, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 12 – Every city has its unique features, so if one is described as having real foundations, it must be of a very permanent nature. Ancient capital cities, such as Babylon, Petra, Ashur, and Teotihuacán, would hardly fit that description. Once vibrant and full of the sounds of people, these cities are today dead and enveloped in silence. So are the nations they represented.
With a city history spanning over 50 years, Nairobi has undergone a complete metamorphosis and is a complete contrast to the above stated cities. Its growth is evident in its ever-changing skyline.
Acting like a large magnet, Nairobi has attracted a wide spectrum of mankind. It can be described as a melting pot of many cultures. In the streets one may encounter an Indian lady with a flowing sari heading for the shopping mall, a Pakistani engineer rushing to a construction site, an immaculately dressed flight attendant from the Netherlands checking in at one of the hotels, or a Japanese businessman hurrying to a crucial business meeting, likely at Nairobi’s thriving stock market.
Additionally, local residents can be found waiting at bus stops, doing business at stalls, open-air markets, and shops, and working in offices or the various industries found in Nairobi.
The diversity and fast paced life in Nairobi is what makes it a vibrant city in dire need of a master plan to ensure the synchronisation of the various sectors.
Tom Odongo is the Director of City Planning in Nairobi and he tells us what goes into the planning of a city.
A: A city is supposed to run as a system and one has to have order. We look at the transportation and environmental aspects, land uses, we deliver decisions to investors who want to invest in urban development.
The Treasury gives as a deadline to deliver within 21 days and that is a major challenge.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you encounter as a city planner.
A: One of the challenges is that we have a growing city against the background of limited or diminishing public development in infrastructure.
That means that some development takes place in an environment where there are no infrastructure. This means that you have to spend a lot of resources in surveillance, and to be able to give information.
Q: What can be done to counter these challenges?
A: In the long term, the Master Plan process will allow citizens to participate with the process of charting out the strategic vision for development of the city. They will have ownership of the rules, vision and strategy and this will make it easier for them to comply.
Q: What advice can you give to Nairobi residents to this effect?
A: Nairobians need to value order. You cannot have a city that does not have order. That starts from households.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about the development of the city?
A: Unless we decentralise investment in office and commercial development, the CBD is already chocked. However, that decentralisaion needs to be planned.
Q: How did the Master Plan come about?
A: The council got interested in the original master plan because they wanted investment in water production in the Ndakaine dam.
Q: What other areas of top priority would you consider?
A: We have 60 percent of our population living in slums. That is a very crucial area of concern. We have a program to completely re -develop Eastlands to increase the housing stock on our land.
Q: I have noticed that every time it rains, there seems to be a problem with the drainage. Places get flooded and it is really difficult for motorists to pass.
A: Part of this problem is also how to handle the solid waste. And right now we are actually going through a process whereby we are coming up with integrated solid waste management strategy which is going to be managed with the private sector and various communities.
At the same time, during the design stage, most roads did not have proper drainages. We are actually trying to re-habilitate those drainages.
Q: When it comes to drainage, who in the council is responsible for it?
A: It is the city engineer because it deals with the design details.
Q: Why is the city council allowing commercial buildings come up into residential areas?
A: We cannot curtail the issue of mixed development. The phenomena will continue so what we need to ensure is that there is compatibility.
Bars have a problem in that if they have a nightclub element in them, they would than have noise which would not be acceptable.
Q: How do big premises not having enough space for parking get permission to be built?
A: All over, you will find that most major retail developments located on arterial roads. There is nothing much we can do about that since such outlets serve the majority of Kenyans especially as they go to there home.