Human-Centered City Facilities | Big Bold Cities

Human-Centered City Facilities

One-stop (and child-friendly) shops for the lives of families

three colored squaresHuman-Centered City Facilities


The city administration under former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama viewed public space as a lever to lift up neighborhoods. This was anchored in a holistic vision for what citizens need and what they can contribute. “Our governor wants people to look after each other, through the parks,” a member of his staff said in 2016. Child-Friendly Integrated Public Spaces (RPTRA) were conceived to leverage limited public land and integrate social service delivery by layering more than a dozen functions (not all of which are city services) into a neighborhood facility—including recreation, disaster service, baby weighing, marriages, lactation space, a library, a pantry, toilets, gardens, fish farming, health consultation space and reflexology walks. Most importantly, the spaces are intended to be welcoming to women and children. Jakarta’s public housing complexes are also integrated with six services: child-friendly open space, waste processing, early childhood education, health centers, urban farming and mass transit.

Democratic Challenge

The persistent barriers that women, low-income populations, and other marginalized communities face when accessing opportunity are an affront to democracy. Not least, women and children often find it physically dangerous to navigate urban public spaces and access work, education or civic meetings. And as megacities swell in size and density, the challenge of extending services and opportunities to all becomes more and more complex. For cities seeking to meet that challenge, designing inclusive access points becomes crucial--both online and in physical public spaces. Who designs the space? For whom is it designed? Who will use it, and how? Does it reflect bureaucratic structures--with separate access points for recreation, commerce, employment, housing, education, etc.--or does it focus on providing whatever the user needs, easily and quickly? Is the space safe and welcoming for women and children? Is it accessible to people with disabilities? Failure to contend with these questions and to include citizens in placemaking for public spaces all but guarantees that access to services and opportunities will continue to be inequitable.

How’d They Do That?

The spouse of the Jakarta governor traditionally serves as chair of the Jakarta Family Welfare Movement (PKK.) Former first lady Veronica Tan used that platform to initiate a plan to build a network of safe public spaces in residential areas to make Jakarta more child-friendly. Green space, one of the indicators in UNICEF’s UKID Index, has declined precipitously as the city has grown, from 77.8 percent of Jakarta’s total area in 1973 to just 9.8 percent in 2013. District regulations now set a green-space target of 30 percent.

The first six pilot centers, called Child-Friendly Integrated Public Spaces (RPTRA), were built in 2015 after lengthy public consultation processes in which designers and sociologists talked with local residents. Requests ranged from music practice rooms to futsal courts, and open multi-purpose spaces were included to accommodate a wide range of uses and allow for adaptation. However, the city became frustrated with the consultation process and announced that it would scale back public input, citing social divisions allegedly fueled by “irresponsible” and non-resident community organizations.

By early 2017, Jakarta had more than 180 RPTRA centers, and the city announced plans for 200 more. According to the Kompas newspaper, two-thirds of the existing RPTRA were built with city funds, and one-third with private “non-budget” funds. This is part of Indonesia’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) framework, and companies sponsoring RPTRAs have naming rights.

In addition to meeting green-space goals, the RPTRA and public-housing compounds are intended to serve three strategies of the district government:

1. Maximize public lands

Since the government of Jakarta is constrained in its ability to acquire land, it seeks to make public spaces multifunctional—such as a dam that provides flood mitigation and recreation.

2. Empower frontline workers

The RPTRA facilities are intended to serve as a home base for subdistrict heads, the city’s sanitation and maintenance managers. Although the lurahs’  duties currently consist of things like removing posters, filling potholes, clearing drainage channels and fixing streetlights, Jakarta officials spoke of empowering these frontline workers to serve as overall ’estate managers,’ paternal or maternal figures who are deeply embedded in the neighborhood and can provide rapid responses to flooding, fire, illness, job loss and other family emergencies. “For RPTRA facilities, we would like to have the members of the community who truly care about the community, they can participate as managers of the estate,” a planning official said in 2016. “We hope in the future that individuals will come forward and will volunteer to be managers of the facilities.” This expansion of the role of subdistrict heads was implicated in the city’s performance-management scheme.

