Kota Kita: facilitating citizen-led urban development

In the first of a new series looking at how the people and organisations that IIED is working with are successfully creating change, we profile Kota Kita, an Indonesian non-profit that aims to make Indonesian cities accessible, safe and climate-resilient places for all.

Article, 22 February 2022
AB Consultants logoOrganisation: Kota Kita
Founded: 2010
Location: Indonesia
Sector: Urban planning
Number of employees: 18
Website: www.kotakita.org

The Kota Kita team! Click on the photo to expand it (Photo: copyright Kota Kita)

Across the developing world, cities are booming, expanding rapidly and haphazardly. Indonesia exemplifies this trend, with the fastest urbanisation rates in Southeast Asia. The World Bank estimates that by 2025, 177 million Indonesians, or 68% of the population, will live in urban areas.

But despite Indonesia's remarkable economic progress, many people living in Indonesian cities face daily challenges: high levels of inequality, overcrowding, pollution and inadequate infrastructure. Many cities are situated in low-lying coastal areas and are highly exposed to climate shocks such as flooding, subsidence and erosion.

Disadvantaged people – children, people with disabilities, the elderly and people living in unplanned and informal settlements – are most at risk.

How can these new growing urban areas be made safe, well-planned and climate-resilient?

How our allies and collaborators create change

As part of IIED’s 50th birthday celebrations, we are showcasing some of the many organisations we are working with around the world on issues ranging from climate resilience to energy access.

Read how Prakriti Resources Centre, a non-profit think tank in Nepal, combines policy, research and capacity building to bring climate change action to the local level.

Team members from Kota Kita and Global Disability Innovation take part in a journey mapping exercise as part of co-designing a workshop (Photo: copyright Kota Kita)

A vision of 'cities for all'

The non-profit organisation Kota Kita Foundation (Kota Kita translates as 'our city' in English) works with the people living in Indonesian cities to improve local services and create more sustainable, resilient urban areas. Kota Kita is driven by a vision of 'cities for all', with residents at the heart of the decision-making processes that shape their living environments.

Kota Kita has its origins in a participatory mapping project in the city of Solo in 2009. Ahmad Rifai, now Kota Kita's executive director, and co-founder John Taylor developed a 'mini atlas' project, going into city neighbourhoods and working with residents to map their local assets.

These ranged from where they get their water and how children get to school, to local employment opportunities and access to public services. This information was printed up and widely shared with residents to help local people identify their priorities for action.

That intensive, locally-led information gathering remains a cornerstone of Kota Kita's work, but today the organisation also works on a wide range of urban issues, including water provision, disabled access and climate resilience.

Watch executive director Ahmad Rifai discuss Kota Kita's work

Much of their work involves getting local people, particularly those who are vulnerable and marginalised, involved in addressing the barriers and risks they face.

In the city of Banjarmasin they are working with city officials to promote Banjarmasin as a more inclusive city. In 2018/19, Kota Kita partnered with UNESCO to improve the city's data on disability by undertaking participatory data collection. Kota Kita documented nearly 4,000 people with disabilities living in the city. Almost half of the respondents said they only left their homes for school or work because of the difficulties of accessing transport. Nearly a third (29%) said they had to rely on carers to move around the city, severely restricting their ability to participate in society.

Building on these results, Kota Kita initiated the TUMI Inclusive Banjarmasin project, which aims to improve mobility and accessibility in the city with support from the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI), GIZ and the Asian Development Bank.

Three pilot projects include a collaboration with universities and vocational schools to develop a process for retrofitting motorcycles as three-wheeled vehicles that people with disabilities can use; a safe and inclusive school zone co-designed with students which features accessible pavements, safer street crossings and street furniture that guides students along safe routes; as well as a community-based waste management system.

Disabled voices in climate change. Watch a video produced by Kota Kita and Global Disability Innovation Hub

The 18-strong team at Kota Kita uses many approaches: providing information to residents, doing ground-level research and facilitating citizen participation in decision-making and collective action. An important element of their work is mediation: building bridges between city officials and their constituencies.

We pay attention to how we do things, rather than just focusing on what we can achieve – Vanesha Manuturi, Kota Kita's communications and advocacy manager

Vanesha Manuturi, Kota Kita's communications and advocacy manager, says the organisation keeps its core focus on facilitation in all its work. She says: "We don't necessarily focus on just having a solution, but on how can the process itself become sustainable and inclusive enough to bear a meaningful solution?

"That's one of our strengths as an organisation, in that we pay attention to the process. We pay attention to how we do things, rather than just focusing on what we can achieve. How can we do it in a different way? How do we do it in a more inclusive way?"

Working with IIED

Building city resilience to climate change is an urgent task across Asia. Extreme heat and rainfall events are becoming more frequent and dangerous, while subsidence caused by excessive ground water extraction is exacerbating flood risks.

Kota Kita and IIED have collaborated since 2012, including on producing reports on urban climate change, climate change vulnerability assessments and prioritising women’s perspectives in city-level resilience initiatives.

More recently, Kota Kita worked with IIED and partners to deliver technical assistance for an Asian Development Bank project on 'Building resilience of the urban poor'. Kota Kita was IIED's key partner in Indonesia, engaging with municipal and national stakeholders, facilitating workshops and preparing a country report that identifies five pro-poor policy areas that can provide a framework for securing, sustaining and scaling-up climate resilience for the urban poor. The report was published in January 2022.

"Kota Kita is hugely committed to making cities in Indonesia and around Southeast Asia more equitable and sustainable. They have deep knowledge of how to involve people in cities in making decisions that shape urban futures, and they have an enthusiastic and dynamic team who are a pleasure to work with" – David Dodman, director, Human Settlements research group, IIED

Connect with Kota Kita

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @kotakitaorg
Facebook: facebook.com/solo.kota.kita