Columnists

Building sustainable, resilient cities

col2-pic
bitangendemo-ima

Summary

  • The quality of life in cities is inextricably linked to how we use and manage the natural resources at our disposal.
  • The trend toward urbanisation in many parts of the world, Kenya included, has been accompanied by growing environmental pressures and increased demand for essential services.
  • It is no secret that unplanned cities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural catastrophes due to their high concentration of people.

The Northern By-pass in the outskirts of Nairobi is nearing completion. Already it is reinvigorating the entire corridor, with new housing replacing the sleepy rural character. But one thing is for sure; the emerging urban settlement is lacking proper planning.

The apparent lack of zoning means that everyone is building what they want and are not considering the provision of infrastructures like drainage systems, water, fiber, roads, and recreational facilities.

In the end, the entire passageway might undermine the sustainability and resilience of the urban space.

Considering that cities are now becoming the engines for development, and increasing urban populations provide connection and opportunity, the quality of life in cities is inextricably linked to how we use and manage the natural resources at our disposal. If not managed well, cities can also exacerbate some of the world’s most severe environmental and socio-economic challenges.

The trend toward urbanisation in many parts of the world, Kenya included, has been accompanied by growing environmental pressures and increased demand for essential services, infrastructure, jobs, land, and affordable housing, especially among the urban poor who live in informal settlements.

A UN-Habitat report indicates that the human population living in the cities will grow by more than 60 percent in 2025. Africa is to increase to 75 percent by 2050 at a growing rate of 65 million urban dwellers annually.

It is no secret that unplanned cities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural catastrophes due to their high concentration of people, infrastructure, housing, and economic activities.

SDG11 also emphasises the need to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Building urban resilience is critical for avoiding personal, social, and economic losses while enhancing the sustainability of urbanisation processes necessary for environmental protection, mitigating disaster risk and climate change.

Therefore, other infrastructure should be integrated into planning for the road by-pass to serve the communities that live along with it in a more sustainable environment. Furthermore, the construction of such an expressway should take into consideration the future needs of the users.

Thika Road demonstrates why the government had to build a mass transport system to ease traffic jams in a development that is barely 10 years old. We should have taken lessons from previous experiences to inform more innovative thinking before starting such a project. Despite the challenges, there is still time to plan the entire corridor to facilitate greater productivity, reduce environmental consequences and increase community options for better and sustainable lives.

One way of changing this is for Africa is to embark on building planned rural urbanism, and in doing so, more land can be set aside for food security while at the same time making sustainable livelihood at the village level. Community living is not a new concept since Africans, by nature, lived together and shared the resources.

Therefore, in an urbanised village, land can be zoned and used for various purposes: residential housing, open spaces, sports facilities, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure (roads, railways, water, energy, ICTs, etc.) for current and future requirements.

At least every county should set aside land for an airstrip. That way, in my view, is what the developers of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) meant to achieve by 2030.

Socialising people to a sustainable urban environment encourages better utilisation of resources. Thus benefiting everybody, including less destruction of the forests for firewood, greater resource sharing, faster and better job matching, faster knowledge spillovers, infrastructure access, public goods, and lower transaction costs necessitating an agglomeration economy that increases worker and corporate productivity.