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Developing informality: The production of Jakartaʼs urban waterscape

Michelle Kooy
UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands; and the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam; m.kooy@unesco-ihe.org

ABSTRACT: This paper argues the need for new conceptualisations of the relationship between water and development to better reflect the reality of cities in the Global South. Using a case study of Jakarta, Indonesia, it traces how the development narrative for urban water supply contributed to the understanding of informality as a binary opposite of the urban infrastructural ideal (undeveloped, temporary, transitional). The paper explores the implications of this framing as they emerged through the outcomes of the largest international development intervention in Jakartaʼs water supply in the 1990s, which culminated in the current private-sector concession contracts. The case illustrates how informality in Jakartaʼs water supply should be understood not as a failure of the state, technology, or development to achieve the urban infrastructural ideal, but rather as a particular mode of urbanisation that was reliant on, and productive of, a range of informal practices. Given the current heterogeneity in water supply strategies in many cities of the Global South, we need to accept the so-called informal as an enduringly dominant, rather than a remnant, mode of supply, and attend to ways in which the codification of informal practices reveal a more nuanced politics of access that reflect complex realities of southern urban waterscapes.

KEYWORDS: Urban water, informality, governmentality, development narratives, World Bank, Indonesia