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Poor planning hurting Nairobi city

Nairobi as we know it, is a far cry from the glowing city in the sun. The culprit, industry insiders say, is poor planning and policy implementation

Barry Silah @obel_barry

Nairobi is rapidly on the cusp of sinking and experts are warning that quick and sustainable remedies are needed to fix the problem.

In a city that holds nearly six million people and visited by hundreds of thousands more every day, the effects of poor planning are slowly being felt and strains on the ecosystem very much evident. Issues around transportation, housing and sewerage systems are now getting wider attention due to intense consideration from different agencies.

Primarily, over the last decade, because of a population explosion and sheer impunity of the wealthy, spaces are being affected.

Experts attribute this to lack of stringent regulations and corruption, but on another front, the element of planning has been in the thick of the storm. Most urbanised cities around the globe have mustered the ability to put design concepts into planning so that every space is extensively utilised.

According to Emma Miloyo, an Architect at Design Source in Nairobi, the biggest headache in Nairobi currently are the traffic jams. In her own opinion, the old infrastructure in place since independence is out-dated and must be remodelled to suit current demands.

“We are talking about a City that once upon a time held 250,000 and now has grown exponentially in terms of population. We must reinvent the hardware of the ideal Nairobi. As it is, 50 per cent of the city’s population walks to work, 25 per cent use Public Service Vehicles and only 20 per cent own automobiles.

What we have now is a case whereby 90 per cent of the transport network is left to 15 per cent of the population. There is a dire need for walk-ways at least six metres wide,” she says, adding that an advanced and reliable railway network could also ease congestion on the roads apart from implementing the concept of car free days.

Miloyo, who is also the President of the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), called for more awareness on accessible public spaces.”

We need to free up the spaces as a matter of urgency. What we have at the moment is private commercial parks, which are needlessly expensive. Properly designated parks are an essential component of any urban set-up allowing people access to affordable recreational facilities.

Research Scientist, Reginald Bryant from IBM Africa, says that there is a need for a mind shift in the way a City like Nairobi revolutionises itself. “We need to empower citizens with innovation and at the same time use technology to better serve modern traffic demands.

The element of mobility has to be given preference because with a ballooning population, a sustainable model would be the ideal way to go. Local Authorities must start investing in research and the private sector can help in this regard. Nairobi itself is, regionally, at the forefront of development thus the urge to encourage a cultural shift.”

Urban Planner, Constant Cap of Naipolitans, also a member of Kilimani Project Foundation, is blunt in his assessment of the mess in the city. “It is pure impunity and greed which means Nairobi is losing the trail.

The city as it stands lacks a clear vision that cascades down because everything is kept at the top level. Indeed we have conversations going as to how the narrative could change, but Government should ideally define its urban plan.

We have cartels running spaces in Nairobi and speculators who just want to make a buck even in places as sacred as playing grounds and road reserves.

Even with the recently developed Sh20 billion Urban Development Plan, not much headway can be made because of loopholes in policy implementation,” says Cap who is also a Member of the Town and County Planners Association of Kenya.

Kilimani and Upper Hill have, over time, become extremely expensive because of demand as the city develops outwards. An acre of land in Kilimani area now retails at Sh300 million; the highest in the country.

“Since 1974, the city has been growing and certainly with all changes, zoning levels are in effect, but we are saying entrepreneurship must happen in sustainable ways. There should not be conflict in terms of planning vis a vis available resources,” adds Cap.

The big divide between rich and poor that begun in the early 90s saw a rise in insecurity and in response the upper class created walls around them.

This was primarily because of informal settlements that created a huge disconnect between both income groups. Experts agree that the mushrooming slums are not an ideal sight in a city with lofty ambitions.

Njeri Cerere, of Citilinks Africa, believes densification is due to lack of proper planning. “We have a lot of strain on the underlying infrastructure. Unmanageable developments are cropping up across the city and especially the skylines.

In the year 2030, we will have at least a population of 16 million people in Nairobi and the only logical trick is move further outwards. This, however, can also create conflict due to demographical needs in the long term,” she says.

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