Planners should restore order to our big cities


Planners should restore order to our big cities

An aerial view of a section of the city of Nakuru. It is one of the largest urban centers in Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Not so long ago, Thika, Kericho, Naivasha and Nakuru were like model cities. Absolutely clean. With all the developments seemingly in their rightful place, and the land uses well thought out.

No more! These towns too, like many others in Kenya, have lost it. They develop and develop ad hoc. Apparently there is no order of things, and no effective attempt to enforce anything.

Whenever I drive from Nairobi to Machakos, I am amazed at the speed of the emerging physical developments. The corridor between Nairobi and the exit to Machakos town is gradually connecting.

Likewise, developments of all kinds align the corridor between Nairobi and Limuru, just as they do towards Thika. The town of Kiambu is now literally part of Nairobi, with residential and commercial premises having taken over what was left of coffee plantations along Kiambu Road. Karura Forest comes out as a refreshing interruption.

The disappointment, however, is that much of this growth is embryonic and linear. It starts out small and, before we know it, we have full-fledged developments regardless of spatial order, uses, drainage or available services. And this is the case with most of our towns and villages. Thanks to the style, people moved from Kileleshwa, Lavington, Karen and other high-end areas of Nairobi as incompatible land uses emerged.

Relocations have also taken place from Eastlands to escape pollution from factories or even an unreliable water supply as the population grows.

Some businesses in Nairobi’s CBD have found themselves stranded by aggressive informal traders who harshly block their front views and customer access. Left to continue, unforeseen developments and urban disorder spare no one.

And by taking the road between Isiolo and Moyale, I was convinced that we should do more to manage urban growth.

Budding towns like Archers Post, Merille, Laisamis, Turbi, and Sololo are growing rapidly and should be easy to plan and control.

The larger towns of Isiolo, Marsabit and Moyale also haven’t got out of hand. Fortunately, these cities have the advantage of having adequate peri-urban land in which to expand, as land prices are still trivial if compulsory purchase or acquisition for urban expansion becomes necessary.

But, are the people concerned paying attention? Are there teams taking data, making plans and strategies to restore the glory of Kenya’s old cities and to contain and manage the growth of emerging cities?

Statistics show that of our 54 million people, about 27 percent, or 15 million, live in urban areas. This number will continue to increase.

While urban populations offer a great opportunity for development, we will ultimately pay a heavy price if we do not stop unplanned urban growth. I know we have policies, and even plans in some cases, designed for this purpose.

But without application and execution, they count for little. This is the challenge that our planners, our counties and the political leaders of every county must courageously meet.

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