When Florah Soila, a business relations officer at Nairobi-based property firm, Silverstone Properties, first moved to Kileleshwa seven years ago, she had in mind a conducive home and serene environment.
Her search for a place that offered guaranteed security, exclusivity, and easy proximity to her workplace and her child’s school led her to Kileleshwa.
“It served those purposes; it was as private as I desired, close to my place of work and my child’s school and the place felt secure enough,” she says.
However, that was years ago.
Flora says Kileleshwa is now congested and has lost its lustre.
With new high-rise apartments on a rapid rise, she says, the neighbouring towering homes not only feel overwhelming, but also breach the privacy of low-rise home dwellers. Someone in the higher floors of the tall apartments can see whatever happens in the next-door compound which has a maisonette or bungalow, she says.
She adds that some of the apartments are built with substandard materials, which quickly get dilapidated and appear timeworn.
Florah, just like many residents, is now considering moving to more private, less congested and quieter areas in the outskirts of Nairobi.
“Houses in Kileleshwa were initially cool, not as tall and the place was not crowded. But now, even people living in these blocks of apartments can hardly be trusted to be upright residents,” she says.
She notes that while this may portend a good sign for the real-estate industry, as the construction sector booms, it heralds bad tidings for exclusive residential areas.
Teresa Marinda, the agency and marketing manager at Crystal Valuers, a Nairobi-based real-estate consulting firm concurs that these areas are fast losing their charm.
“Leafy suburbs are fast changing. Areas that were at once considered exclusive; where it would be hard to buy land as small as an acre or even two acres, are now so densely populated that those with enough money are able to buy even a tiny piece of land and set up a tall residential apartment,” she says.
Worse is that some of the new property developers sidestep the areas’ building and design plans, hence putting up mixed constructions.
Demand and supply of residential spaces and the increasing purchasing power of individuals, according to Teresa, drive this.
“With time, a bungalow or maisonette occupying a huge piece of land is likely to be demolished and replaced with tall buildings to accommodate more people. The result is numerous high-rise buildings and congestion within that area and hence diminished exclusivity,” says Teresa.
While the phenomenon is widespread across the country, with Nyali in Mombasa also experiencing the same, Nairobi is the most affected.
However, some upmarket areas like Runda and Karen still have strong residents’ associations which strictly police haphazard erection of apartments.
But Simon Ng’ang’a, managing director of Symonns Realty, a Nairobi-based property and financial solutions company, has a different view.
He says what has changed in these upmarket areas is usage.
“If you look at the people that live in these apartments, you’ll notice that they are mostly the upper middle-class. These areas might have lost their shine as exclusive half-acre neighbourhoods but they now accommodate more rich cosmopolitan Kenyans. The pressure of high density areas is expanding and the same is being felt in other areas like Spring Valley, Lower Kabete, and Runda,” he says.
He notes that these areas were initially reserved for high-level government workers and also the rich at a time when the population of Nairobi was only two to three million.
But over time and as the middle-class expanded, there arose the need to modernise to more high density buildings and offices and thus these areas got affected.
“These areas have gained in value. And as this happens, those seeking exclusivity are pushed further and further away to areas like Tigoni, Limuru, Juja, and Kikuyu among others. Other areas that ordinarily would have been considered exclusive but have now been zoned-off to high density areas include Parklands, Westlands, Spring Valley, Riverside Drive, Kilimani, Thompson, and Woodley,” he says.
He maintains that these areas have not lost their appeal but have just changed to a different kind of clientele.
And this is a new cosmopolitan clientele that is not driven by space but convenience of being close to a city.
What might have been lost in this expansion is the lack of proper infrastructure like water, sewers, or roads to support the population density.
“The city is expanding and population is growing. It is unrealistic to expect these areas to remain as they were. Looking at most high density cities across the world, this has been the process where minimal land is used to accommodate as many as possible, thus high rise buildings are inevitable; and this trend has just began,” he says.