My loathing for skyscrapers, and it has nothing to do with the fear of heights

Xn Iraki
By XN Iraki | Mar 05, 2024


Nairobi Skyline on April 27, 2023, during Easter Holiday. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The socioeconomic progress of any given locale is often measured by the height of the skyscrapers, the tall buildings that often keep clouds company.   

The taller they are, the more progress is associated with that country or region. 

Dubai boasts the Burji Khalifa, Nairobi has its towers and so do other major cities of the world.  The new “capitals “of our counties also have versions of their skyscrapers, never mind the height. 

If only the county skyscrapers were factories, not hotels. The well-traveled often quote the heights of the buildings visited and the number of floors.  

In some cities, you pay to get to the top of the highest buildings. Have you ever visited The Burji Khalifa?  

Traditionally, skyscrapers were office blocks. Residencies have joined in. They are competing with office blocks for the best view from the rooftop. 

Never mind the view is often soon blocked by other skyscrapers.  Buildings are now mimicking the tropical rainforest, where trees grow tall to “get sunlight.” 

You have seen the forest of apartment blocks coming up in various parts of the city. Trees are the first casualty. That leaves my head spinning. Kenya hosts UNEP headquarters and one of our own, the late Prof Wangari Mathai, won the Nobel Prize for her conservation efforts in protecting trees. 

In some cities like Accra, Ghana, apartments are looked down upon; they are for people in transit or foreigners. They are not considered “homes.” 

Why do I dislike skyscrapers, while I do not suffer from height phobia? My problem with skyscrapers is that they are overhyped as symbols of progress.  

Progress is multifaceted.  It’s not just about the concrete structures. What of soft issues like education, respect for one another, leisure, happiness or equality, the things you can’t see? Do they have their “skyscrapers” too?   

Let us take Nairobi, for instance with all its skyscrapers. What are the other indicators of progress? 

Do we have more parks, schools, art galleries, golf courses and playgrounds?  What of jogging trails?  

We spend only eight hours sleeping. What of the rest of the time, more so when not working?   

Let’s think even more deeply. What should be the skyscrapers in other sectors beyond real estate?  

Take the health sector, for instance. Are we reaching more patients and having a higher quality of healthcare? Just like skyscrapers, everyone should be getting access to good healthcare, from basic hygiene to emergencies. Are we focusing on deeper and more realistic research addressing the hottest issues of the day? 

We should be as contemporary as we can. Skyscrapers use the latest technology.

Are we using the latest technology in research and development?  What about the content of our curriculum, from kindergarten to university? 

Does it scrape the frontiers of knowledge? When will Artificial Intelligence (AI) get into our classrooms? Did Covid-19 and RNA get there? 

Why don’t we scrape the skies by winning Nobel prizes, getting patents, and pioneering in Research and Development (R&D)?   

Let’s pause. We do very well in sports, our athletes are world-famous, and our banks are also scraping the skies by crossing the borders. 

No sector can’t have its skyscrapers, even politics. Have we ensured there are skyscrapers in political freedom? 

It’s such freedom fuelled by optimism that turned our economy around after the exit of the former ruling party KANU. Like skyscrapers getting higher, is our freedom space getting bigger? 

What are our economic skyscrapers? Have we got bigger markets through higher quality goods and services?  

Have our entrepreneurs’ lives become better with more profits?  Sadly, they have done well, driven by necessity, not necessarily our support. Do we support great entrepreneurs or “cut their legs?”  

Have we built skyscrapers for leisure? Do not say we have gyms in apartment blocks.  What are the leisure avenues for the ordinary people? Does it surprise you that illicit brews and drugs are part of their leisure?  

How many public swimming pools, tennis courts, parks and stadiums do we have?  Why can’t we get intoxicated with our own version of the English Premier League?  Why can’t I be a fan of Shamakhokho FC or Githurai FC?  

We should have skyscrapers in soft issues like love. Are we devoting more time to those who matter to us? 

Are we influenced by movies, materialism or by a deep concern for one another in matters of relationship? Do we strive to be happy and make others happy? 

Do you find skyscrapers in our social discourse? What do you discuss in family and other social gatherings? 

Is it of higher quality, enriching each other’s lives? Do you keep off muchene (gossip) or you are one of the purveyors? 

Are you deliberately searching for a deeper meaning, either through religion, philosophy or experiences? 

Are we trying to scrape the sky by reaching self-actualisation? Elon Musk has shown it is time to think beyond the sky into Deep Space with its infinite possibilities unlike the limited planet Earth. Shall we join him?

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