Scholarly article on topic 'Communal Toilet as a Collective Spatial System in High Density Urban Kampung'

Communal Toilet as a Collective Spatial System in High Density Urban Kampung Academic research paper on "Social and economic geography"

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Abstract of research paper on Social and economic geography, author of scientific article — Yandi Andri Yatmo, Paramita Atmodiwirjo

Abstract Living in a high density urban kampung with limited space and resources has created a challenge on how to meet the demand of services for basic everyday activities within the available space. Various collective spatial systems in urban kampung represent some important strategies of the communities in dealing with their limited situation. This paper addresses the existence of communal toilet system in urban kampung, as a collective spatial system developed by the community. The study identifies various spatial strategies incorporated within the communal toilet system, as well as social structures embedded within the spatial practice. The understanding of spatial and social system in the communal toilet system might provide some insights for the development of spatial strategies that are appropriate for urban kampung communities.

Academic research paper on topic "Communal Toilet as a Collective Spatial System in High Density Urban Kampung"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 36 (2012) 677 - 687

AcE-Bs 2011 Bandung

ASEAN Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies, Savoy Homann Bidakara Bandung Hotel, Bandung, Indonesia, 15-17 June 2011

Communal Toilet as a Collective Spatial System in High Density Urban Kampung

Yandi Andri Yatmo* and Paramita Atmodiwirjo

Department of Architecture, Universitas Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia


Living in a high density urban kampung with limited space and resources has created a challenge on how to meet the demand of services for basic everyday activities within the available space. Various collective spatial systems in urban kampung represent some important strategies of the communities in dealing with their limited situation. This paper addresses the existence of communal toilet system in urban kampung, as a collective spatial system developed by the community. The study identifies various spatial strategies incorporated within the communal toilet system, as well as social structures embedded within the spatial practice. The understanding of spatial and social system in the communal toilet system might provide some insights for the development of spatial strategies that are appropriate for urban kampung communities.

© 2012 Published b y El sevier B.V. Sel ection and/or peer-review un der responsibility of Centre eor Environment-Behaviour Studies(cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture , Planning re Surveying,Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia

Keywords: Urban kampung; community; spatial, strategies; toilet

1. Introduction

Human living environment represents an inter-play between physical entities and social structure. A comprehensive inquiry into human spatial environment requires an understanding on the role of society in

* Corresponding author. E-mail address

1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier B.V. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies(cE-Bs),

Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia


the production of space (Lefebvre, 1991), and a realization that architectural space is not merely a product of architects and planners (Borden et al, 2001). A new dimension of seeing and understanding our urban environment is needed in order to comprehend various spatial strategies that emerge within the process of spatiality. It becomes important to uncover the everyday spatial practice for better comprehension of architectural space within its social contexts. " acknowledgement of the everyday, with its engaged actions and occupations, inevitably leads to recognition of the political and social content of architectural production" (Wigglesworth and Till, 1998: 9).

This is particularly relevant when discussing the urban spatial process within the context of third world cities, with various layers of issues related to poverty, inadequate spaces and limited resources. This paper addresses the need to discover the spatial strategies that incorporate the social dimension of living space, as practiced by urban kampung communities living with limited spaces and resources. Urban kampung represents a spatial process involving space, human needs and social relations. The existence of urban kampung neighbourhood may represent a meaningful territory for its residents which provide services as well as settings for social relations (Schnell and Goldhaber, 2001).

Urban kampung has become a setting for urban living for a large proportion of urban population in many third world countries, including Indonesia. This underprivileged group of people has been continuously forced to adjust with the deprived environmental condition of urban housing. Living in a high density urban kampung is not an easy option for the occupants, with limited dwelling space, poor environmental quality and lack of basic services. A major challenge is on how to meet the demand of adequate space and services for basic everyday activities within the available space.

Collective strategies often become a logical consequence in responding to the limited space and resources. One of the strategies practiced by urban kampung communities is the communal use of the sanitation facilities. Sanitation problems is evident in many countries in the world, as suggested by the fact that currently around 39% of the global population do not have access to proper sanitation facilities, and around 72% of them live in Asia (WHO and UNICEF, 2010). In many countries, shared sanitation facilities become the only possible solution for providing access to sanitary facilities in community situation with high density settlements and low income communities.

