One of the more polarizing debates over COVID-19 is whether high population density leads to high infection rates. A body of evidence has emerged which suggests that higher population density is generally associated with higher infection rates while lower population density areas would have comparatively lower rates (Ahmadi et al. 2020; Rocklöv and Sjödin, 2020; Wang et al., 2020). Yet, there are exceptions to the rule. We look at one such exception in Tanah Merah (North Jakarta) which, despite its low population density, has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in Jakarta. We contend that intensive socialization practices, sprung from the precarious land tenure of Tanah Merah explain this anomaly. In focusing on socialization practices of the people, as opposed to the mobility of people or spatial characteristics of place (two of the most common ways to correlate population density and infection rate), we offer a more nuanced explication on the relationship between population/population density and the intensification of pandemics. In particular, we argue that the objectification of people as digits to (amongst other things) calculate population density must be augmented with a careful consideration of the subjective lived experiences of the very same people.
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Rafael Martinez is a Research Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Trained as an urban anthropologist, his research focuses on Southeast Asia on themes such as sacred places, the production of ephemeral/ provisional space, mobilities and temporary identities. Rafael is currently working on a project which looks at a variety of issues, including development, urban planning, policy-making, citizen participation and decision-making processes in Southeast Asian megacities.
Francisco Benita is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Architecture and Sustainable Design Pillar at Singapore University of Technology and Design. He is interested in urban systems and its interface with optimization, data science and statistical learning. Francisco has ongoing research on accessibility and travel behavior in Singapore and Jakarta.