestant retrievals of natural law.

In his presentation entitled ‘Faith and Human Dignity in COVID-19,’ he explained that the concept of human dignity emphasizes the uniqueness and irreplaceability of every human being and that it carries with it the responsibility to honor the dignity of everyone. However, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state and economy cannot provide a sufficient account of what survival, security, and money are for. These things ought to be merely in the service of human dignity. Human dignity itself is at the heart of most religious traditions and it is expressed in the language of love, charity, community, respect, nonviolence, liberation, and rights, to name just a few examples. Therefore, it should be performed in everyday familial, communal, and social practices that are given meaning through religious or spiritual metanarratives. Therefore, Martens argued that COVID-19 is just one of many occasions that will challenge human civilization over the next decade. Yet it reminds us that in the New Urban Agenda, notions of innovation, resilience, and security must be reconsidered in a broader context especially the precariousness of human dignity in the face of economic, political, and technological effacement. We should try to remove that precariousness by fully recognizing the equal social importance of more 'basic' tasks like building, transporting, serving, and caring. We need also to creatively engage with religious tradition faith communities because religious communities are essential to this task even they oppose the state and economy.