Marco Kusumawijaya - Change Happens “Community by Community, Postcode by Postcode”




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Feb 26, 2016
by Patrick Wilson
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Marco Kusumawijaya - Change Happens “Community by Community, Postcode by Postcode”

Director of the Rujak Centre for Urban Studies in Indonesia on the importance of communities as intermediaries of change Marco Kusumawijaya at Salzburg Global session "Beyond Green"

The city is often cited as a driver of change, but it is important not to overlook the role the communities within those cities can play in delivering that change. 

One Fellow determined to highlight the role of the communities within cities at the Salzburg Global program Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability, was Marco Kusumawijaya, the director of Rujak Centre for Urban Studies (RCUS), based in Jakarta, and founder and director of the Bumi Pemuda Rahayu (BPR) sustainability learning center in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Speaking on a panel on “The City as a Driver of Change,” Kusumawijaya spoke of the role the community can play as an important intermediary to promote change. Change that begins with one person, can spread to their family and then into the community, and onwards. Change happens “community by community, postcode by postcode,” he told the gathered Fellows.

The community thus acts as intermediary level between individual behavioral changes and systemic change.  “While I don’t see one as more important than the other, I think there’s a role I can play more successfully,” he explains. “I don’t have the power to make change from above at a governmental level but I think I can do it at a community level because I have the skills to organize people and encourage engagement.”

Kusumawijaya directs RCUS’s main program “Citizen Urbanism,” where he is responsible for co-production of urban knowledge in eight Indonesian cities with different communities and partners.

“We do research but we call our way of working a ‘co-production of knowledge,’” he told Salzburg Global during the session. “We encourage and work with communities to co-produce knowledge about their own cities, organize exchanges and encourage initiatives.”

Kusumawijaya believes that more work can be accomplished when we acknowledge that human beings always live in a group and are essentially social animals. In addition to Citizen Urbanism, this manner of thinking also comes across in projects such as The Artist in Residency (AIR) program at BPR. The biannual project invites Indonesian artists from a variety of disciplines to live at BPR for three months making work with the local community in relation to their practice. Programs like this, he believes, allow us to recognize the right of citizens to participate in the formation of the future of their cities through learning about art and new skills to promote development in cities and new ideas. 

 “We see art as a way of knowing, as a way of researching and as a way of touching the hearts of people and communities,” he explained. “It allows us to encourage doing things that are fun but also at the same time critical and promote deeper thought.”

Something that requires deeper and more critical thought, according to Kusumawijaya is the word “development.” While frequently used when talking about countries in the Global South and in terms of creating more sustainable societies, for Kusumawijaya the word has negative connotations.

“The word ‘development’ was an economic term but economy has become so hegemonic that people think if you’re not developed economically, you’re not developed in any other fields of life. For me this is simply wrong,” says Kusumawijaya. “Somehow we moved from a sense of general welfare for all to measuring our governments by what rate of economic growth they deliver. 

“I think one of the most important revelations from the research of many fields is that growth has nothing to do with equity. The largest amount of growth goes to the smallest amount of people. 

“It’s wrong to base development theory on growth. 

“That’s why I think the term ‘sustainable development’ is poisonous; its meaning has been nailed to growth rate. The economic idea has even been used to measure other parts of life which is wrong. For example, I don’t think our dance tradition is underdeveloped – our classical Javanese dance or West Sumatran dance is very well developed. Of course it is different to ballet and Western traditions, but it would be wrong to say it’s underdeveloped as compared to it.”

Whilst his work is challenging, Kusumawijaya has found support in the community of Fellows in Salzburg.

“There are so just many ideas being shared and passed around by the Fellows,” he said. “I think I only knew maybe one or two people in the group before coming here so one of the most important parts for me is to meet all these people who are thinking, working and experimenting with brilliant ideas to promote change. While I still have to digest them all, the mere fact there are so many people, thinking and working with the same aspiration of change as me is incredibly heartening.” 

Marco Kusumawijaya was a participant of the Salzburg Global Seminar program Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability, which was supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the Bush Foundation. More information can be found here: