INTERACT fellow Saskia Schaefer discusses upcoming April 18 event on Islamic Urbanism in Jakarta and Istanbul


Saskia Schaefer, 2013 – 2014 INTERACT Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern Southeast Asian Studies at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and part-time lecturer in Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, compares the dynamics between Islam and urbanism in Jakarta and Istanbul. On Friday, April 18, 2014, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life will present a full-day event, organized by Shaefer, that is dedicated to the topic “Islamic Urbanism?: Space, Consumption, and Development in Istanbul and Jakarta.” It will take place from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM in Knox Hall 509. 

 When the Gezi Park protests broke out last summer, I was teaching a class on Islam and Democracy at Humboldt Universität in Berlin. My students discussed the media coverage of the events. The Economist dedicated an issue on the protests, carrying the title: “Democrat or Sultan?,” and observers stressed the cliché schism between Islam and democracy. The more interesting question remains what the protests mean for a politically divided society. As a Southeast Asianist, I was also intrigued by something else: Why is there protest in Istanbul, but not in Jakarta? Public space is shrinking in most cities of the world; formerly public and often neglected areas are turned into shiny private houses, hotels, or business complexes. Whether I am in Istanbul, in Kuala Lumpur, or in Jakarta, schools seem to be moving out of the city centres, and parks seem to be turned into shopping malls. Ironically, the word ‘mall’ was once used for broad, tree-lined promenades. In Jakarta, a concrete jungle of more than 10 Million people, publicly accessible parks are rare. Rather than on tree-lined promenades, wealthy Jakartians take their weekend strolls along the air-conditioned tunnels that link the city’s network of glitzy shopping malls. They browse through silken headscarves and handbags that cost as much as whole houses in the outer islands. They often pay with supposedly Sharia-compliant credit cards. The poorer population feels lucky if they get to work as security personnel or cleaners in these places with their filtered air-systems. When the malls close at night, you’ll see that parts of the city’s pavements are home to those who are even poorer. They are shut out from the consumerist tunnels, and shut out from the gated communities that are mushrooming everywhere. Why then, I wondered, are there no protests in Jakarta?

Last fall, I had the chance to discuss this question with Karen Barkey, the Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life here at Columbia. We were intrigued by the disparity of protests and by the phenomena of Islamically-themed public spaces, such as in the form of Muslim gated communities. To learn more about the dynamics between Urbanism, Islam, and newly emerging middle classes, we invited a group of experts on the two cities to hold a panel discussion together. We want to look at the following questions:

Who are the main actors and engineers of current urban developments in major Indonesian and Turkish cities such as Istanbul and Jakarta? What visions of the cities’ futures drive them? Who are the protesters contesting these visions? How are Islam and consumption interconnected with regard to urban space? Who benefits and who suffers from the recent economic growth; what new elites are arising? What are the religious, ethnic and gender dynamics of the new middle classes?

In the full-day event with anthropologists, geographers, historians, and sociologists from Canada, France, Germany, Malaysia, Turkey, and the US, we will address these issues in two panels, one on Urban Planning, and one on Muslim Urban Lifestyles. Throughout the day, there will be ample opportunity to ask questions and to participate in the discussions.

The International Network to Expand Regional and Collaborative Teaching (INTERACT) is a pioneering program at Columbia University that focuses on developing global studies in the undergraduate curriculum through a network of postdoctoral scholars focused on cross-regional, trans-regional and interdisciplinary teaching. Through innovative courses and active involvement in all dimensions of campus intellectual life, the INTERACT scholars seek to improve global literacy among Columbia students and equip them to be leaders in a globalizing world. 


The Fourth Annual N.T. Wang Distinguished Lecture by Prof. Qiren Zhou



Read about and see pictures from the Fourth Annual N.T. Wang Distinguished Lecture by Qiren Zhou, Professor of Economics, the National School of Development, Peking University.  The February 5, 2014 event, moderated by Shang-Jin Wei, the N.T. Wang Professor of Chinese Business and Economy and Director of the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business,  was co-sponsored by the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business at Columbia Business School.

Audio for the lecture on iTunes U can be found: here.

