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Pandemics must push planners to cities of wellbeing

Millions of urban Kenyans live in slums. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Millions of urban Kenyans live in slums. City planners, for one reason or the other, are the cause of poor planning of settlements when they approve buildings and settlement architecture that is not sustainable from a citizen well-being perspective. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As Kenya faces the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, certain things come to mind. The ones I am thinking about do not resonate well with managing a virus outbreak.

They include overpopulated settlements, poor sanitation, unplanned housing and amenities, lack of fresh water and poor waste management.

All these weaknesses are found in informal settlements in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya.

Covid-19 has created an unprecedented challenge to global health and our well-being.

It has also impacted lives especially within the informal settlements. There have been several cases in Nairobi where the virus spread has become an emergency in informal settlements.

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The healthcare service in these sectors would not match up to the demands of serious infection treatments if that were the result.

In a region where urbanisation is growing at average rate of five percent, which is twice the population growth rate, and the headquarters of the 47 counties are also growing into cities, it is estimated that about 22 percent of the population will live in urban areas and cities.

And it is projected the urbanisation growth rates will double before 2030 as a result of industrialisation and growth of services sectors.

There is no doubt that rural–urban movements offer tremendous opportunities, ranging from better access to basic services such as safe water, education achievement, primary health care and gainful employment.

All these have attracted people to cities especially young people at a rate higher than the urban facilities can handle in most aspects of housing, transport, access to safe water, waste disposal and sanitation, energy, public health and all social amenities needed for a dignified living.

This calls for an overhaul of urban planning and development to bring about improved infrastructure and public health.

City planners should join the Ministry of Health when it is assessing the impact of Covid-19 in densely populated and unsanitary environments.

They need to bring to bear the technical support necessary to mitigate the worst of these impacts.

Yet, for one reason or the other, they are the cause of poor planning of settlements when they approve buildings and settlement architecture that is not sustainable from a citizen well-being perspective.

City planners should think widely about making Nairobi part of the Smart City movement by allocating land for housing, making available public spaces at the centre of settlement lifestyles, universal access to quality basic services, addressing unplanned and informal settlements.

Most importantly, planning space allocation should go together with incentives for private sector investment in the normal services people need to have.

Before Singapore overhauled their city plan, 65 percent used to live in slums but now home ownership is high.

This can be credited to overall maintenance planning, strong government support and legislation, long term savings, promoting mixed housing and mixed ethnic groups.

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