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Can urban planners defy the odds and promote liveable urban areas and cities?

By Dennis Abuya and Nicholas Waweru | February 3rd 2020
Planned and implemented, the beautiful side of Nairobi. [Archive, Standard]

The long-term success of any rapidly urbanising country like Kenya requires a rethink of urban planning with a focus on sustainability and how urban infrastructure services can enhance liveability.

To plan and manage a liveable city, there must be active collaboration between levels of government and across agencies to ensure urban services are delivered efficiently and effectively.

The sustainable development in urban areas and cities largely depends on the actions and capacity of county governments in terms of their technical, economic or financial capacity and political goodwill in prioritising the urban planning agenda in providing facilities and services to its citizens.

Kenya’s urban areas have been experiencing many of the urban challenges growing cities face today: 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.

Promoting inclusivity

Many cities such as Singapore have managed to overcome many of these challenges through integrated urban planning and development, harnessing technology, infrastructure and municipal financing, action planning and urban governance. 

The pledge of leaving no one behind, promoting inclusivity, citizen participation should be enhanced at all levels of urban planning before the implementation of any project.

No urban area or city prospers by leaving its people behind. Planning should also ensure it caters for all social classes without any form of discrimination in the provision of facilities and services.

 It should never plan for only the rich to the exclusion of the poor and disadvantaged groups.

It is the right time to have our towns and cities planned for with full support given from the various policies and legislations in preparation of urban plans, zoning plans, policies, regulations and guidelines to guide urban development.

The Constitution of Kenya in article 66 provides for the regulation of land use and property by the state in the interest of land use planning among others. The Physical Planning and Land Use Planning Act, 2019 provides for preparation of various urban development plans and ways of regulating development through development control and enforcement tools and instruments.

 The County Government Act, 2012 provides for the various types of plans to be prepared for in Part XI which comprises of the County Integrated Development Plans, County Spatial Plan, County Sectoral Plans and City or Municipal Plans, Part III and IV of the Urban Areas and Cities Act of 2011 provides for governance and management of urban areas and cities together with the preparation of integrated development plans for cities, municipalities and towns established in the County Governments.

Planning and chaos and the same sky: Mlolongo in the outskirts of Nairobi. [Archive, Standard]

 With such urban development plans prepared by registered professionals having realistic, achievable and implementable proposals, we can realise liveable planned cities which will only require an element of urban management.

One of the best Harvard economists Ed Glaeser once said that economics offers tactics not strategy, which means that politics must decide what level of support, say, urban planning, will receive.

Measurable impact

Therefore long-term and strong political commitment are critical in the success of projects through prioritising of such urban development projects and programmes to realize the outcomes with measurable impacts since planning shouldn’t be based on the outcome alone but an outcome with transformative impact to the people.

 Successful cities such as Singapore had first-generation visionary political leaders who were far-sighted and determined to change the cities from their backwardness into modern metropolis through efficient urban planning which was a priority to them.

Urban planning was made a long term-plan which guided the leaders and urban managers in knowing where to allocate infrastructure and resources which were affordable to them. It is a wakeup call in Kenya to have such leaders to prioritize urban planning which shall guide better urban development and encourage wise investments in appropriate areas which will enhance clean air and water, flowing traffic, good infrastructure facilities and services, adequate open spaces, safe and comfortable environment to live and work in.

Such an environment will always attract local and foreign investments which creates employment opportunities and enhance the prosperity of our towns, municipalities and cities. The infrastructure to be prioritised in urban areas includes roads, water, electricity, sewage and drainage which require a good long-term master plan to be in place.

Urban Zoning Plans should be based on science and projections and not merely precedence or emotions.

The essence of zoning

For instance, the areas zoned for agriculture should take into consideration various parameters such as rainfall, temperature, relative humidity, soils, agrarian factors comprising of social and population, Economics of the area which should comprise of markets, roads and population among many other factors depending on the suitability of the proposed food chain in the agricultural zone.

On the same note, it would be comical to zone a very cold area for banana or chicken farming unless some adaptations and innovations are made to modify the climate of the area which will be more expensive than the returns anticipated.

The overall returns should be able to cater for the entire household for a whole year otherwise if it doesn’t it means that’s not a suitable area to venture as an economic activity. A farmer who harvests 8 bags of maize in an acre in an urban area which he later sells at Sh3,000 per bag translates to Sh 24,000 per year. This means in a month he earns Sh2,000 or Sh66 per day and if he is the head of the family with a household size of 5, it means each person earns Sh13 per day.

Away with eyesores: The rehabilitated Kibarani dumpsite, Mombasa. [Archive, Standard]

This doesn’t make this farmer poor but an emergency case that requires some foreign aid from red-cross to his family. As planners, it is good to look at all aspects of technical, economic, social, environmental and jurisdictional dimensions in preparation of plans for liveable and sustainable cities.

Smart planning

The new wave of urban planning for smart cities has to start with Urban Planners expected to lead the republic in the right way since it is not science and fiction but something that can be done and have a transformative effect in urban areas, most of which haven’t experienced sprawl.

Successful planning can only be good with the successful implementation of plans.

Remedies should be put in place to rectify areas of non-compliance especially with the provisions of the recently enacted Physical and Land Use Planning Act, 2019 that provides for development control and enforcement measures. The different levels of government should ensure devolved planning units are cascaded to the lowest ward levels to ensure urban planning is well understood with regular sensitization of citizens through planning clinics.

This will bridge the gap between town planners and people affected by their decisions either before the plan preparation, during or post plan which entails implementation, development control and enforcement. Laws are made to enhance compliance and not punishment, only those who defy should be punished.

Styling up

In this age and era, we should move away from the tactics like those in traffic regulators hiding in the bush to penalise pedestrians rather than installing warning signs of the speed limits.

This doesn’t happen in civilized nations and we should move away from the Kanjo Kingdom way of enforcement rather than the procedural and human way of communicating to the non-compliant developers willing to comply with the regulations but caught unaware due to ignorance.

Planning should make several attempts in giving the local people greater power in making contributions to decisions made in their neighbourhoods to have more communities involved in planning.

 This can be enhanced through offering greater access to information to all plans, policies and guidelines deposited on government websites. This will give room for feedbacks, inputs and imparting knowledge to the public on matters relating to urban planning.

The writers are urban planners

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