Case study: Pulo Geulis’ transition roadmap to WSC

The island of Pulo Geulis is an informal settlement in the middle of the Ciliwung River’s catchment area, with major environmental issues related to water management and sanitation. However, Pulo Geulis also has great potential to become more water sensitive by adopting appropriate urban concepts.

The Cluster research aimed to provide the necessary infrastructure to improve Pulo Geulis’ community health and environmental performance, and the residents’ liveability with new multifunctional public space. In the case study, the research team created a roadmap for the revitalisation of Pulo Geulis based on active participation of community, academic and governmental stakeholders to provide a clear strategy for leapfrogging to a more water-sensitive community. 

The island of Pulo Geulis is just over 3.58 hectares and houses approximately 2600 inhabitants in around 560 dwellings, yielding a population density of 700 people per hectare. The research team identified several main issues facing the community, some of which relate to river pollution and insufficient water management systems. 

Sanitation on the island is poor, with houses on the perimeter discharging untreated blackwater and other domestic wastewater directly to the river via small pipes, despite this practice being restricted by law. The island’s small, densely packed houses often lack space for an individual septic tank. The rest of the island is serviced by septic tanks, but proper maintenance is hindered by the lack of vehicular access.

The water from the Ciliwung river is used by some members of the community for bathing, washing, fish production in cages, and as a public gathering place. The water looks clean, but laboratory tests show that it is polluted by bacteria and chemical waste. 

Another issue facing the island is limited open and green spaces. The islanders have a strong community organisation and pride in their cultural roots and have been promoting its culture and arts through the Kampong Murals beautification project. However, there is virtually no public open space, aside from narrow walkways. Children’s playgrounds are non-existent, and most children’s recreational activities take place in the alleys or the polluted Ciliwung River, exposing them to health risks. There is no car access to the island, and while river flooding is reportedly rare, internal flooding occurs during heavy rain.

There is no groundwater access within Pulo Geulis and the majority of households use water that is pumped to the island. No alternative water sources such as rainwater harvesting are currently used. Householders but generally boil tap water before ingestion, but the community nonetheless sometimes suffers from water-borne diseases. Solid waste management is also a significant problem with some garbage discarded directly into the river; however, there are some initiatives for wastewater collection by the youth groups of the island.

Border land erosion is also a major issue on the island. Many buildings cantilever beyond the island perimeter, creating a risk of collapse, especially during the rainy season. In addition to the health risk from polluted water, flash floods occur regularly, meaning that activities at the water’s edge are very dangerous. 

The community aspires for Pulo Geulis to become a better place to live, be more healthy and productive, and increase its potential as a tourist destination. In recent years, the number of visitors to the island has increased, particularly to visit the small traditional Javanese food stalls. The community wishes to build upon this and become a culinary destination. This provides a good foundation for further development of urban agricultural systems, supported by green technologies such as rainwater harvesting, water treatment with constructed wetlands, and biofiltration. 


The research combined intensive community engagement with focus group discussions and drone mapping to deliver different scenarios to improve conditions. The discussions and follow-up workshops revealed the community’s commitment to improving their environment. The discussions also generated options for the creation of new public spaces and the implementation of green technology. These options created several scenarios that will serve as a useful recommendation to the regional government. 

The methodology used in this case study seeks to empower the community by involving them in upgrading their town, from the initial design stages through to consultation, construction and maintenance. The history of similar programs in developing countries shows that this approach offers a better chance of success than top-down planning interventions from the city administration that do not consider the community in the transformation process.

Results and achievements

The main findings of this case study research are:

  • Communities in informal settlements have the potential to be the main agents of the positive transformation of their environments if provided with the tools to manage the transition towards a more resilient community. 
  • The adoption of green technologies in informal settlements could help reduce their environmental impact, taking into consideration the local culture and knowledge in the implementation and management of these systems. 
  • Multifunctional public space can be one of the main drivers of community wellbeing, providing not only amenities, but also opportunities for productive green technology, such as vertical urban farming and fish ponds, that can provide food security and economic uplift.
  • This revitalisation can serve as a good reference for the wider adoption of water-sensitive design principles in similar informal settlements, giving the community tools to leverage against common land-clearing and top-down slum upgrading strategies.



Technical reports