On Wednesday, February 5, 2014, Qiren Zhou, Professor of Economics at the National School of Development, Peking University, delivered the lecture “Urbanization and Land Ownership Reform in China” at the Fourth Annual N.T. Wang Distinguished Lecture sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business at Columbia Business School.

Following a warm introduction by Shang-Jin Wei, N.T. Wang Professor of Chinese Business and Economy and Director of the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business, Professor Zhou opened his lecture by listing a few statistics on the urban and rural population distribution in China, noting that 65 percent of China’s population registered as rural residents. Among the most surprising figures were the numbers of rural residents who kept their rural household registration, but worked and lived in urban areas for more than half the year. According to Zhou, such residents made up 17 percent of China’s population, or 230 million people. After factoring in these unregistered migrations, he approximated 30 percent of the population actually lived and worked in the countryside, sharing 10 percent of China’s GDP. One of the largest differences between urban and rural populations is property relative to income, or capital gains from property. In this category, rural populations only make about 30 percent of the capital gains of urban populations, along with only a fraction of urban wages. The rural-urban gap in income provides incentive for rural residents to move to urban areas.


These migrations have led to a number of problems, Zhou noted, as “millions of rural people move to the city to search for higher incomes.” Among the main issues needing to be addressed, Zhou listed improving agricultural efficiency, reconstructing rural society, enlarging cities, and becoming more inclusive of migrant populations. In his opinion, the solutions to these problems are rooted in land reform.

Zhou discussed the series of land system reforms since 1978, when rural households were first allowed “to take out long-term leases on collective land for private farming.” After 1984, land transfers among rural residents were allowed, and since 1987, urban land owned by the state was open to lease for commercial purposes. Zhou argued that, despite these steps, “the reform is still incomplete” because rural residents have no right to sell their land to urban residents. Additionally, he stated, the local government “still has legal power to requisition rural land for urban development.” This segregated system has led to “a massive misallocation of land resources” and “widespread conflict.” The government requisitions land from 1.1 million households every year, the reason why 60 percent of all protests are related to land. These land requisitions are a major source of income for local governments, whose debt in 2010 amounted to 10.7 trillion RMB or “about 27 percent of China’s 2010 GDP.”



Zhou spoke in-depth about the inefficiencies of land use in rural areas, especially regarding residents who move to cities but keep their land in the countryside as a safety net. In order to deal with these inefficiencies, he asserted, China needs to reallocate resources through a unified land market. Zhou stated, “the best path to a unified land market, I think, is based on the very important economic phenomenon I call de facto property rights.” He cited a long history of de facto transfers in the years before and after reform, ending most recently with the several central government land reform experiments set up since 2003. He argued that a unified land market could be accomplished in three steps: “delineation of rural land rights,” legalizing “rights to transfer,” and building “a public market for rural land.”

In the first step, Zhou advocated for mapping exact land coordinates, such as what was carried out in the “Chengdu experiment” from 2008 to 2010. In Chengdu, they “re-measured, registered, and reissued official property deeds” for all rural land. Residents were given long-term contracts, rather than ones which expired after several years.



In the second step, Zhou spoke about changing the land transfer system from “de facto to de jure.” While there were already widespread illegal transfers, he highlighted the 2008 earthquake as the first time transfers between urban and rural individuals were given official legal recognition. Transfer rights were also extended to companies. These transfers provided villages the money they needed to rebuild. He asserted legalizing these transfers would give more villages the capital they need to relocate and transform rural areas into a “new countryside.” In this way, “high value land” close to the city center becomes urbanized and “low value land’ away from the city is turned into farmland.

In his third step, Zhou advocated for “a public market for rural land” in order for villagers to “discover the real prices” of their property. The current quota-based system, he asserted, is not reflective of the real land value. He stated there needs to be a unification of urban and rural land markets to address this problem.


In his concluding remarks, Zhou called for “deeper reform of the central party” in accordance with the Third Plenum document, which called for the market to “play a decisive role in resource allocation.” He believed, if executed, it is possible to see an urban-rural land market in China by 2020. Just like the enclosure movement in England, “a unified land market will help China improve the efficiency of land allocation and income distribution” and will lead to improved urbanization.

Here are more pictures from the event: