Depressed in the middle of shanty buildings, residents of a middle class estate of Langata cry foul about the ever encroaching city slum next door.
The once serene estate has now become a sight to behold - blocked sewers especially during the rains spew filth onto the road as it struggles to find its way over the imposing slums to the drainage system and sewer lines beneath the tinned houses, with erratic power cuts due to illegal connections reminding residents that yet again the transformer has blown up and a water supply that’s next to non-existent
As if all that is not enough, Old Uchumi Estate residents in the area, have to contend with an informal market (Mugumoini) that sprang up four years back, as politicians went about lobbying for votes and turning a blind eye to these illegal encroachments.
While some tenants next to Kijiji (a slum built on a children’s playing field) move away in fear of poor sanitation, house owners stay put given the limited choices at their disposal. They complain that the value of their properties has taken a dip as buyers show little interest in the deteriorating neighbourhood.
But Langata residents are not the only city dwellers expressing dissatisfaction at lack of services they have to endure. Almost everyone feels chocked by the rapidly expanding city.
Such are the misgivings brought about by previous development plans for Nairobi all of which failed to live up to the residents’ expectations.
According to Raphael Kazungu, a planner at Nairobi City County (NCC), the city’s original plan can be traced back to a 1926 colonial government zoning ordinance which basically provided procedural zoning and development control principles.
It compartmentalised common land uses and activities, and presupposed areas with same development potential in terms of infrastructure and general socio-economics.
The plan sought to provide procedural zoning and development control principles based on aesthetic function, spatial relationships and urban structure devoid of illegal developments. The developers could not have contemplated the sheer size or numbers of these illegal settlements.
Later came the 1948 Nairobi Master Plan, a few years before Kenya attained independence, which emphasised on a containment strategy meant to prevent opportunistic immigration into the city and to regulate access to urban resources.
The aim of this plan was to restrict the influx of indigenous Kenyans into the city based on the principle of racial segregation with the introduction of European, Asian and African residential areas,” said John Barreh, deputy director planning at City Hall.
Mr Barreh observes that most of the current statutory planning rules and regulations originate from the 1948 Master Plan, while the by-laws are mainly patchworks of the various pre-1948 rules and regulations, prepared largely in conformity with the 1932 British Planning Act.
The 1973-2000 strategy, Nairobi Metropolitan plan strategy, on the other hand covered the city of Nairobi and its environs. The plan detailed the population issues, economic activities, land use, transportation, housing and revenue and expenditure patterns.
“Further to fractioning the city into 20 development zones, the plan diverted from containment to acknowledging that Nairobi was growing and rapidly,” adds Mr Barreh.
Local shopping neighbourhoods is another component of the plan that did not taken off well since there was the assumption that the government would provide the entire infrastructure. Kawangware is one of the previously planned neighbourhood shopping centres.
The shortcoming of the plan was that it required massive public sector capital investment, but did not provide a framework for bringing in private sector and civil society’s resources to assist into the implementation of the plan.
According to Mr Barreh, lack of government goodwill and commitment as anticipated in the 1973 metropolitan growth strategy and haphazard developments without reference to the plan was another challenge which ensured the plan did not take off.
In view of this, most agencies that came in to help resolved to do sector-specific plans, for instance, the Ministry of Roads and the Kenya Power, both come up with sector-specific initiatives informed by sectorial studies they conducted after the 1973-2000 plan run out.
The sector plans ended up informing investments. However, they have failed to perform optimally since most of the initiatives catered for the current population instead of a projected population.
But all that is set to change with the county government which has pledged to come up with a plan for the city that works. In the new plan, different sectors will work together to achieve the desired result.
For instance, Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, under which roads fall, will liaise with the Ministry of Information, Communication and ICT to leave provision for service ducts.
Currently, these different sectors have worked in isolation leading to Kenya Power cable guys digging trenches all over the city roads, then sealing them when the job is done only for Information technology people to follow soon after to dig in the same area.
“The Integrated urban development master plan (IUDMP) as it is known is an all-encompassing document which has sought broadened participation of all the relevant sectors and agencies when it comes to land use, energy, water, forestry, wildlife service, environment, information and communication, transport, public health and planning,” Kazungu says
The current plan offers solutions for traffic jams, the ever-growing informal settlements, resource mobilization and use, possibilities of a 24-hour economy, infrastructure development, proper land use, solid waste management, water and sewage services, efficient transport and zoning.
The goal of the plan is to have an efficient city with controlled a traffic system. It seeks to ensure all services are within reach where citizens live.
“The 24-hour economy must not be political rhetoric it has to be planned in order to create a market for consumers,” says Barreh.
One approach to a 24-hour economy would be the relocation of government offices from the Central Business District (CBD) to allow for profitable commercial spaces with social amenities nearby. For instance, the CBD needs more residential apartment and schools instead of offices which close at 5 pm.
“Instead of compartmentalising sector by sector, mixed use of the space available is necessary since you find each area needs a shopping centre, hospital and schools. That’s why decentralising all the services is a viable solution for the city,” adds Mr Barreh.
For this to work, most areas in Nairobi will need to follow in the footprints of Kiserian, Rongai, Karen and Industrial Area - where services and facilities such as banks, restaurants, and shopping malls are getting increasingly within reach.
“This process is our opportunity to create urban lifestyles that lessens dependency on private cars and encourages public transport. Current public infrastructural capacity cannot fulfil on any future aspirations. Upgrading of such is paramount to deliver infrastructure,” Kilimani Project chairperson, Mr Irungu Houghton stated.
But as NCC finalizes the proposed plan, Kilimani residents may as well be part of the fabric adjustment needed to pave way for the face-lift.
This could come with the decentralization of services and land use planning that advocates for optimal use of land. Kilimani as it were, allowed one house per a quarter an acre, but this is slowly changing, as more people rise up the social status ladder and desire to live in posh areas of the city.
At one point Kilimani residents expressed their dissatisfaction on new developments said to be exerting pressure on the stretch amenities. This forced them to request for consultation with area developers on sustainable development.
The resident’s challenge was how to adapt and learn to live in a larger neighbourhood yet still ensure it is homely, clean and safe.
Amid the disapproval, NCC justified the alteration saying reversal of restrictions on such zones were in line with urban population growth and it also helps ease land prices while housing the ever growing population which now stands at 3.3 million in vertical structures.
Mr Irungu is however optimist that the integrated plan will bring change but only if stakeholders are consulted. The law is clear on stakeholder participation and therefore makes it mandatory for NCC to seek their involvement.
“A thought out participatory plan will bring to the forefront diverse and oftentimes conflicting interests within Nairobi’s environs,” Mr Irungu said in an email-interview with BDLife. He further stated that superb spatial land use planning which channels growth, lends to diverse housing options to flourish while bringing services and social amenities close to the residents.
According to Mr Barreh, one step towards achieving the visionary dream is coming to terms with the current situation we found ourselves in and improving on it.
As NCC waits to midwife the future face of the city, the likes of Mr Irungu are folding their sleeves in readiness for the task ahead.
“We in the Kilimani Project hope to work with the new Governor and his cabinet to create Nairobi as the city of choice for all,” he said.
The success of the plan heavily relies on political will. But residents can also petition for its implementation in court.
“Today, the law is prioritizing planning to lead other forms of development. The constitution makes it mandatory for citizens to have a clean environment. The County Government Act, 2012 on the other hand has made it compulsory for county governments to have land use planning in place as a basis for accessing funds from the exchequer and benefactors.
Other legal and policies documents containing similar provision (include) are: urban area and cities Act, 2011, Transition to Devolved Government Act, 2012 Physical Planning Act, Cap 286, Inter-Governmental relation Act, 2012, Public Finance Management Act, 2012, Vision 2030 and Nairobi Metro, 2030” said Mr Kazungu.