Whose Version of “Smart”?

Bandung Creative City Forum (BCCF) was invited to take part in Asia-Pacific Week in Berlin in 2013, which brought up “Smart City” as the theme, in a traveling exhibition and a debate session. At that time, our understanding about the term “smart city” circulates around digital application for public facilities, full Internet access for communication purposes; mostly aims to make life more practical. The curator of the exhibition, Ulla Giesler, challenged us to define what is “smart” for our city by presenting one of our projects, and through a series of questions concerning the project, of which answers were then referred to as our main statement for our display and/or debate. I’m publishing them here since “Smart City” has now become one of those overused buzzwords – and it seems that some people (or worse, people with power, or authorities) are entranced by that term with less (or no) consideration on the essential foreground that needs to be firmly planted in the daily life of a society, before adding virtual aids.

For this Asia-Pacific Week in 2013, BCCF chose to present Helarfest2012. Helarfest, one of BCCF main programs, is a community festival that initiated the establishment of BCCF. In 2012, Helarfest was held based on the four typical elements of Bandung City: forest, park, kampung and river. Each element was activated by a number of creative communities, resulted in four event titles: Lightchestra (forest), Ulin.bdg (park), Kampong Festival (kampung) and River Cinema (river).

In short, “smart” for us refer to the capability of the citizens to fulfill their needs and to activate their own living habitat, sometimes using tools that are not necessarily digital or hi-tech, but they can even come in another forms, such as creativity, active involvement and initiatives.

Infographics on BCCF programs and activities from 2008 to 2013, responding to diverse urban issues (stated in middle circles)

Infographics on BCCF programs and activities from 2008 to 2013, responding to diverse urban issues (stated in middle circles)

Following are the questions and answers, and an overview on Helarfest2012.

1 How does your project “smarten up” your city?

All Helarfest sub-events in 2012 responded to urgent issues in Bandung, such as preservation of a city forest and revitalization of kampungs that have been enduring ecological and social pressures caused by rapid physical development of the city, by raising awareness towards the issues among local people, and encourage them to become active citizens who knows that they have all the rights to enjoy, create, activate and maintain their living space.

The projects “smarten up” Bandung by raising engagement through creative events and activation programs, these projects increased the confidence and sense of belonging of local citizens toward their habitat. With this new/revived relation, they become eager to learn about various simple yet creative ways to maintain their living space, i.e. keeping vertical gardens, not throwing garbage to the river, personalizing their neighborhood by painting mural arts, etc. These methods are relatively easy to duplicate and applied to different areas with diverse themes, and are expected to be contagious to the neighboring areas, initiated by local communities and conducted using local resources, as much as possible.

2 Why does your city need your project and what challenges are country‐specific to your urban context?

Similar to other growing cities in Indonesia, Bandung becomes highly populated and denser. However, the rapid population growth exceeds the city’s ability to provide adequate facilities for its citizens, including physical infrastructures and public services. Urgent issues that rose due to this condition include the decrease of environmental qualities that has caused disastrous flood, the absence of garbage and solid waste processing, substandard sidewalks and bike lanes, etc. These issues, added by the insufficient governance and lack of law enforcement, have become the common main challenges faced by growing cities in developing countries, including Indonesia.

On one hand, local people have become tolerant of such disorderly conditions and accepted them as the “new normal”. On the other hand, the facts that 68% of Bandung citizens are below 40 years of age, and that Bandung has around 50 colleges and universities, show that Bandung has the potential to produce active citizens. This is what makes it possible for Bandung to respond creatively to the urban issues.

3 What are the new behaviors your building/planning/initiative encourages?

The 2012 program focused on four elements of Bandung: forest, kampong, park and river, involving local people who live around those specific areas, with an objective to raise their responsibility toward their own urban habitat. The programs created in each sub-event encouraged people to understand their specific living space, and, most importantly, to become active urban citizens.

With the Lightchestra event, people take care of the city forest that is actually located at a busy part of the city, and can be easily accessed. During the Kampung Festivals, the inhabitants gained confidence and became motivated in maintaining their cornered neighborhood. In Ulin.bdg, children who are used to find entertainment in shopping malls, or play alone with gadgets and computers, could spend one weekend in a city park that provided a lot of adventure games and activities. Cikapundung River Cinema offered a new experience for people to watch movies for free, while appreciating the unique surroundings, due to the main river that slices Bandung in two. All these events encouraged people to enjoy public spaces in different settings, with different activities, and to gain a sense of belonging to the city.



