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The Gang 'Z' story 1:Mama Mia!

Research about those actors of the casual economy (sometimes known as the informal economy, such as pedagang kaki lima (five-legged traders), starling (bicycle coffee vendors) etc, definitions which can be found in our kosakota) was the basis for our reports series (2016-2017) which can be read here.

As it turns out the story continues, beginning with our discovery of the well-defined organisational system with which those informal sector actors and citizens manage their collective interests in line with the conditions of each local administrative area.

One of the collective coordinators which we encountered and invited to discuss a range of issues is Mama Mia, an affectionate name given by the local traders to Ibu Mia, who currently holds the chief position of RT (local administrative division) 04, Karet-Kuningan in Central Jakarta’s Setiabudi district.

Based on what Mama Mia told us, the strategic trading location between the major office buildings of Jalan Jenderal Sudirman and the dense kampung space of Karet-Kuning has great economic potential, however also carries the high risk of potential eviction and likely gentrification.

Even now, from the 21 local administrative divisions which used to comprise the larger administrative zone, three of the most strategic for trading have already been ‘lost,’ converted to office buildings or associated services and facilities.

The relationship between casual economic actors and the organised, formal offices in the aforementioned area is one of love and hate, a dependency which is not always fully appreciated. The informal traders are often identified as a source of general disorder, a blockage of road access and a cause of unhygienic conditions in the area because of discarded trash or food waste, but is that really the case?

Regarding the relationship between Karet’s traders and office workers, the traders appear more familial, members of a single community with shared needs and concerns. The traders, view the office workers as loyal customers and a regular source of income, while the office workers, in turn, regard the trader community as reliable suppliers of a range of delicious food and drink options for lunch (breakfast and dinner, too, of course!) at a guaranteed reasonable price. This symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship between the traders and their customers is nevertheless often a source of conflict, because of the shortage of available space for activities in the crowded Karet streets. Every inch of land in this central area is already put to use according to the priorities of big investors.

As of now, Kampung Karet provides spaces of refuge for the informal sector actors and their enterprises in Jakarta; foodstuffs, drinks, household items and other things which can oftentimes be found lacking in the city’s formalised spaces. More than this, the communities of Kampung Karet, through the presence of coordinators like Mama Mia, provide the collective protection of an effective organisational structure so that the aforementioned areas can become truly active, social spaces, supporting people’s lives and livelihoods, rather than only those local to the area. Indeed, thousands of formal sector workers enjoy the benefits from the presence of the aforementioned ‘casual economy.’

Mama Mia is just one of the important actors from a multitude of components in this informal social and economic network, helping ensure urban spaces are more pleasant, more conducive to economic opportunity, and ultimately more sustainable.

At this moment, Mama Mia and the dozens of traders for which she has assumed responsibility are both confused and somewhat anxious; notice of a new policy of eviction, or perhaps relocation, is being introduced to the trading spaces of the city’s most strategic areas, under the policy mantle of formal urban infrastructure development. Will Mama Mia’s strategy, and those of others like her, be able to handle these changes, to succeed in the centre of the city? Follow our coverage of Karet 2.0.

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