2. Understanding Collective Spatial Strategies

Space should not be seen merely as formal material entities; embedded within the space is the spatial practice of the people occupying the space - as the subjects in the space. The use of the term 'subjects' rather than 'users' or 'inhabitants' (Borden et al, 2001) emphasises on the important role of the social actors in the production of the space (Lefebvre, 1991). Space is considered as a resultant of activities practiced by the subjects, which actively produce the space. A parallel understanding on the importance of spatial practice is also outlined in the comprehension of neighbourhood as the "locations where human activity is centered upon social reproduction; or daily household activities, social interaction, and engagement with political and economic structures" (Martin, 2003: 365).

Active spatial practice by the subjects also represents their capabilities in producing, appropriating and transforming the space they live within. There are "the 'potential energies' of groups act to transform and create new social spaces" (Borden et al, 2001: 17), suggesting that the space is produced and reproduced by the collective actions of the subjects. The importance of collective action is demonstrated in the capabilities of the community in organising collective actions, which are often useful to generate solution to the problems in their living space. This becomes particularly important for underprivileged groups with various problems and lack of resources.

There are various examples of community collective action for gaining access and creating better quality of life. The community capacity could create strategies to gain access to housing, by gathering

community internal strength and external relations (Oldfield, 2000). A group of people in low-income settlement develop the system of "people's tanks" as a solution to water shortage (Ahmed and Sohail, 2003). The solution illustrates the potential of collective strategies, despite the existence of issues and challenges that open possibilities for improvement, in terms of technical qualities, supply and distribution system. Another example is the community greening initiative as a collective strategy in responding to the limited green space in urban environment (Inerfeld and Blom, 2002).

The examples above suggest that the emergence of collective strategies is particularly prominent among the communities with some disadvantages - in terms of economics, spaces and access to services. Therefore it becomes necessary to uncover the collective spatial practice as a way to understand the exchange among space, inhabitants, their needs and collective potentials.

In understanding how the collective strategies may contribute to the production of spatiality in particular communities, there is a need to discover the details of everyday practice. Very often the core of the everyday practice is rooted in the familiar action, which seems ordinary but incorporating various dimensions of community social structure. The closer look into the details of the everyday practice may bring forward to the understanding of the layers behind the visible practice. ".even the most apparently mechanical forms of social order that seem to function without design, contingency, or intentionality but simply the force of routine - what we used to call habit - involve large amount of deliberate attention, effort, and labor. Part of that attention, effort, and labor is involved in collective ideas of what is possible" (Appadurai, 2003 : 46). Therefore the understanding of everyday practice would discover how the collective ideas are represented spatially, and how the appropriation of space might be seen as a collective social action among the inhabitants of the space.

Understanding everyday spatial practice is an understanding of the possibilities and the potential appropriation of spaces. Everyday spatial practice may contain complex living patterns and relations behind the everyday activities that seem to be routine and ordinary. "Yet these, and other, spaces of the familiar are there to be claimed and transformed into settings of extraordinary potential" (Wigglesworth and Till, 1998: 9). However, the very familiar practice in the familiar space might be something often overlooked and thus becoming unknown. To uncover the practice, it is necessary to dig beneath the surface to discover the unexpected (Borden et al, 2001). At the same time, the unknown and the unexpected "maybe all too visible, right in front of our eyes, buried in the underlying infrastructure of everyday lives..." (Pile, 2001: 264) and thus the reality of the practice could be found in what appears on the surface.

This study is an attempt for a closer look into the collective spatial system that emerged within the urban kampung community in the forms of communal toilet, through an inquiry into the everyday spatial practice related to the communal toilet.

3. Methods

The study was conducted in an urban kampung neighbourhood unit in Semper Barat, North Jakarta, Indonesia. The area is one of the 'poverty pockets' in Jakarta, representing the living spaces of many underprivileged groups of people. The study area is primarily characterised by small dwelling units, the majority are rented, single-room dwelling units, with narrow alleys as the circulation spaces around the area. The housing condition in the study area is generally far from satisfactory, with limited dwelling space for the residents, poor quality living space and lack of access to basic services including water and sanitary facilities. The study is focused on communal toilet units located in the study area.

Fig.1. The study area in Semper Barat, North Jakarta

The study was an exploratory study, using qualitative methods as a way to identify and explore the existing system as occurred in everyday life of the community. In particular the study is a detailed inquiry into the community toilet in the Semper Barat neighbourhood, to identify the spatial system embodied in it and the spatial practice that is produced by the actors and activities as the everyday users of the communal toilet.

The study was conducted through close and detailed observation to reveal the everyday spatial patterns and activity patterns that are associated with the communal toilet. The method is developed based on the understanding that in the closer study into the details of the spatial practice, it is necessary to "be explicit about what particular activity or activities are being undertaken: what are the energies deployed, what patterns do they create, what objects do they produce..." (Borden et al, 2001: 18). In addition, a study of community and its spatiality requires an understanding of social action and social structure which construct the community space, including the actors involved and their agendas (Martin, 2003).

