Live and work in the city centre: Can Nairobi sustain this new trend?
HOME & AWAY
By Peter Muiruri | August 25th 2016
Imagine sipping your morning cup of coffee as you watch a golfer tee off in one of the city’s golf courses. What about enjoying a late evening swim on an infinity pool as tired office workers troop past Uhuru Park just below your home?
Now stop imagining since this will be the lifestyle that residents of Montave, a proposed mixed-use development at the junction of Haile Selassie and Lower Hill Road, Nairobi, will enjoy come 2020.
Currently, the area is dotted with eucalyptus trees, some dating back to the days before Nairobi was born.
The newest kid on the block, set to hug the city’s skyline a little over three years from now, is being described as “a monumental masterpiece that is set to deliver Nairobi’s most prestigious address, a titanic development that offers an intricate mix of shopping, working, visiting, living and leisure and a silk lining of architectural marvel”.
According to the development’s master-plan, the leisure segment, to be housed on the 16th floor, will provide residents with a full spectrum of entertainment, including a heated infinity pool overlooking the city.
On the third floor will be elevated gardens with splendid views of the greens at the Railways Golf Course below. No wonder almost all units on this floor have been pre-booked.
The new development presents a new way of city living that is gaining currency in many parts of the world. Faced with shrinking space for expansion, cities are concentrating their new mixed developments around the central business districts where infrastructure is already developed.
According to the Nairobi County Integrated Development Plan, enacted in 2014, Nairobi lacks land for further developments due to past illegal allocations. As a result, says the NCID, “there are challenges in effective and integrated planning as a result of unresolved land issues”.
In view of this, states the master-plan, preference to the little land left in the city is being given to development of residential areas and commercial centres.
In other cities, older buildings are being retrofitted in order to accommodate residents.
In Auckland, New Zealand, for example, over 38,000 residents live and work in the city centre. The figures are much higher in the United States and United Kingdom cities. In Cape Town, South Africa, owner-occupied properties increased from 47 per cent in 2014 to 52 per cent in 2015.
In a recent interview, Mick Pearce, a renowned Zimbabwean architect, told this writer that Africa needs to rethink the design of the city centre in order to attract more residents to mitigate traffic and safety issues.
In a radical move, Pearce proposed to redesign some skyscrapers in the capital, Harare, so that people can live in the city centre.
“Some of these tall buildings which are empty can be turned into residential homes. This happens in other cities around the world. Why can we not have people living in the CBD here in Africa? Why should we have people coming and going out of the city and complaining about heavy traffic?” he asked.
According to Pearce, having people inhabit a city’s CBD has many benefits, including the general perception that there is more security in the area.
“There is more visible security in the CBD due to the many government installations. Having people in the inner city looking out for each other is the best kind of security in this era of terrorism,” he said.
Dr Ojiambo Oundo, University of Nairobi lecturer and practising real estate expert, says the move to bring people closer to the city centre is actually long-overdue. He says the idea will give the Nairobi CBD, which has seen better days, some new lease of life. This, he says, is in line with the country’s development blueprint, Vision 2030, that advocates for a 24-hour economy.
“I am for such a move to populate areas around the city centre. For one, this will reduce urban sprawl that has seen Nairobi turn into one big village. This is actually the practice around the world. I see no reason for segregating commercial and residential areas in the city,” said Oundo.
Oundo added that from a planning point of view, providing services is easier with such a concentration of residential, commercial and entertainment nodes in one place.
“Service providers will find it easier to provide shared amenities such as water and electricity to such a mixed-use development than having different structures strewn all over. It is also cheaper to upgrade an existing system than to build a new one,” he said.
Mairura Omwenga, chairperson of Town Planners chapter of the Architectural Association of Kenya, said as much as the move to populate areas next to CBD is welcome, such developments need forethought, especially with regard to supporting infrastructure. This is because they will be competing with older establishments for the same amenities such as water, energy and sewer.
“Any mega project within the short radius of the CBD will bring in more traffic to the already clogged roads. Then there is the issue of water and adequate power. County planners need to take this into account and liaise with relevant statutory bodies to avoid a repeat of the same reasons that make people run away from the city,” he said.
Of great concern to Omwenga, however, is the quality of life for residents next to or in the CBD. Recent surveys show that Nairobi is one of the most polluted cities in the world, especially due to heavy vehicular traffic.
To remedy the situation, Omwenga said environmental authorities such as National Environment Management Authority (Nema) need to make sure that vehicles use fuels that emit little pollutants into the air, “otherwise we may have expensive buildings that far outlive their owners”.
The new master-plan for Nairobi says infrastructure that was put up decades ago can no longer cope with current population increase. With regard to water, for example, it says “water catchment areas are increasingly being degraded due to the large volume of industrial and other wastes from human activities”, adding that water supply infrastructure will be critical to the continued development of the county.
Despite this, the city continues to attract huge projects that put more strain on the already stressed infrastructure. Having such developments, next to the CBD, will test Nairobi’s recent acclaim as a resilient city.
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