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Let’s build green cities now

By Isaac Kalua | May 25th 2014

UN Habitat reports that East Africa is the world’s least urbanised sub-region. This is a good thing because it means East Africa has a golden chance to urbanise in a sustainable, profitable manner. The flip-side is East Africa is also urbanising at a fast rate, leaving little time to plan and execute green cities.

With a population of over three million, Nairobi is the region’s second largest city to Dar-es- Salaam which has over four million people. There is no doubt, therefore, that these two cities are big and bustling. But are they green and profitable?

A green city is energy efficient. It facilitates minimal energy usage of its vehicles and buildings. If it has perennial traffic jams, then it is doing the exact opposite — increasing energy usage. IBM’s Commuter Pain Survey of 2011 ranked Nairobi’s roads as the world’s fourth most congested. Ouch! A smooth traffic flow saves fuel, time and money. Yet more proof that green and profitable can walk hand in hand. You can tell a green city from the way that it treats its waste. A green city doesn’t treat its waste like an eyesore, something to be ashamed of. Rather, it treats its waste as an asset that should not be wasted.

Nairobi’s three million people throw away tonnes of waste every day. Ironically, the dozens of Nairobians that often rummage through waste, sorting it like the treasure that it is often receive sympathy and scorn, not admiration. They are probably the greenest Nairobians who should be celebrated and emulated!

Also to be emulated are the Kenyans who are already using multimodal transport, meaning that they utilise two or more modes of transport. Thousands of Nairobians drive their vehicles to Syokimau, Imara Daima or Makadara then board the train into the city centre. Hundreds of Mombasa residents walk or take a boda boda from Mishomoroni to Lights then board a matatu. In both cases, the aim is to possibly save both time and money. This proves that Kenyans, just like most human beings, are fundamentally green and just need enabling environments to act on their green instincts. If Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Machakos or any other urban centre incorporated cycling lanes into their roads, they will be surprised at the number of Kenyans who will ditch vehicles and board bikes.

Now that Kenya has 47  counties, it is possible that in one generation, there will be 47 cities. Not necessarily populated cities with high populations and vibrant industrial activity, but urban centres with increasingly large populations that attract industries and business, or vice versa. Time is, therefore, ripe for governors and MCAs to bury political hatchets, roll up their sleeves and make a decision that in a few years time, they want to be counted amongst green cities. Think green, Act green!



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