During World War II, the Japanese occupying Indonesia set up an intricate system of administrative blocks called RTs. The Japanese are, of course, long gone, but these RTs have remained in place over the years, and have become enviable tools for information gathering and urban planning. "Imagine if every Census 'block' in the United States had a ‘block captain’ whose responsibility it is to track social and economic information about the families on the block," says Michael Haggerty of the Solo Kota Kita project, which works in the mid-sized city of Solo. "The RT system really is a gift to urban planners." A yearly participatory budgeting process called "musrenbang" is the icing on the grassroots cake.
Or so it should be. According to Haggerty, neither system is being optimized. "What we noticed in Solo was that local government wasn't collecting this information and aggregating it," he says. He and several colleagues launched the Solo Kota Kita project in 2009, believing that organizing this data—and making it more digestible and public—could make a strong infrastructure start producing real results. They started by dispatching "Community Facilitators" to gather local statistics from Solo's 5,000 RTs. Their team then compiled these into a series of Mini Atlases: highly visual fact sheets that profile each of the city's 51 neighborhoods, mapping details on such topics as clean-water availability, education, and disease incidence.
This fall, the Atlases will be available both locally—at musrebang meetings and in community centers—and online. Solo Kota Kita's hope is that approachable design will do what raw numbers can't. "The main idea is to make urban data something that people will engage with," Haggerty says. "Indonesia is actually an incredibly visual culture, and it turns out that infographics go over really well."