The study of the communal toilet include the detailed observation of physical spaces and activities of the communal toilet system, complemented by in-depth interviews with the residents to reveal social and behavioural dimensions related to the communal toilet system. The study of the space included the space of the toilet units, the physical amenities and the surrounding neighbourhood as the living space of the residents. The study of the activities included the users, the patterns of uses and activities, as well as relationship between the users and the space. The findings on the communal toilet system were then compiled and represented through the mapping of the toilet as spatial elements and the mapping of the everyday utilisation patterns. These data become the basis in concluding the spatial system as represented by the relationship between the actors, the physical space, and the collective actions underlying the spatial strategies of the community.

4. Results and Discussions

4.1. The role of communal toilet in urban kampung neighbourhood

The existence of the communal toilet provides important access to sanitary services for the residents in the area. The majority of the dwellings - especially the rental units - have very limited living space, usually only one room for all daily living activities. The owners of the rental dwelling units do not normally provide bathroom or toilet for each unit. The needs for sanitary facilities are met by shared bathroom/toilet built for certain groups of rental dwelling units (usually one bathroom/toilet provided for 3-5 units) or by the public communal toilet consisting of a number of cubicles used by many residents

around the area. The communal toilet examined in this study was built by a male resident who owns a number of rental dwelling units in the area. The owner initially built the toilet to cater for the needs of the people renting his units. However, in further everyday practice, the toilet has also been used by other people and finally become a toilet accessible for the whole community in the area. Figure 2 illustrates the dwelling units who normally utilised the communal toilet. The primary users are the residents living in the dwelling units located close to the toilet. Some people living quite far from the toilet also use it since there are no facilities provided for them.

Communal toilet dwelling units served by Communal toilet

Fig. 2. Communal toilet provides services for many dwelling units

The finding suggests that the communal toilet provides services for no less than 30 households, thus become one of the important service provision in the area. The communal toilet has emerged as a respond to the limited space for dwelling unit. The needs for providing low-cost dwelling units have impact on the inadequacy of private sanitary facilities, which was then responded by the provision of communal toilet. The fact suggests that the lack of services becomes trigger for the community to organize the provision of services in through collective action.

4.2. The physical space and service provision of communal toilet

The physical space of the communal toilet consists of six toilet cubicles: three large cubicles designated for bathing and urinating/excreting, two small cubicles for urinating/excreting only, and one small cubicle for bathing only. There are also three other small cubicles which are not used as toilets but as storage spaces. Each toilet cubicle- both the large and small cubicle - consists of a squatting toilet on a platform elevated approximately 20 cm above the ground level. The floors are finished with blue ceramic tiles. Each cubicle has a door to provide privacy for the users. The cubicles are in a linear arrangement, facing an open space where people can stand in front of the door, queuing to use the toilet. In general the physical condition of the toilet is not very good, with some worn out and broken elements. Nevertheless it is the only communal toilet found in the neighbourhood, so it becomes the only choice for many residents with no provision of private toilets.

Fig. 3. Layout of the communal toilet and water sources

The toilet cubicles are not equipped with water. The needs for water are met by two water sources located around the communal toilet. The first source is a water storage pond located next to the toilet cubicles, storing the clean water from city piped water system. This water source was also provided by the owner of the communal toilet. The residents could collect the water using a bucket by paying an amount of money (Rp 500 per bucket). Residents could also pay weekly for regular collection of water. The second source is a well located around 15 metres from the communal toilet, from which the residents could collect the water for free. These two water sources become the important source of water for the residents, since the majority of the dwellings do not have access to clean water.

Fig. 4. Physical space of the communal toilet and water sources

4.3. Collective patterns of use in communal toilet

The communal toilet becomes a setting for various activities of the residents, including bathing, teeth cleaning, urinating, excreting and washing clothes. The existence of water sources also make the communal toilet becomes an important hub for obtaining water for daily use, both for use in the toilet and to bring to individual dwelling units for other domestics uses. Figure 5 illustrates various activity flows associated with communal toilet, showing the relationship between the communal toilet, water source and the residents.

