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Time to spare a thought for green spaces this Valentine’s Day

By Elizabeth Wathuti | February 14th 2021

Kenyans, like the majority of the people globally will take a break from their daily routine to show appreciation for their loved ones on this Valentine’s Day.

Unfortunately, the green spaces such as parks that we love to visit during such events are under threat as urban planners encroach on every space in the name of development.

Air pollution and environmental degradation are choking our cities — directly or indirectly affecting our way of life.

Soon, it will become difficult for the poor to enjoy on days like today because the majority of them rely on parks and green public spaces. Already, more than 200 trees – some exotic are earmarked for felling. One dreads to imagine what Nairobi will look like in five years if we continue to cut down trees.

Sometimes, you walk by what was once a beautiful street only a decade ago and find heaps of waste. Our waterways are also becoming a ‘soup of poison’ flowing with plastic waste. All of this is happening in the middle of a pandemic. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that protecting the few green spaces left and creating room for more could be our new escape plan.

The clean, beautiful, and Green City in the Sun can come alive again if we halt every activity that is fueling degradation, pollution or is a threat to the limited green spaces left in Nairobi.

That cities are growing rapidly should make us re-think the role green spaces will play in the future. Nairobi is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa.

It is estimated that Nairobi’s population will reach five million by 2025. Besides pleading with the State to act on the promises, we too must make pledges, promises and commitments to keep when it comes to protecting green spaces and environment.

We should take advantage of our nyumba kumi(s) and report any grabbing of green spaces as the Jamhuri Phase One estate committee on Ngong Road did when their playground was being grabbed. We have to be vigilant because no one will save us. We must commit to recycling and disposing of waste responsibly to keep our environment clean.

Biodiversity loss

Our leaders must also take steps to ensure that infrastructure projects are implemented in a manner that acknowledges the biodiversity loss. Climate change remains the biggest challenge of our time. And President Kenyatta, being the symbol of national unity ought to walk the talk.

He did promise that infrastructure projects, which are a key driver of economic growth, will not cause any degradation to natural habitats and biodiversity. Today, the Nairobi Expressway has already seen enough trees felled. It’s only a peaceful protest that saved a 100-year-old iconic fig tree on Waiyaki Way.

We must take environmental degradation seriously and recognise that without green spaces, pandemics like Covid-19 would wipe us out in weeks if not hours because of the poor air quality.

We must act with urgency if we are to attain a just and sustainable future for all generations through proper planning of our cities to include green spaces and appreciate the diversity of trees along our streets.

As we celebrate this Valentine’s Day, those living in leafy suburbs can afford candlelit dinners in their green backyard.

But the poorest who mostly live-in informal settlements depend on parks such as Uhuru and City to enjoy this day with their loved ones. It’s necessary to protect these spaces and create green spaces in the slums.

Environmental and climate activists have been labelled as anti-development but all we need is green infrastructures incorporating green spaces.

-The writer is the Head of Campaigns at Wangari Maathai Foundation and the Coordinator, Daima Coalition

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