Marco Kusumawijaya – « The Third Paradise »

Marco Kusumawijaya

« The Third Paradise »

The future sustainable planet will consist of “the third Paradise.” They would be neither the original hegemonic nature, the first Paradise that was Eden that were inhabited by innocent Adam and Eve, nor the second Paradise that was the ideal city inhabited by men and God(s) in union, where nothing is natural anymore and everything is transcendental. The third Paradise will be based on a reconstructed relationship between Homo sapiens and nature. It will be a reunited city-region.  In each of them will live communities of the third kind which is neither traditional nor modern. They will be communities that are critical to the state, the market and desire.   

The future will see Homo sapiens reconciled with nature. Their settlements will be neither urban nor rural, but urban-rural unions. The specific ways of the union will constantly change, but they will be oriented towards making the two more and more in accord with each other. They will keep evolving in unison. Homo sapiens will be knowing and inventing more, increasing their ability to shape the third Paradise. Economy (the norm of the house) will be bent to submit itself to “ecologics” (the logics of the home).

We will not recreate Eden. With what is left to us –the scorched nature and cracked cities– we will recover together to a state of common rhythm and accord. More likely, it is Homo sapiens that will submit themselves to nature, and use creativity (a talent unique to Homo sapiens) to develop new attitudes and solutions within its logics.

1. Justice

Because of our development outside that logic, we are now faced with not only the challenge of climate change, but also the finiteness of material resource.  Justice is an issue of resource distribution. This depends on how a society is organised. Justice is getting ever urgent not only because of the perceived finiteness of resource, but also because of the changes that we need to enact in order to reorganise our society to achieve sustanablity, which is not possible without designing it as such as to achieve the long overdue justice at the same time. Without perceived real justice, changes will not motivate all. We can also think of ecological sustainability as giving us yet another, if not the last, chance to achieve justice.

I would like to imagine that communities will be even more important in our future globalised society, because it could encourage critical justice.   

By community I mean a group of people who live together in a shared territory, and share some commons in concrete way, with bounds and consequences immediately felt everyday. Size and territorial or spatial limits are essential for the immediate feel of the bounds and consequences. I therefore exclude the modified use of the term community such as in “community of practice”, unless they move towards living together in a bounded space and size. I am neither including those “imagined communities” and “institutional communities” such as “European community”, “ASEAN community”, “International community” and even the “nation-state”.

As an alternative way of life towards ecological sustainability, community in consequence is a potential a critique towards the state, market and, even more importantly, desire.

Community hence has a progressive critical position to go beyond the treatment of community only as a subject in developmental approach, such as apparent in, among others, phrases like “community-based development”, “community-driven reconstruction”, “community mapping”, etc.

A life in community (defined as in above) can be practiced with the highest consciousness on the imperfection of the state, market and desire, as much as on the imperfection of community itself. It would raise an ambition that community is not a mere a fill-in for the cracks in the nation-state and capitalist system. It is a potential source to produce alternatives (if not substitutes) and, of equal importance, critiques.

As towards desire, a community can play a role not only as a check upon excessive consumption, but also as a source for concepts and practices of sustainable consumption and production, at least to prevent us from falling into “tragedy of the commons”. Community is an functional ideology to produce more commons and a worthy place in itself to locate more commons. Community could be a source to produce new relations in living together, in a system of collaborative consumption and production, and in giving meanings to, or making sense out of, co-existence with “others.”

What needs to be emphasised more is that community can be a critique towards desire.

We do not yet know for sure how the struggle with climate change and finite resource will eventually play out. There are some scenarios. I would argue, though, that how we criticize our desire will change the game.

Somehow we have now a consensus that there is a need for an ecological transition that must have been initiated earlier. Ecological transition is a process whereby we change our living system to be within the system of the earth and its principles in line with the logics of the house, the earth.

Changes at individual level is never sufficient. Changes need to be tested out, rooted at the level of “living together”, the locus where more complex but unavoidable relationships take place. An ecologically sustainable mode of living together must be discovered or constructed in a viable scale and level of community.

Within ecological perspective, consumption is at the very core of desire. Related to it are deeper and sometimes hidden layers: ambition for universal prosperity, power, industrial complex and vested interest, expansion of living space into nature and others’ territories and so on.

Communities, through a process of dialogue and open communication, could provide bounds and is a moderating voice. It may begin with posing questions to distinguish needs from wants, and moves towards exploring alternatives that might or might not be limiting or offering new abundance. “Is there a sustainable consumption and production?” This is the question that should lead to invention of new economy and forms of state as they are constructed to cater to our desire. Thinking about them cannot be fundamental enough without thinking about our desire. Community can be a meaningful critique of consumption and production when it also discusses desire.

2. Is city a community?

In South East Asia in the course of between the 15th and 17th centuries urbanity started identically with modernity. So were urban communities. It changed the perception of the world, oneself, and time and space. Two centuries later cities in South East Asia had served as a source of critique towards colonial states. It should be a critique of contemporary forms of state as well. A city, being the most sophisticated form of living together in the most intense and dense conditions, provides many commons, including goods and narratives. But there are current, continuous and persistent threats to itself being a common. It is therefore also urgent that the city, for it to remain a community, to also critique itself. The city in its long history has been changing individuals and civilisations. It can be changed fundamentally, too, in the way it uses energy and materials.

So, yes, a city can be a community, one that is more real than a nation state, as long as it is productive in creating and maintaining commons, being critical to itself and others. Most encroachment and transformation of commons into public (state-owned) and private properties take place increasingly and intensely mostly in the process of urbanisation. 

3. Optimism

Actually the vision above should not look like being too far away. There have been already emerging thoughts, theories, sciences, technics and practices that are creating new paths of reconnecting with nature. A quick browse reveals Deep Ecology at philosophical level. In economics there have been environmental, green and ecological economics. At production level there are Blue Economy and circular economy based on the science of circular metabolism. There are many emerging ecological recovery practices such as (re-)naturalization of streams, organic and circular farmings. In city making there is water sensitive approach. Many things are labelled “green” nowadays: Green Building, Green Energy, Green Materials, etc. Although we have to be cautious of “green-washing”, the green labelling indicates some good wills and imperfect thoughts that include in themselves opportunity for improvements. 

In some cities the politics of solidarity is in circulation again to reconstruct urban communities. Artists have for sometime been working with communities to build some kind of new consciousness together towards co-production of commons.Vis-à-vis the state whose power is based on hegemonic rationality there are at the other end sindigenous communities that are still living with their own norms. Many marine and forest conservation programs in Indonesia are based on and use rules available and effective in local communities. The reconstruction of Aceh after the 2014 tsunami involved many autonomous initiatives by local communities. Efforts are being made to see how the multiple logics contained in these norms, principles, rules and practices can transcend their contextual limits and brought into the future. 


Marco Kusumawijaya is an architect and urbanist based in Jakarta. He has founded and been working with NGO’s on urban sustainability, housing and justice in many parts of Indonesia and some locations in Southeast and East Asia. He had also worked in reconstruction of 23 communities in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami following persistent people-driven approach. His experiences in arts include chairing the Jakarta Arts Council (2006-2010), curating exhibitions and artists in residency programs and advisory functions in several countries. He is currently chair of the Coastal Management Committee of Jakarta Governor’s Delivery Unit charged with developing policies and overseeing recovery of Jakarta coastal areas.

Address: Jl. Cikini Raya No.37b, RT.16/RW.1, Cikini, Menteng, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10330.

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