1. Collect water from water tank, use for washing

2. Collect water from water tank, use for bathing

3. Collect water from water tank, use for excreting

4. Collect water from water tank, bring home for other uses

5. Collect water from well, use for bathing

6. Collect water from well, use for excreting

7. Bring water supply from home, use for bathing

8. Bring water supply from home, use for excreting

Fig.5. Various activity flows in communal toilet

Our observation suggests that there are at least 30 households from the surrounding dwelling units utilising the communal toilet. Approximate daily user of the communal toilet may reach 200. With only six toilet cubicles, there is definitely a need for regulating the use of the toilet in order to avoid long queues. During the observation of the communal toilet, we found that the community has developed an informal agreement on the pattern of use of the communal toilet which organise the use of the toilet by different section of communities at different times of the day. The communal toilet is open for use during the day, however, the opportunities for collecting clean water from the storage tank is limited to certain time period (from 06.00 to 11.00 in the morning and from 14.00 to 18.00 in the afternoon). These are the period of time when people normally take a bath and do domestic chores of washing.

The use of the communal toilet during early morning period (06.00-08.00) is primarily dominated by children, teenagers and male adults who take their morning bath before they go to school or work. Some female adults were also observed around the communal toilet for collecting clean water they need for various domestic uses and for water supply kept in their dwelling units. The total number of the users may reach 250, with the total number of clean water buckets collected is around 300. The use of the communal toilet in later morning period (08.00-11.00) is dominated by the female adults and younger children who are not in school yet. The main activities include washing clothes and bathing the young children, which are done in the space in front of the toilet cubicles. The total number of the users is around 60 and the total number of clean water bucket collected is around 140.

In the mid afternoon (11.00-14.00) there are fewer people and activities observed around the communal toilet. The piped water storage is closed during this period and the activities are primarily urinating or excreting, with the users bring the water supply they already have from their dwelling unit. Later in the afternoon (14.00-18.00) there are more activities around the communal toilet, similar to the early morning period, with the majority of people taking their afternoon baths. The users consist of male adults, female adults, teenagers and children. After dusk (18.00 until the following morning), there are hardly any activities in the communal toilet. There are only few people using the toilet for urinating/excreting, and there are also no clean water collections after the closing of the water storage tank at 18.00.

Fig.6. Patterns of communal toilet uses at different time of the day

The findings suggest that the use of the communal toilet is regulated by informal agreement among the community based on the realisation of needs and availability of resources at different time of the day. This regulating structure of space and time could be considered successful, as there are normally no long queues for the use of the toilets. The acknowledgement on the needs of children and working adults in the morning creates use priority for them in early morning period. Meanwhile, the female adults and the younger children normally use the communal toilet later after the male adults and children have left for work and school. This has created the certain time for domestic chores, primarily washing clothes and bathing the young children. This is also the period of time for other domestic chores like cooking and house cleaning, which also utilise the clean water collected from the storage. The use of the communal toilet in later afternoon period is rather relaxed with nobody needs to hurry for work or school.

Although there are not written rules on who can use the communal toilet at certain period of time, the informal agreement has been emerged naturally within the community, creating a kind of order in the use of the communal toilet. This has demonstrated the collective spatial meaning of neighbourhood as "locations where human activity is centered upon social reproduction; or daily household activities, social interaction, and engagement with political and economic structures" (Martin, 2003: 365). This also illustrates the uniqueness of communal toilet with the community's sense of belonging and control (Burra, Patel & Kerr, 2003). The structuring on the use of space and time is developed based on the needs of the communities, and the resources available as collective provision.

4.4. Social structure of owner, maintenance holder and users

Maintenance is an important issue in the management of communal toilet. This is particularly crucial because of the unique social structure of the neighbourhood with the majority of the residents as tenants, not the owners of the dwelling units. The communal toilet is owned by the owner of the rental dwelling units, but used by anybody regardless of whether they rent the units from him or not. This may raise a question of how the maintenance system should take place, and who should take the roles and responsibilities.

In everyday practice, the owner delegates the maintenance responsibility to one of his female tenant occupying a dwelling unit located close to the communal toilet. She takes responsibility in managing the collection and payment of the clean water and cleaning the communal toilet. During the period of time when people can collect water, she continuously fills the empty buckets with clean water, ready for people to collect and pay. She collects the money from the people buying the water and later on deposits the money to the owner. She also manages the water-related equipments, consisting of buckets and pulleys ('timba') used to collect water from the storage tanks. When not in use, the buckets and pulleys are stored in the dwelling units around the communal toilet, and it is her responsibility to collect the equipment when they will be used by the residents. She is also responsible for cleaning the toilet cubicles and the surrounding areas, including the drainage ditch. For all these chores she receives a small amount of weekly incentives from the owner.

