Shift from policy to pilots in smart cities agenda

Traffic snarl up
Traffic snarl up in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Nairobi played host to the first UN-Habitat Assembly gathering from the May to 31, 2019 with a task to track progress made on the Urban Agenda, a roadmap that was agreed upon at Habitat III in Ecuador in October of 2016 under the theme “Innovation for a better quality of Life in Cities and Communities”.

As the highest level governance body of the UN Habitat, the discourse here is pivotal to the realisation of proposed interventions to make cities safe, resilient and sustainable.

It is estimated that by the year 2050, two thirds of global populations will be living in cities and deliberate planning is necessary to avert the looming crisis of overloaded and ill-distributed infrastructure.

I made time to attend a number of keynotes and breakaway sessions at the assembly and in truth, we have no shortage of ideas or funding to set into motion programmes that can set us on the right track to ensure that our cities are able to reach their full potential and deliver value for residents.

While it was great to have various heads of State, their ministerial entourages, local authority counterparts and various stakeholders grace the event, I could not help but imagine how much faster we would all be compelled to move towards action if everyone drank from the same experiential pool.


We cannot continue to hold meetings of great import such as this and run them in a manner that still creates a healthy distance with the reality that is being addressed.

The matter of smart resilient cities is close to my heart and I had the expectation that mobility as a core component to the promise of the future city would be front and centre as an early low-hanging fruit that could be easily and quickly showcased.

As the host city to two key global agencies — UN Habitat and United Nations Environment Program — and also serving as the seat of national government, Nairobi should have, at minimum, gone all out to demonstrate that it is actively working on sustainable development goal number 11.

From established companies to vibrant startups, tropicalised technology platforms, tools, products and services have been built, some even tested and have the potential to truly transform the urban living experience with mobility, housing and food security at the top of my list.

We need to move swiftly from the table of policy and run pilots to prove any assumptions, qualify hypothesis and forward on to scale those that meet the mark. Talk is cheap, let us see some action.