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Maybe it is time our cities were made people-friendly

By XN Iraki | July 7th 2021
An aerial view of Nairobi City from Ngara [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

In a conversation with a foreigner visiting Kenya, he explained why he thought our cities were not welcoming to visitors. Apart from no clear road signage, the cities were more business than people-oriented. “Cities are for pedestrians to walk around, admire history, take coffee and relax. That is why most cities have parks or even benches where you can sit and rest.“

Well, how could I argue with that? Our cities have metal spikes on anything that looks like a seat to idlers.

We seem to think that cities are places you visit and leave later in the day. So such amenities are not necessary. But that shouldn‘t be the case. 

One of the ways to liven up and make our towns more welcoming is to have more people live in the city centre. Think Chester House, right here in Nairobi’s CBD. This will give the city real owners.

Two is to have less traffic terminating in the city. While that would be harder to execute as that wasn‘t considered in the original design of the city, one solution would be to to have designated buses take pedestrians to the city centre for free. I know others would prefer to walk into the city. And that would need safe walkways. 

We could also create more spaces where one can sit and relax. For example, where does one go during an office break? Most of our options are going to a hotel for some tea. Getting more space for leisure is hard because every space is already built up. But if we can bring down buildings to build an expressway, why not to create open spaces and parks? 

Four, cities like Nairobi need an elected mayor. The effectiveness of Nairobi Metropolitan Services leaves no doubt an executive mayor is needed. You can’t run rural areas the same way as urban areas. Why was the post abolished? Is it because governors wanted no competitors?

Five, we need to understand the importance of the cities to the economy. They are crucibles of new ideas and not just business centres. By bringing people together, cities stir competition and spawn new ideas. New enterprises are started and old ones expanded. I think that is the reason very few patents are registered in the rural areas. They lack this advantage that abounds in cities. 

New ideas are created when we have time to relax, reflect and think; either in open spaces like parks or even in coffee shops. Ever wondered why schools and universities have lots of open spaces or grounds? Ever wondered why lots of companies nowadays boast of their “campuses” ? 

Why can’t we extend campus design to the cities, make them more livable to both the affluent and the hustlers. Covid-19 drove the point home on why our cities are ill designed and need redesigning. 

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