I I gjjjjgç, of community toilet ri toilet attendance maintenance ^SSSUjÇiS units owned by

community toilet o^ner

Fig. 7. Social structure of the communal toilet maintenance system

Figure 7 illustrates the spatial relationship between the communal toilet, the owner, the toilet attendance/ maintenance and the users. The responsibility on the maintenance of the community toilet has somehow positions her into the role of 'patron' among the residents around the communal toilet. Her active role in everyday management of the communal toilet makes her become the person who everybody always need and seek. She becomes a center of contacts among many of the residents, since all clean water transactions always involve interactions with her - asking for buckets, collecting the water, paying money, returning the buckets after use. Her responsibility is also often extended beyond the maintenance of the toilet; she also takes care of the cleanliness of the areas surrounding the toilets. The informal position that she was assigned to by the owner has put her in the important role in the everyday life of the whole community.

4.5. Communal toilet as a collective spatial system

The findings above on the communal toilet in Semper Barat neighbourhood illustrate a complex spatial system practiced by the residents. It becomes clear that the understanding of everyday spatial practice is not a simple one. In fact, a close study of the spatial practice at a micro level would not simplify the understanding of the everyday but rather complicate it (Highmore, 2002). The findings in communal toilet in Semper Barat demonstrates collective spatial strategies involving various actors with different needs and various activities related to communal toilet emerged as basic human needs, and as a community response to their own needs and existing structure.

The clear structure in the pattern of use of the communal toilet, as well as the informal agreement on the use and maintenance of the communal toilet suggests the collective potential within the community in structuring their everyday living. It indicates that the communities have the potential capacity, which is structured by their particular internal strength and weakness (Oldfield, 2000). The collective capacity is triggered by the lack of basic sanitary services in the neighbourhood. It is clear that the collective action of the community is shaped by their "access to opportunities, poverty or wealth and sociocultural elements" (Oldfield, 2000: 869) that together determine the spatial practice of the communities towards the place where they live. Unfortunately, such potential of collective action is often underestimated and people tend to depend on the formal intervention from the government rather than optimise their own capacity for actions (Ahmed and Sohail, 2003).

This study has attempted to rediscover the spatial practice underlying behind the physical materiality of the communal toilet - which is physically has insufficient quality. However, the findings of the spatial practice - the facts beneath the surface - has brought forward the understanding of how the spatial practice is related to power relations, resistance to authority, domination, and exclusion (Pile, 2001). What happens in a space is definitely a product of the social action and activities, which may also represent how the society responds to the social situation surrounding them. The findings suggest that the collective spatial strategies embedded within the community toilet incorporate the ideas of resistance and appropriation which in turns determine the spatiality of the community. The collective actions in structuring the order in the communal toilet demonstrate how the actions by the residents can create a place "as a site of agency and resistance" (Martin, 2003: 371). The collective action found in the communal toilet is primarily aimed at optimising the resources available, whether in the forms of physical resources, social structure and organization. This is practiced through the space use organization, informal agreement regulating the use pattern and the social structure related to possession, maintenance and use.

5. Conclusion

The findings of this study indicate that the communal toilet system becomes a representation of spatial strategies emerged as a result of collective social structure in urban kampung, as well as a collective response to the limited dwelling space provision. The study suggests that the understanding of spatial and social system embedded in the communal toilet system might provide some insights for the development of spatial strategies that are appropriate for urban kampung communities. The insufficient quality of spatial environment in urban kampung would eventually invite various attempts for intervention for improvement. Such intervention requires an understanding of the spatial strategies that are well developed within the community.

The most important lesson from this study is that the communal toilet should be considered as a system developed by the community, and it is closely related to other system - neighbourhood space organisation, limited dwelling unit, patterns of activities of residents and social structure of the neighbourhood. By understanding such spatial system, any spatial intervention in urban kampung needs to be developed far beyond the upgrading of physical quality, but should be more grounded on the interdependence among space, inhabitants, and social structure as demonstrated in the communal toilet system.

The findings provide some direction into the development of 'standard' communal toilet that is appropriate for urban kampung communities, which incorporate physical quality, social aspects of the community, and the designation of community role and responsibility. In this way, the physical quality would not be seen as the solely indicators in determining the quality of services for urban kampung. Similar study would also be needed on various aspects of urban kampung everyday spatial practice. Only by comprehending the spatial practice through close inquiry would it be possible to develop appropriate strategies for improving the quality of life of urban kampung - not merely by introducing an intervention of physical materiality, but also by enhancing the community collective spatial actions and strategies.


The data reported in this paper is part of the research on healthy housing quality funded by Institutional Competitive Grant Programme (PHK-I) Universitas Indonesia, 2010. The authors would like to thank Kristanti Dewi Paramita and Renny Melina as research assistants in the field study in Semper Barat, North Jakarta.


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