Parks within cities that allow residents respite albeit for brief moments

Parks within cities that allow residents respite albeit for brief moments, to take in fresh air and get away from the chaos and the commotion of the central district, are quite vital, so much so that, in a town’s planning, governments set aside publicly accessible green spaces to promote the wellness of their urban citizens. HARRIET JAMES explores

Central Park

Right in the middle of the busy life of Nairobi city, at the intersection of Uhuru Highway and Kenyatta Avenue, is Central Park, which boasts probably the most iconic statue in the country. That of the nation’s founding father, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. It’s a figure that shows Kenyans’ appreciation of the efforts that freedom fighters made to the nation.

It is lush and serene, making it a preferred spot for tourists, those taking lunch breaks, family picnics and even romantic dates.

Uhuru Park

Adjacent to it is probably the most popular park in the city, Uhuru Park. It could be said to have contributed to the love and hate of these public recreational spaces in equal measure. Many have grown to view parks in the city as places of idlers and ne’er-do-wells, owing to the reputation of some who frequent and hang around the square.

But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it loses its intended functionality, which was at it’s peak in yesteryears. My memories of the park are mainly on Sundays after church and definitely during Christmas, when we would enjoy a boat ride as a family and after that, a bit of face painting. Oh what fond memories.

Today, however, things have greatly changed. The once-upon-a time clean park has now become a den of rubbish and the ever-present street kids who won’t give locals a quite time to rest.  It is, nonetheless, encouraging to see organisations at the forefront of maintaining the park and its glory. I recently joined the Hilton Hotel together with their sister body Double Tree in a tree planting session at the park to mark its special centennial anniversary.

This is one of the many events that the hotel has engaged in to mark the celebrations, and being a conservationist, it was time well spent doing something about the park. After the General Manager, John Macree together with the deputy director for environment in Nairobi county, Christopher Njag, planted their tree, it was our turn.

I selected the perfect location, which was nostalgic to me; where most of my childhood photos were taken.  With the assistance of environmentalists, we had to dig a hole twice the size of the root ball, check the depth to ensure it was suitable, then park the soil around the base of the root ball to stabilise it, and in the end water it. Many other corporate and non-governmental organisations continue to help maintain the park.

Due to its size and easy public access, the park is a popular venue for events especially national celebrations, rallies and festivals. It has several recreational facilities, including an artificial lake, that attract families, picnickers and couples alike.

Uhuru Gardens

Located 15 minutes away from the CBD, this is the largest memorial park in Kenya. The gardens have been witness to major national history, and due to this, the park was officially declared a national monument in 1966. Later on, a Mashujaa Corner was created, that memorialises our national heroes.

Monument marking 25 years of independence at Uhuru Gardens.

In the park is a large mugumo tree, which was planted on the exact location where the Union Jack (British flag) was brought down and Kenya’s national flag was first hoisted. The park is mostly renowned for hosting various events, while remaining a recreational park to all who frequent it.

The Nairobi Arboretum

The Nairobi Arboretum boasts over 300 species of exotic and indigenous trees. It is located three kilometers from the city and offers scenic views and unparalleled opportunities to bird-watch, learn about trees, picnic and meditate. It reportedly owes its existence to the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway which necessitated a more organised forest management system. Trains ran on steam generated by burning logs. The arboretum, which was next to the governor’s house (now State House) was chosen as a place to grow exotic softwood. After independence, the park fell into neglect but was restored and is now co-run by Friends of the National Arboretum – FoNA. In 2016, amid public and civil protest, entry charges were introduced; adults are now required to pay Sh50, while children pay Sh20 to access the park.

AUUST 7TH Memorial Park

It is located at the intersection of Moi Avenue and Haile Selasie and features a landscaped garden with benches where one can sit and take in the day. There is a wall with the names of those who perished in the August 7, 1998 terrorist bomb attack, that invites visitors to remember and reflect upon this tragic history. It has an entrance fee and is one of Nairobi’s best maintained parks, and best kept secrets.

Jeevanjee Gardens

The Jeevanjee was donated by Alibhai Mullah Jeevanjee in 1906. Like its sister parks, Jeevanjee has survived a lot of onslaught, including plans to turn it into a matatu terminus and later, into a shopping mall. It may bear an undesirable reputation of playing host to pickpockets and questionable street preachers, but it is a proper park, featuring relaxing benches, stunning gardens and artistic sculptures that complement its natural charm.

Michuki Park

Named after former cabinet minister John Michuki who made it a park from a huge pile of trash, it is probably one of the least known parks close to the CBD. It is located along Nairobi River near Kijabe Street, and the minister turned it into a park as he also took it upon himself to see to the restoration of the disgraced Nairobi River. It has made it to news headlines a couple of times for degeneration, as it is at times used as parking space and workspace by an adjacent garage.

The greenery that is left of it offers relaxing space to locals, especially city workers over lunch hour.

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