In 1900, public spaces featured prominently in Nairobi’s Urban Planning Master plan occupying 29.25 percent of the total land within the planning boundary.
Then, the public open spaces played an integral part of the city’s life earning Kenya’s capital the moniker, the Green City in the Sun.
They served as points of recreation providing social benefits acting as destinations for play and recreation, mediation, picnics, walking, exercising and jogging for fitness enthusiasts.
However, due to rapid population growth and attendant urbanisation necessitating infrastructure development coupled with encroachment and neglect, the public spaces have been shrinking with each passing day.
Nairobi currently has six major public open spaces: Uhuru/Central Park, Jamhuri Park, City Park, Arboretum, Kamkunji, Jevanjee Gardens, Karura Forest and Ngong Road Forest.
A September 2020 report by the UN-Habitat Kenya — the Nairobi City County Public Space Inventory and Assessment Report — indicated that the capital city has more than 826 public spaces comprising 99 playgrounds, 51 sports fields, 15 parks and 19 gardens, among others.
But on the ground, the picture is different as most of the public open spaces are getting less visible and are under threat of being wiped out.
Already, Lunar Park is gone to pave the way for the construction of Green Park terminus on Uhuru Highway by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS).
More other spaces have similarly made way across many parts of the city amid grabbing by “private” developers, expansion of real estate and road infrastructure projects.
Reacting to the continued threat the public open spaces face, Nairobi County Assembly has come up with the Nairobi City County Public Open Spaces Use and Maintenance Bill 2021 to regulate public open spaces in the county.
Last December, the Ministry of Environment, in a policy, said national and county governments are expected to establish and maintain arboreta, green zones and botanical gardens, among others.
According to the Bill by nominated MCA Millicent Okatch, any land laid out or declared a public park or public open space be maintained and used solely for the purpose for which it was laid out or otherwise reserved.
Consequently, each public open space in the county shall be issued with a title deed to be held in public trust for the protection of the space from unwarranted misallocation.
The Bill, which has already undergone the first reading, defines a public open space as all open space of public value, including not just land but also areas of water such as rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs which offer important opportunities for sport and recreation and can also act as a visual amenity.
On the other hand, it defines a park as open spaces, pleasure resorts, recreation areas, gardens, squares, reserves and bird sanctuaries within the county and being held by the county, including all buildings, grounds and spaces situated in such areas.
It spells out that the county and private property owners shall have a shared responsibility to maintain and improve property frontage declared as public open spaces.
On the implementation of the Bill, it stipulates that a county executive appointed by the governor will be in charge of the use and maintenance of public open spaces. He or she will in return appoint officials in charge of enforcing functions and the provisions of the Bill, once it becomes an Act.
“The county may enter into an agreement with a private landowner whose land is idle for use as public open space for the benefit of the public,” reads in part the bill.
To ensure the public open spaces are properly maintained, the bill stipulates that the county government will limit the number of visitors to a park or any portion thereof or close a park or part of a park or limit the use of a park to a particular group or organisation.
Further, the county shall, by notices at the entrance of a park, indicate the hours during which any park or enclosed space is closed to the public and may, for any special purpose close any park or closed space or any building therein, to the public for such time as it may from time to time consider necessary or expedient.
Granted, an application for the use of a park by an individual or organisation for any purpose that may in any way restrict the use of the park by the public will have to be submitted in writing to the county executive at least one month to the event for approval.
The county is also expected to regulate entry into the parks with the Bill saying the county shall display at the entrance of a public park a notice of the times when the public may access the park.
This in essence means that a person shall not enter a park, except during the time indicated on the notice. One is also expected not to enter or leave a public park except through a designated entrance or gate.
To protect the environment in and around a park, cutting or causing damage to any tree or plant within a public park will be a punishable offence. The same as littering, depositing or leaving any refuse, rubbish, paper, dead or other matter or thing in the park, other than in the place provided for such matter.
“A person shall not light a fire or do any act which may cause a fire within the park or enter or attempt to enter any enclosed place, plantation or garden or walk on any flowerbed or any grass plot on which walking is prohibited,” it adds.
To generate revenue for maintaining the parks, the county will come up with a prescribed entrance fee. No one will be allowed to enter a public park unless one pays the entrance fees.
Any person present in a public park will on request, by an authorised official, produce proof of payment of the entrance fee, where such entrance fee applies, reads the Bill.
“However, the county may suspend the payment of entrance fees on any specific day or when a public function is being held within the public park or on such other day or days as it may deem fit.”
Once inside such parks, an individual will not be allowed to consume alcohol or any other intoxicating substance, except otherwise approved by the county.
In addition to making a nuisance of himself/herself by consuming alcohol or any other intoxicating substance.
A park-goer is also not expected to engage in any sexual activities or solicit for sex in a public park as it seeks to regulate behaviour within the park. One is also expected not to brawl, fight or use profane, indecent or improper language within the park.
“A person shall not lie on a public bench or seat; stay in a public park overnight, not use or intrude upon any water closet, urinal or other places of convenience provided for the opposite sex within a public park,” reads the Bill.
Driving or cycling will not be allowed in any park except in places and at times as may be prescribed by the county government or by notices at or near the entrance to any such park.
Only a wheeled chair or a perambulator drawn or propelled by hand and used solely for the conveyance of a child or children will be permissible.
Parking a vehicle or motorcycle in a park at any other place than at the parking areas specially set aside for motor vehicles or driving the two while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug will attract a fine.
Further, using any part of any park for cleaning of any motorcycle or motor vehicle; carry out repairs or maintenance to any motor vehicle or motorcycle will not be allowed.
“The county may close any road or walkway in a park either permanently or temporarily,” the Bill reads.
In terms of camping, no overnight camping will be allowed in a park except with written authorisation by the department in charge of public open spaces within the county.
Trading in the parks will also be restricted where to sell any commodity within the park, an individual must obtain written consent of the county.
However, alcohol or prohibited drugs should not be part of the commodities. A peddler or street vendor will not be allowed to trade in a park without prior permission from the county. However, hawking or selling refreshments or drinks in a park will be done in a room, building or place designated by the county.
Park-goers will also be restricted from holding any orchestral performance in a park without the written permission of the county.
Begging, betting or participating or presenting gambling or games of chances in a park will also not be allowed.
In regards to penalties, an individual will be committing an offence by contravening provisions of the proposed law and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine not exceeding Sh10,000 or to both.
If the offence continues, the person shall be liable to a similar fine each time the offence continues. And in addition to the fines set out, the court may order the person to compensate the county for any loss or damage incurred as a result of the contravention.
“The county may institute a claim in the appropriate court for the amount of such loss or damage. The may order any person who has repeatedly contravened a provision from entering a park.”