Why Kenya needs to re-evaluate its urban planning

By Mercy Musyoki


enya currently has four cities with Eldoret close to being upgraded to a city. However, the big question is, do the present designs set for these cities sufficiently serve their populations?

Over the years, effective urban planning has become a core factor in the success of most cities. A city like Brasilia in Brazil spots an airplane-like design, while Paris follows a radial form feature which complements the structures, population and needs of the city residents and visitors.

Washington DC on the other hand is divided into four quadrants along with streets that lead to public spaces and create an admirable grid form. A city with a similar concept to this is Canberra in Australia. 

A good urban plan dictates the appropriate utilization of space and resources for its residents. It also contributes to the effective management and regulation of projects. Urban planners should, therefore, factor in a number of considerations such as security, drainage, power, and population growth in their planning.

Urban areas in Kenya continue to experience the same challenges as many of the urban growing cities face today such as uncontrolled urban development and urbanisation, inadequate and inaccessible recreational facilities, inadequate and unaffordable housing, urban sprawl, unemployment, high cost of living, traffic congestion, environmental pollution, overcrowding, slums, crime, disasters, and hazards such as floods and fires, water shortages.

“Kenya is going through the normal phases of a growing country where our population is growing at a faster rate than our infrastructure and spaces. The majority of this population is in the urban areas, and this puts a burden on our cities in terms of housing, roads, sewage, water, power, schools, hospitals, and social spaces,” said Daniella Nyakuraya, Safaricom Investment Cooperative Unit Manager Housing.

The Kenyan population has grown to over 50 million and this has created a strain on resources and the environment.

Most cities in Kenya are plagued with traffic congestion, air pollution, flooding, water scarcity, among other environmental issues. A not-so-good example is the Nairobi River which despite its location, within the city, has waste disposed into it. The high population has resulted in hastily built infrastructures that overlook building heights, zoning regulations and statutory safety guidelines – this has led to unauthorized dwellings, encroachment into social and public spaces, degradation of estates and expansion of slum dwellings.

Ms. Nyakuraya links the problem to a slow reaction or wrong approach of government urban planning instruments to emerging issues. She points out that Nairobi City has not had a new masterplan and infrastructure scoping done since the Spatial Planning Concept for Nairobi Metropolitan Region prepared in 2013. “This shows that we are still relying on capacities designed to handle pressures a decade ago,” she says.

As a rule of thumb, she adds, urban planners should create their plans with the residents in mind. They should factor in the expected population, drainage systems, open spaces and how to ensure the cities are sustainable. Consequences of poorly planned cities can be avoided when urban planners anticipate for future needs and growth.

A city like Copenhagen in Denmark features green spaces that promote sustainable living. Including parks, recreational areas and cycling lanes can also contribute to the physical and mental wellness of the population.

“As a country, we need to invest in stringent project follow ups and consult objective urban planners. Kenya Institute of Planners (KIPS) needs to be more diligent in overseeing the implementations and inspection of all city projects,” Willy Irungu, Superior Homes Kenya in-house designer, explains.

Mr. Irungu further expressed the need to actualize urban plans noting that Kenya faces a major crisis in this sector due to poor execution of the plans and lack of objective follow-up by the authorities and adherence to planning regulations during urban planning. To him, urban planners should ensure city projects are inspected and implemented properly.

The two experts agree that it is “extremely” important to plan cities – sustainable cities ensure maximum utilization of resources and enhance the quality of life for residents while at the same time ensure proper governance.

While we are experiencing an urban crisis, it is interesting to note that mistakes are lessons of wisdom, we cannot change the past, but the future is in our hands. As H. Stanley Judd, the author of “Think Rich,” said, “a good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.” 

Kenya had an urban plan decades ago, which served its time. It is high time the government re-evaluates the plan for the current and upcoming cities to fit the present and future needs of its residents.     

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