3. Fuel virtuous cycles

In the view of Ahok’s administration, everything was connected. Lactation services are ultimately about boosting the city’s human capital, a member of the former governor’s staff explained. How so? Without lactation spaces, women escape their crowded homes to nurse in the street, exposing infants to pollution which could negatively affect their cognitive development. Therefore, providing a sort of welcoming ‘blank space’ for the services that individuals need -- regardless of whether those services are provided or regulated by the city -- promotes the general welfare.

How’s It Going?  

Evolving platform

RPTRAs provide open platforms for community activities and city staff development, in response to local ideas and requests. Some centers are serving as hubs for arts and culture or fitness. In March 2017, facilities managers were trained in storytelling to enrich their interactions with children visiting the parks.


The neighborhood ‘playgrounds’ are often cited as one of Ahok’s signature accomplishments and a sign that Jakarta was becoming cleaner and friendlier. His (ultimately unsuccessful) re-election campaign highlighted the project frequently as part of a bid to woo Jakarta’s women voters, who cast ballots in higher rates than men.


Managing Public Input

The administration’s frustration with its initial foray into robust public consultation demonstrates the challenge of designing an input process that allows open community dialogue and exchange of ideas, but manages citizen expectations and drives residents toward consensus rather than competition and conflict.

Finding Space

RPTRAs were designed to maximize limited space by layering services, but space is still hard to come by. Construction of RPTRAs has in some cases been tied up with the city’s aggressive policy to evict people from public lands, often in the name of clearing flood zones. In one instance, the city razed an infamous red-light district, Kalijodo, and displaced more than 3,000 people from their homes in order to reclaim the land and develop an RTPRA. (The completed center has a skate park, BMX track and indoor soccer field.) The city noted that residents had been living insecurely in a flood zone, but human-rights activists criticized the eviction policy and action.

Adequate Human Resources

Jakarta’s concept for the community centers is high-touch and envisions having a large force of workers and volunteers from the local neighborhood to proactively manage services for families in the catchment area. But as the project scales up, resources inevitably become stretched. in February 2017, the city announced that it wanted to develop a high-tech monitoring system to replace paper-based reporting for RPTRAs, because of a lack of human resources.

Intersection of Public and Private Interests

The decision to build RPTRA centers with private money raised some concerns about whether the public spaces would be dominated by corporate interests and advertising, as well as questions about the proper use of CSR funds, which are intended to offset a business’s externalized costs.

Who Else Is Trying This

Ngozi, Burundi

Several areas of Burundi feature high rates of child poverty, malnutrition and mortality. In an effort to address these problems, several NGOs and UNICEF have joined forces to create an integrated drop-in center featuring a social worker’s office, a psychologist’s office, an office for legal assistance, and a dispensary with a nurse, as well as a library, a sports field, a multipurpose room and latrines and showers

Throughout India

Started by the Government of India in 1975, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has been instrumental in improving the health and wellbeing of mothers and children under six by providing health and nutrition education, health services, supplementary food, and pre-school education. These services are provided from Anganwadi centers established mainly in rural areas and staffed with frontline workers. There are an estimated 1.3 million Anganwadi operating throughout rural India. The ICDS national development program is one of the largest in the world. It reaches more than 34 million children aged 0-6 years and 7 million pregnant and lactating mothers.

New York City, New York, United States

New York is home to America’s largest public school district, with nearly 1.1 million students served by over 1,500 schools. More than 75% are in poverty as measured by the Department of Education, and many students have limited access to health care services. New York City operates more than 120 School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs), many of which provide a vertically-integrated suite of services above and beyond those of a typical school nurse, including education in preventative care for parents and guardians, dental care, optometry services and reproductive health services.

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New York City Department of Education
New York City Department of Education
Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina

In the late 1990s, Rosario initiated the “City of Children” project, based on the concept that a city will be “safe, navigable, and livable” for all citizens if it is designed to be so for children, its neediest inhabitants. The project included a Children’s Council to allow kids and adult supervisors to develop public works that encourage democratic engagement through fun; an annual day of play, complemented by citywide game fairs and more permanent play-oriented public spaces; and a feedback mechanism for children to submit their ideas for further innovation (Lerner, Josh. Making Democracy Fun: How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics. MIT Press, 2014).