It seems like just yesterday that we first found ourselves floating en route to a boat-borne breakfast on the Barito River. Nearly a year later, we – Stephen Kennedy and Alice Shay – and a small non-profit, Solo Kota Kita, are preparing to return to the tangled network of canals and rivers in Banjarmasin, Indonesia. The team will be implementing the first phase of a riverfront housing infrastructure project.
Banjarmasin is located on a delta island that sits at the southern tip of Borneo. The city was an important hub in Indonesia for many industries on the island, including lumber, rubber and coal processing but is undergoing large structural changes as the country’s economy shifts away from these industries. The city has strong pride in its heritage of riverfront housing. Banjaris have a close connection with the water and many live in housing along the riverbanks. Last summer, we visited Banjarmasin to help create a City Development Strategy with UN HABITAT about the city.
On the third day of our fieldwork trip to Banjarmasin last summer, local government planners brought us to Sungai Jingah. This riverfront neighborhood contends with many of the water-related issues common across the city. The waters are polluted by industrial wastes that travel down the Martapura and household wastes that result from resident’s daily use of the waters. Much like other neighborhoods along the river, the shorelines have eroded. Housing that once stood on the riverbank is now located completely over the water. Up to three layers of housing are built into the river, away from solid ground. Buildings lie within a network of boardwalks that run parallel to the river and then between homes. Not only are houses built on stilts far out into the Martapura, but some structures actually float on the river.
Residents have developed a structural system of floating wood bundles that buoy small buildings over the water, such as these outhouses.
While these structural and public health issues are part of daily life for Sungai Jingah residents, being so close to the waters edge is also an asset. Strong social networks unite the neighborhood. The boardwalks act as micro-public spaces, used for access and daily chores but also socializing. The boardwalks are built up with stores and tiny cafes, called warungs. Seating and plantings are planned into small open spaces on the boardwalks.
Playtime in an aquatic ‘plaza’ in another neighborhood.
During our visit, children were constantly running along the wooden planks, playing together and leading us on little tours of their homes.
Banjarmasin currently has energetic leadership that is working hard to improve quality of life in the city and to preserve the traditional riverfront lifestyles. The local government has selected the neighborhood as a cultural heritage showcase area, a “waterfront village”. Sungai Jingah is an iconic waterway neighborhood. It demonstrates the city’s tradition of building housing over water with indigenous building styles and use of stilted walkways between homes. The city government has helped improve the quality of life there by rebuilding the boardwalks, making them more secure and supportive of adjacent buildings. The neighborhood may become part of the city’s heritage tourism program – the program’s first foray into water-related culture. The heritage program will encourage approaches towards the river that are sustainable, increase quality of life and provide economic opportunities. The nearby Wasaka Museum showcases traditional architecture.
This summer, Solo Kota Kita will return to Sungai Jingah to host a series of participatory design charretes with neighborhood residents. The goal: to develop a low-cost infrastructure prototype that can be adapted into the wooden walkway system over the river. The prototype will improve public health in the neighborhood by including a water purification system and formalizing clean water delivery. The system can also be adapted for aquatic vegetation or support public realm uses, like the small stores and warungs. The SKK prototype will be developed based on the informal infrastructures already incorporated by residents in the neighborhood and designed together with residents.
In addition to the infrastructure project, called Firm Foundation, the team will also produce a field guide to document the process and share lessons about participatory design. We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to support this summer’s work in Banjarmasin and to publish the field guides for participatory urban designers everywhere.
Also, for a more in depth view of Banjarmasin’s waterfront communities and interviews with residents, check out our fieldwork micro-documentary from last summer:
Post, photos, and movie by Stephen Kennedy and Alice Shay. The two are current masters students at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, where they focus on city design and development strategies.