This is my first trip to USA. This fellowship was made possible through ‘helps’ from a President of United States and a Vice President of United States. I was looking for Rockefeller Foundation but apparently I typed the wrong name on Google: Eisenhower Foundation. The top of the search result was Eisenhower Fellowship website. And now here I am, travelling around US cities and meeting great people from around the USA.

Eisenhower Fellows (South East Asia Regional Program) 2013 with spouses & John Wolf
Eisenhower Fellows (South East Asia Regional Program) 2013 with spouses & John Wolf

Walking In The Cities: In-between experiences

I never considered myself as a leader but I was never afraid to take initiatives and first steps. I’m a mother and an urbanist. This attitude has shaped who I was before this fellowship. As a mother I need to put my child first; but as an urbanist, I want to help Jakarta to be a better city. In the beginning I was curious about Eisenhower fellowship and on how my fellowship affected my future.

I guessed I am a lucky person. I started my fellowship by participating in one of UN Week events on September 2013: 2030Now Social Good Forum. I had experienced a government shutdown for the first time and President Obama visited 2 cities (Boston and Dallas) that I happened to visit as well; Banksy – one of the most famous street artist – decide to have a ‘residency’ in New York City for the whole October; I watched 3 Broadway shows in 3 different cities , I watched one of the greatest symphony orchestra conducted by one of greatest conductor in the world; I walked around the second most dangerous neighborhood in the US without getting shot at; I met an architect from Palestine and had a discussion with her regarding urban planning practice in Palestine; I visited more than 15 museums and galleries in 10 cities; I visited Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans; I had visited 3 different James Turrell’s exhibitions in NYC, LA and Dallas and I finally visited one of the greatest building in the US: Kimbell Art Museum. These experiences intertwined with wonderful meetings setting up by Leigh Cohen have become one of the best 2 months in my life so far. And I visited 18 US cities in total.

In the beginning, I only had 2 purposes for this fellowship: to explore technology that foster public participation and examine current US data research and development initiative and their role in urban policy and decision making. But the dynamic during first two weeks of my fellowship has changed my purposes into different agendas. First is to explore best practices in civic engagement especially on how technology, design, and strategy has help and shape public participation in policy planning. I reduced my expectation in technology after finding there still some issues on technology especially for low income citizens in certain cities. The next purpose is to research on how open data and open government take roles in citizen activism and government. And the last purpose is to learn more about big data’s analysis and its role in policy analysis, especially in urban area and city level.

Great meetings follow by greater collaboration and discussion. One great and deep discussion with the Cloud Evangelist: Jacqueline Venacek lead me to a broader discussion in Chicago on how Open Data and Open Government affect Chicago in each layers: political view, community activism view, academician view and business side. I had series of discussion with state, county and city level. I also gain insight from practitioners and community and receive a gentle reminder from academician regarding the hyper hype of Open Data and Open Government movement.

After meeting with Tom Kingsley of The Urban Institute, I was introduced to other 2 data-based community organisation in Detroit and New Orleans. I experienced 2 different community approach in data sharing and analysis. Allison Plyer for Greater New Orleans Community Data Center explained her difficulty in analysing city data since the NOLA data are not in good quality and format. The user of her data are mostly low income community and hardly use computer as well. While Data Driven Detroit is more tech driven and collaborative than GNOCDC.

One meeting lead to great events and experiences. That’s what I experienced in most cities. One meeting with city planning agency in Washington created an opportunity for me to attend a zoning hearing in city hall, which were very dynamic. I learned on how various stakeholder put their position during the hearing and how their civic right is protected during the hearing and afterward.

And my meetings are not always inside the office. I had a meeting with Candy Chang and helped her install one of her engagement art in the park of New Orleans East. Working while meeting and interact with other people gave me unique experience especially on how we can engage with other citizen. My other meeting with David Van Der Leer of Van Alen Institute was conducted while we strolling around the Greenwich Village in NYC, discussion on how space that created by city shaped its citizen perception. Another great meeting also happened while driving around the city of Dallas. I can felt Amber Arseneaux’s passion and high hope when we discussed about the future of Trinity River development. The meeting could happened in a very busy and active place like 1871 in Chicago, and it help me elevated my mood while having discussion with Derek Eder and Cory Mollet. Unique space helped me to elevate my meeting outcome, for example my meeting with Free Space in San Francisco just a couple days before they have to leave the premise.

I had experienced US cities by walking from block to block, from one landmark to building, along the river and underneath flying highways. US cities are always in struggle but at different level of struggle. One city suffers because of hyper gentrification, while other cities erode because of automobile contrition. These prolonged condition and history shaped the city and how citizen and government react toward those condition.

Some meetings were preceded by interesting walking experience. Before I started my day in Detroit, I was greeted by Detroit bus driver strike that forced me to walk from Downtown to Midtown Detroit. This walking experience made me understand Detroit and how to put it into context and helped me to elevate my meeting. The rest of the day I was walking around to the furthest East Detroit that I can be, visited the Heidelberg Project, the Dequindre Trail, the Lafayette Park by Mies Van Der Rohe and ended in some Downtown casinos. I walked for more than 10 miles that day.

The people I met in Detroit were not Detroiters. Only Kurt Metzger who lived in Detroit (suburb) for more than 30 years. He’s running an organisation called Data Driven Detroit, an open data analysis organisation. The rest of the people are mostly in their 30s or early 40s and from outside of Detroit and now trying to live in Midtown and Downtown to make their neighborhood hype than before.

My experience with Dallas and its people help me to understand several things such as the role of philanthropy in city planning, economic of the city and future of the city. Philanthropy in the city makes the role of government become more obsolete. This condition also happened in Detroit when most of neighborhoods are developed by community and funding from private sectors, foundations and philanthropy.

The fellowship experiences are not always from meetings or conferences that I attended to. Meetings and conferences only contributed about 60% of the total experience. And what’s the other 40? It’s the cities and my interaction to other people, including other fellows. The city and its people help me to put every meeting into context.

I always believe in the balanced role of government. I believe the government should be open and transparent.

Leader and Doer

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other

– John F. Kennedy

I found this JFK’s quote by accident when I want to write something clever on my Dallas’s postcard for my brother. Learning has become our family value and my father is a living proof for this principle.

Four Freedoms Park - Roosevelt Island, New York City (Architect: Louis I.Kahn, 2012)
Four Freedoms Park – Roosevelt Island, New York City (Architect: Louis I.Kahn, 2012)

I also encountered with President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms when I visited Four Freedoms Park, designed by Louis I. Kahn more than 30 years ago and finally completed in 2012. Four Freedoms are included Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. I always believe in Democracy. Without democracy, society couldn’t have these freedoms. Four Freedoms are important and prerequisite of leadership, otherwise you’ll ended up with autocracy. While leadership without learning, the leader will never anticipate the future because he/she never learn from the past or from others.

The role of leadership that I learned through meetings with people are not a traditional and charismatic leader. They are also doer and partnered with as many people as possible. They are also collaborators and creative people. And above all, they are doing those things for greater good.