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Why we should urgently review our city planning

By Nashon Okowa | September 26th 2020

The uncontrolled developments route we have been on for some time now will be our detriment.

This ending week has been the World Green Building Week. Once again, the World Green Building Council has been trumpeting a clarion call to policymakers and the built environment to prioritise net zero buildings – for communities, the planet and economies. But are we really listening?

Last year we hosted the first UN-Habitat assembly. The special theme for the assembly was: ‘Innovation for Better Quality of Life in Cities and Communities’. It was also sub-themed: ‘Accelerated implementation of the New Urban Agenda towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals’.

The need for sustainable cities and communities is a universal call for action that Kenya is part of. According to United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), more than half of the world’s population lives in urban centres and the figure will rise to 6.5 billion, two-thirds of humanity, by 2050. We cannot achieve sustainable development without a significant alteration to the way we build and manage our urban areas. The conference was a perfect altar call for us to repent and dispose of our mundane development ways, but we only hardened our hearts.

According to statistics, the construction industry is responsible for 35 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions and 33 per cent of all waste. The growth and development of the world has had an unprecedented impact on our natural environment, hence the importance of sustainable development. Such construction processes would thus bring environmental responsibility, social awareness, and economic profitability to a new built environment and facilities for the wider community. In fact, sustainable construction could be considered as a measure to support a healthy economy.

According to UNDP in 1990, there were ten mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more. In 2014, there were 28 mega-cities, home to 453 million people. Take for instance Nairobi City, the current population is estimated at 4.5 million by UN World population prospect compared to year 2000 when it was just 2.2 million people. It is estimated this figure will rise to 5 million people by year 2025. Considering this, the Habitat assembly last year could not have been better themed and so is the World Green Building week 2020 clarion call; we must expedite the implementation of our new urban agenda to achieve sustainable city and communities’ goal. But does Nairobi City even have a new sustainable urban agenda? How could we expedite what does not exist?  

The uncontrolled developments route we have been on for some time now will be our detriment. We need to, pronto, sign a peace accord with nature before it is too late. It must not be lost on us that already, sewer bursts are becoming a norm that define most of our residential areas, our traffic congestion is rubber stamped in the memory of every visitor that we have welcomed into the city, not forgetting the recently witnessed anomalous flooding that is now defining our rainy seasons.

The urgent need for the implementation of sustainable development methods is glaring. It is time we make green building a mandatory requirement of our construction industry going forward. We can agree on the basic green building requirement that any new development must conform to.

This has to be a mandatory requisite for any development approval for both County and NEMA. In fact, let us amend our building code to reflect the green building, Ghana has done it. It is unfortunate that brilliant regulations like the Energy (Solar water heating) Regulations 2012 that inter alia required all new developments to install and use solar water heating systems and gave a five-year lacuna for existing buildings to comply, have not been implemented. 

We have a small window to reflect and possibly turn things around. We urgently need a new urban agenda on sustainable development. Such weeks as the World Green Building Week 2020 should open our eyes to see this. Or is ours a lost course? Is destruction our destiny?  

- The writer is chair of Association of Construction Managers of Kenya. 

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