Helarfest is an annual festival for creative communities held by Bandung Creative City Forum (BCCF). Helarfest started in 2008, when creative communities in Bandung gathered and agreed to make a common “umbrella” for their various events. As the result, in 2008, there were more than 30 events within 1,5 months in Bandung. Helarfest 2009 used similar format, which ended up with 67 events within 2,5 months. In 2010, Helarfest took a break. Instead, BCCF held Semarak.bdg, an event (with 7 sub-events within 1 month) that focused on the use of public space, creative intervention to public facilities, heritage building preservation, vehicle-free road, and other issues related to urban space. In 2011, BCCF collaborated with UNEP and The Indonesian Ministry of Environment as a creative consultant for TUNZA, an international conference for children and youth on environment. During this event, BCCF succeeded in having Babakan Siliwangi – an area with conflict of interests – declared as a World City Forest, and to build a canopy walk at the location (called ForestWalk), where people can enjoy walking among the high trees. In 2012 Helarfest was held again, focusing on Urban Acupuncture with the following themes, which were chosen according to the specific urban characteristics of Bandung: forest (Lightchestra), kampung (Kampung Kreatif), park (Ulin.bdg) and river (Cikapundung River Cinema). All events were held in coordination with BCCF, but each was organized and executed by different communities.


5-7 July 2012

At Babakan Siliwangi City Forest, Jalan Tamansari, Bandung

HELARFEST #1 : LIGHTCHESTRA – Music Festival, Light/Laser Show & Community

Organizer: Design Hub Indonesia

Lightchestra was the opening event for the whole Helarfest series, a music and light concert held in Babakan Siliwangi World City Forest. Design Hub Indonesia was a community of designers/ entrepreneurs that was in charge of this event, which included activities such as a photo contest, spontaneous painting (inviting artists from an artist compound that is located next to the forest), etc., inviting i.e. BULB (Barudak Urban Light Bandung) who makes light graffiti, Bandung Urban Jedi (“lightsaber fighter”), Sahabat WALHI that works with ecological issues in urban areas, Open Your He(Art) Studio that works with orphans, etc. The aim of this event was to re-introduce the World City Forest, which was declared one year before, to public. This forest has been in dispute due to the developing license given by the municipality to a company, which was said to have planned to build a restaurant, a mall and an apartment at the area. Therefore, it is hoped that people become aware of this available urban space, so they would use this inspiring green open space for various activities, to show the government and developer that people still need such space. The music and light concert invited indie band from Bandung, held at an arena in the forest that is used for traditional ram fight each first week of the month.


Creative Kampung program for 2012 involved 5 (five) kampungs or urban villages in Bandung; each needed different treatment, according to each potentials and characteristics. The five kampungs chosen for this program represented the entrance points to Bandung. These points are: Dago Pojok at the North (entrance to Bandung by car), Cicukang at the West (entrance to Bandung by train and airplane), Cicadas at the South (entrance to Bandung by car), LeuwiPanjang at the East (entrance to Bandung by city bus) and Tamansari that is located at among the most crowded areas in Bandung. A person responsible for this project was Rahmat Jabaril, an artist who has been living in one of these kampongs himself, but then brought the ideas to other kampongs in Bandung, which are mainly inhabited by people with low-income and who have substandard education levels.

Following are the considerations for this program:

  • Bandung has been known as a “creative city”, but upon entering Bandung, people rarely see any display of creativity from the infrastructure and conditions of Bandung. Therefore these entrance kampongs are chosen, with the hope that they could give positive impressions about Bandung at the first sight a visitor enters Bandung.
  • People who live in these urban-kampungs commonly range within the poverty line. However, the locations of their kampungs are strategic, and are mostly targeted by developers (assisted by the government) who would have them evacuated. Knowing this fact, the people of these kampungs have gradually become apathetic toward their own environment, since they kept being pushed by the physical development around them. Therefore, this program aimed to return their confidence by assisting them in discovering their potentials, with the hope that once they gain their confidence through programs that activate their neighborhood, they also gain the sense of belonging toward their habitat and hopefully would take a better care of their living environment.


10-11 November 2012 at Cilaki Park, Jalan Citarum


Organizer: HONG Community and EcoEthno

Ulin.bdg is a festival for traditional and adventurous games for children. This program meant to tackle two issues at the same time; one was the activation of parks as public space, another was to provide alternative activities for children who rarely have the chance to play outdoor or in a city park.


22 December 2012 at Cikapundung Barat


Organizer: House The House

This event was the closing of the whole Helarfest 2012, held at the bank of Cikapundung River that runs along the City of Bandung. An inflatable giant screen was the center of the event, as an open-air cinema, where indie short movies were projected for about 10 hours. Next to the screen, a stage was set up for live performances and another was set for food stalls, which were run by young culinary entrepreneurs. This event was held to make people realize the importance of Cikapundung River as the beginning of civilization that formed the City of Bandung, but somehow got neglected and gradually become a place where citizens throw any kind of garbage, which has caused damaged to the river’s quality.


All these events in Helarfest 2012 responded to the issues of public space and urban villages within the context of Urban Acupuncture, which is an effort to educate fellow inhabitants of Bandung to appreciate their living space by activating and maintaining their surrounding environment. For the condition of Bandung, active involvement of its citizens is important, since it is their contributions that define a city. Bandung can be seen as “smart” in a way that the city thrives due to the people and their creative potentials, despite the insufficient governance and infrastructures.

Here is the link to a video recording on the talk session at ANCB (Bandung is in Panel VI) http://www.ancb.de/sixcms/detail.php?id=9261829#.VSwCshmuvRc

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