Nairobi: A running joke has it that the upwardly mobile Nairobian, starts off in Eastlands estates like Umoja, works his way to Buruburu or Langata Road and on to Kileleshwa on his way up. In the grander scheme of things, Kileleshwa was a posh estate, and it still is relatively well off but all this is going south.
A few years ago, Kileleshwa was one of Kenya’s most affluent neighbourhoods occupied mainly by high-ranking State officials who lived in magnificent bungalows set on one or more acres with compounds boasting well-manicured lawns, exotic trees and flowers.
The roads and pavements in and out of the estate were well-maintained and tarmacked. Today, things are very different in this suburb.
According to Minaz Manji, a resident, Kileleshwa is slowly losing its former much-sought-after exclusivity, a fact that can be attributed to uncontrolled developments in the neighbourhood.
Popularly referred to as Kile, this once affluent neighbourhood is today home to several towering apartments and offices, tattered roads, perennial sewer bursts and water shortages.
“Today, Kileleshwa is not what it used to be a few year ago; we have not had water in my office for a while now. Some of the roads are in deplorable state, leading to long hours of traffic jam,” Manji says.
Mairura Omwenga, the chairman of the Town and County Planners Association of Kenya (TCPAK), argues that Kileleshwa’s woes may be partly linked to the growth of Nairobi as a regional business hub.
“The growth and expansion of the city has, however, faced major challenges mainly because of poor development planning strategies and policies,” he notes, citing lack of a comprehensive, long-term and updated master plan for the city, weak and uncoordinated city planning and development control institutions, deterioration of the physical environment due to pollution and uncontrolled development.
“Legally and technically, the last city master-plan was prepared in 1948. For the last 66 years, Nairobi has grown and developed without a clear vision and direction,” Omwenga, also the chairman of the Town Planners Chapter of the Architectural Association of Kenya, says. He explains that the now defunct City Council of Nairobi resorted to preparing ad hoc zonal short-term plans for Kilimani, Lavington, Kileleshwa, Gigiri, Eastleigh, Pangani, Karen and Langata, and Upper Hill.
“These zonal short-term plans have not given effective planning and development control guidelines. The plans have only responded to the need for increased housing development density, but failed to give clear direction on other development demands – the manufacturing industry, commerce, community and social services, transport and infrastructure services.”
Experts say the different zonal plans are not integrated and fail to give clear development guidelines on plot ratio, plot coverage, building height, building line and road expansion. Manji argues that over the years, corrupt city officials in cahoots with moneyed developers have continued to circumvent city bylaws and have dubiously sold off parcels of public land, including wetlands and further changed users in most areas in Kileleshwa — from residential to commercial or mixed users.
“Nairobi City County must immediately prepare a 20 to 30-year, long-term master-plan or integrated city development plan to guide development of the city,” Omwenga says.
In as much as the increased development in Kileleshwa has caused uproar among a section of the residents, it has been a lucrative investment for property developers.
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According to a recent report by Hass Consult, commercial and high-density housing developments are driving up land prices in many parts of Nairobi.
“The galloping land prices in the city are being driven predominantly by commercial and high density residential developments,” Felix Gichaga from Stanlib, an investment company, said. The report said that an acre in Runda is around Sh67 million while the same land size in Kileleshwa and Lavington goes for Sh250 million and Sh200 million, respectively.
“Zoning had a major impact on the price of the specific acreage, with land suitable for high-density developments fetching higher prices than land that can only be used for low-density housing,” Gichaga said.
According to Martin Dias, the CEO Financial and Property Consultants Limited, high-end clients prefer much quieter areas, where there is no concentration of high-density apartments. He says clients seeking exclusivity are moving out of Kileleshwa.
“High-end clients prefer quieter, low-density areas such as Lower Kabete, Spring Valley, Nyari, and Runda. However, if there are high-end clients in Kileleshwa, they reside there because of the convenience that the area offers in terms of security and other social amenities,” he says.
He adds: “High-density apartments mean more water consumption and more road usage, and require proper sewerage connections. The short-cuts taken by developers in not giving attention to water, sewerage and roads has resulted in water shortage, over-use of roads, and health hazards from poor sewer maintenance.”