Space Grabs: Colonizing the Vertical City


Much attention has been paid recently to land grabs in rural and urban areas of the global South, but relatively little attention has been paid to such activities in the third dimension—vertical space. Yet vertical space has also been increasingly colonized, as manifest in the transformation of mega‐city skylines through the proliferating number and height of high‐rises in both central cities and peri‐urban developments. We investigate how floor area ratio policies, originally designed to control densification, have been reworked to facilitate densification through floor area uplift. Thus a tool originally developed to advance public welfare has been used to facilitate the profitability of real estate projects for developers and to benefit local governments. Taking DKI Jakarta as our case study, we sketch out the coevolution of this policy with urban regimes, focusing on the mid‐2010s when compensation measures were formalized and made transparent. By using a particular project in Jakarta’s central business district we show how the benefits of floor area uplift favor private sector developers over the local government. In a context of rapidly increasing land values, increasing demand for housing from an emergent middle class, and particularly the privatization of planning, this unevenness systematically favors the private sector.