A city, in the words of urban sociologist Robert Park, is man’s most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live in.
Thus, indirectly, in making the city man has remade himself. Which begs the questions; what kind of city have we made for ourselves? How has the unprecedented, rapid urbanisation and population growth rate contributed to our well-being?
Today, you will agree that we have created a city in which the rights of private property owners and profiteers trump all other rights. Over the years, we have conflated the right to a city to be merely the individual liberty to access urban resources, it is not so. It is more leaning to a right to change ourselves; a communal rather than an individual right.
A city’s transformation hinges on its collective power to reshape things. At the moment, greed is reshaping Nairobi city, fanned by lacklustre leadership.
We can no longer have a quiet night sleep since the rights of private clubs and bar owners have trumped over this essential common liberty. Similarly, property developer’s right of abnormal profits has demoted our right to good health.
Developments are being constructed with little or no regard to the most basic human health decency like sunlight. We are disenfranchising a generation with rickets and such diseases.
Developments have been built on riparian land, road reserves, flight and water paths and sewer lines. How about our communal right? Who cares these days?
Our right to a clean city has become second to industrial factories rights to make profits. Dangerous chemicals and fumes are dumped unabated and the city is literally chocking. Even the right to a fair remuneration is not on the table anymore. Yet as Robert Park correctly said, this is where we are all henceforth condemned to live.
This is not a city after our heart’s desire. Our right to a good city has to be treated as a basic human right. Perhaps David Harvey puts it best; “The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”
I reiterate that the right to a good city is a human right, we must begin to demand this right. The debate of what kind of a city we want, I posit, cannot be alienated from that of the kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire.
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At the moment none of these things have been described; the fabric on which our social capital is sewn, unfortunately is falling down rung by rung. We have unforgivable relationship with nature substantiated by perpetual garbage menace, destruction of water reservoirs through riparian and dam developments.
We are falling in love with every lifestyle and technology and to crown it all our aesthetics is uncharacteristically banal and relative. If we are to enjoy our right to a city, these issues must be ruthlessly clarified. They cannot be left to the interpretation of a few. We must make a city after our heart’s desire.
We must remove our right to a good city from its current confinement in the hands of a small political and economic elite. Let’s democratise it and if possible build social movements to enforce our will to this right. It is the only way we shall take back control of what we have long been denied – our right to a good city. Are we all to become watchmen due to late night noise pollution? Are we to forever choke from garbage and sewer burst menace? Are we eternally condemned to live in unplanned and uncoordinated neighbourhoods? No, it is not the law of God. Remaking a good working city is remaking ourselves. This is our human right!
-The writer is the author of ‘Don’t Buy That House’