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Nairobi’s public parks, open spaces stretched by increasing demand

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Nairobi residents celebrate New Year at Uhuru Park on January 1, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • A visit to Nairobi’s Uhuru Park on Sunday afternoons isn’t an experience many would relish. Even in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, the expansive park receives thousands of city residents seeking to unwind after a tedious week.
  • Despite the risks of crowding during a pandemic, the revellers keep trooping in — an indication of city’s rising shortage of parks and open spaces for leisurely family outings.
  • Barely six kilometres from Uhuru Park, the intersection of Lang’ata Road and the Southern By-pass has become another proof of Nairobi’s thinning public recreational spaces.

A visit to Nairobi’s Uhuru Park on Sunday afternoons isn’t an experience many would relish. Even in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, the expansive park receives thousands of city residents seeking to unwind after a tedious week.

Despite the risks of crowding during a pandemic, the revellers keep trooping in — an indication of city’s rising shortage of parks and open spaces for leisurely family outings.

Barely six kilometres from Uhuru Park, the intersection of Lang’ata Road and the Southern By-pass has become another proof of Nairobi’s thinning public recreational spaces.

For months now, since the closure of the adjacent Uhuru Gardens for renovation, the intersection on Sunday afternoons gets packed with people displaced by the ongoing face-lift.

Such scenes are replayed across many parts of the city amid expansion of real estate and road infrastructure projects.

Parks provide social benefits as the areas act as destinations for play and recreation, mediation, picnics, walking, exercising and jogging for fitness enthusiasts.

Festivals, concerts

Some also host amusement structures such as merry-go-rounds, slides, bouncing castles and swimming pools for the thrilling experience for children.

This not overlooking the economic benefits for traders and businesses running the park games equipment, tourists, festivals and concerts.

These green spaces around the city including Uhuru Park, Lunar Park, Jeevanjee Gardens and the mini-forests like the Arboretum have gained recognition from a large slice of 4.39 million people (as at 2019) living around the city, and is expected to increase with the rising urbanisation and the population growth rate.

But these spaces are getting less visible and could just be fading away.

Construction is ongoing for Green Park terminus along Uhuru Highway for matatus, taxis and boda bodas.

The terminus sits at Nairobi Railways Club that once hosted Lunar Park, an amusement park with gaming activities for families and children.

The construction by Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) is part of the city’s decongestion and urban development master plan that will see public service vehicles terminate outside the CBD.

After increased protests by the owners of Lunar Park, NMS boss Major General Mohamed Badi last year said the park would be re-modelled after the Greyhound Park in New York and be renamed Green Park.

NMS plans to put up other facilities at the locale including a restaurant, mini-supermarkets, a police station and a dispensary.

NMS says it has begun rehabilitating 600 open spaces in Nairobi that had been turned into dumping areas like Kangemi and Mowlem.

‘’The bit that was taken by the road at Uhuru Park was not much, but the park remains reserved. Lunar Park was taken because it was important to relocate matatus out of the city. We had to make the sacrifice for decongestion,” Larry Wambua, CEC Environment, said

“Some of these places had been turned into waste areas but are now being reclaimed and trying to secure those that are threatened.”

The temporary closure of Lunar Park as stated by the city boss explains the throngs of people at the adjacent Uhuru and Central parks on weekends.

Uhuru Park is, as the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai wrote in her memoir, Unbowed, “a large green swath …with lawns, paths, boating lake, and stands of trees” that provided “millions of people in Nairobi with a natural environment for recreation, gatherings, quiet walks, or simply a breath of fresh air”.

The park has, however, recently been tensing up, owing to the large number of people.

Uhuru Gardens, which is being renovated, is also preferred for families and friends, school visits, jogging and group exercise, as well as event venue for corporate launches, concerts, weddings and film location.

In June last year, the Sports, Culture and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said the memorial park would be closed for a year for renovation to include more leisure activities.

When it was closed to the public for a face-lift, people claimed on social media that the Kenya Defence Forces had seized the public park that has been accommodating people living in the neighbouring areas including Langa’ta, Kibera and South C seeking a space for unwinding.

Outside the city, a roundabout in Uthiru on Naivasha and Kapenguria roads has been turned into a park, attracting fitness enthusiasts in the morning.

The space becomes a recreational park on the weekends, hosting several bouncing castles for children and families.

This is similar to what happens at two roundabouts along Thika Superhighway that shelter people near overpasses.

The threat to these spaces, according to Environment and Forestry ministry Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, is infrastructural development encroachment and negligence.

Developments such as malls that continue to grow in urban areas have to a certain degree catered for the growing demand as children get places to play.

The mall equipment, however, have been placed to encourage longer stay in the retail spaces, cutting off people especially the low-income earners who cannot afford both the access fees and the segementation requiring bigger budgets.

Some anchor tenants, especially supermarkets, that attracted people have either collapsed or exited. But even as city dwellers look for recreation spaces, some efforts have been witnessed on reclamation and rehabilitation of these green spaces.

Graduation photos

Michuki Memorial Park, around Globe Cinema, was in August last year reopened after a clean-up by the Environment and Forestry ministry and other stakeholders.

The rehabilitation of the Michuki Park involved removal of solid waste choking up the river going through the park.

As a result, there has been an average of 400 visitors daily since the rehabilitation.

The park has been dedicated as a special site for children and nature, and provides a conducive environment for students to read, host events and take weddings and graduation photos.

And while it was specifically intended for that purpose, most activities found in Uhuru Park including the slides and other play structures would hardly find way into the Michuki Park.

This is also the case with Jevanjee Gardens, with a history of planned developments and activism protests.

With benches and sculptures, Jevanjee has served as an ideal recreational park for city residents who are taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

In the Third Draft Policy by the Environment ministry in December 2020, national and county governments are expected to establish and maintain arboreta, green zones, botanical gardens, recreational parks, school trees especially fruit, and urban forests for aesthetic, recreational values, biodiversity and health values.