“Cities on Foot”: Rethinking How Pedestrians Move About in Megacities

Jalan Sabang, Menteng, Central Jakarta

After Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta is the second most populous city in Southeast Asia. Population growth, as many urban cities in the region have experienced over the years, can challenge a government’s ability to provide adequate and practical infrastructure for its citizens. The presence of an inclusively-designed pedestrian walkway, in particular, is beneficial not only for facilitating people’s mobility from one point to the next, but can also promote a healthy lifestyle.

While the Jakarta City Government has developed and revitalised several pedestrian walkways in the city, in some places proper walkways are still missing. The “Cities on Foot” workshop, recently organised by CreativeMornings Jakarta, Plaza Indonesia, and Urban Guerrilla, sought to address this issue. Lia, one of our research assistants with a portfolio in urban design, participated in the workshop and shared her feedback with our team during a catch-up session at the Lab.

First, a bit on how the workshop was structured…

Participants were divided into three groups at the start of the workshop, each group consisting of 10 individuals. The case study for this workshop was Jalan Sabang located in Menteng, Central Jakarta. The facilitators briefed the participants, by explaining the social and cultural contexts of the location as a culinary centre and one of the historic sites in the city. Each group was given a supply of maquette and art and craft materials (such as scissors, glue, papers, etc.), along with a base map of Jalan Sabang.

To add the human element to the design, each participant was presented with a Lego mini-figure to function as a “user” or pedestrian on the street. So for example, within each group, the participants had to decide on their roles as a vendor, patron, passerby, artist, among others. The underlying objective was to brainstorm and come up with ideas on how to improve the pedestrian experience on Jalan Sabang, based on its existing conditions and the users.

Participants designing a mock-up to improve Jalan Sabang pedestrian walkway

Additionally, each team was tasked with identifying one main concept for a kind of intervention. Lia’s team decided on Jalan Kenangan (memory lane), considering the street’s historical values and the potential it holds to become a space for cultural activities in Jakarta. The maquette-making exercise lasted for 40 minutes, fusing the concept that each team came up with. Using the supply of materials provided, some of the groups created miniatures of faux trees, benches, amphitheaters, vacant lands, pop-up galleries, mural spaces, in addition to several other features they thought would be ideal for the location.

The next step was for the participants to place their Lego pieces along the strip and express their aspirations based on their unique profiles. The groups presented their mock-ups and took a few minutes to walk each other through the reasoning behind each design.

“It was an all in all fun workshop, but the insights themselves were also meaningful.”

This workshop was particularly interesting for us at Pulse Lab Jakarta, given our recent collaboration with Participate in Design, compiling approaches to urban data collection and design from around the world, as well as our focus on using human centered design.

The “Cities of Foot” workshop borrowed elements from participatory design (which also reminded us of the hyperlocal participatory planning guide we put together). One of the examples from the guide highlights how citizens’ involvement in North Jakarta has improved community-level data and informed development priorities, so with this workshop focused on improving a popular pedestrian walkway in Central Jakarta, we were happy again to see another instance of Jakarta taking the lead.

In this case, the users (the Lego figures) are involved in each aspect of the decision making process, where their needs are all considered. By involving the users in the process, the designers have the opportunity to understand their needs and accommodate them into the design. Interesting enough, this approach is antithetical to conventional architectural / urban design practices, which place an emphasis on the designers’ perspectives. But this workshop managed to neatly introduce the participatory approach to the group of participants, which included architects, designers and developers.

The benefits of participatory design in urban planning is not limited to the accommodation of the people’s needs; the individuals who are involved in the process generally cultivate a sense of belonging and ownership to the area that they design. Research has shown where this can be helpful in reducing crimes, building a sense of community, and forging stronger social integration. User involvement can also encourage participation in the democratic process, in which they can voice their concerns, ideas, and aspirations, as well as listen and respond to others in return.

Nevertheless, there was one caveat — the entire workshop was conducted in a short period of time. Thus, participants did not have the chance to fully understand the users and empathise with their needs and conditions. The needs of the users were outlined by limited assumptions, and this is a critical point that needs to be highlighted for improvement in real-life participatory design. In many cases, the designers assume the needs of the users based on profiles rather than immersing themselves to gain a holistic understanding. It is true that sometimes the assumptions are correct (and the design will work properly), but in other cases they are wrong and will flat out fail.

Lia’s final takeaway? When it comes to urban design, it is important to really understand the users first, before we even begin to design or model any infrastructure for them.


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia.