Nairobi’s risks losing its beauty through unplanned developments

We have arrived, consciously, at a milestone in this city where it is impossible to tell how high the building next door will be. I emphatically say consciously because the journey to this junction is vivid to nearly all city dwellers.

The debate on the exacerbation of unplanned and uncoordinated development in this city is silently talked about in matatus nearly daily. I bet you will not miss such a conversation in the early morning or late evening informal group discussion along the streets of Nairobi. The discourse is even louder in many professional forums or even residents’ association gatherings.

People are concerned and rightfully so, but the helplessness demeanour we depict on this subject is feigned. We have accepted the limitation on our actions and seemingly, too, accepted the restriction on our thinking. We cannot have such a luxury.

How did we get here? Cities worldwide metamorphose. This is due to economic, social, political and environmental forces, to mention a few. Nairobi has been no exception to this rapid transformation. High urbanisation and population growth over the years have brought immense development pressure.

Like most developed cities, we should have evolved due to this pressure by reviewing our metropolitan growth plan and zoning regulation policies. We did not. Consequently, the city now grapples with challenges of unplanned and uncoordinated developments, inadequate infrastructure and a deteriorating environment.

Nairobi city has no known growth master plan for nearly two decades now and the existing zoning regulation policies are medieval. Take, for example, Riverside, Kileleshwa and Kilimani areas under Zones Four.

The current zoning policy requires ground coverage of 35 per cent for areas under sewer and 25 per cent for areas without sewer, with plot ratio of 75 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. It further states that the maximum allowable height for apartments is four storeys.

We all agree that such a zoning policy cannot be applicable in 2019. In fact, a drive in these areas depicts a different picture and indicts the set zoning policy. Tall apartments of 10, 12, 15 and even 18 floors, on small pieces of land, are now the norm. Hardly can you see a four-storey existing or upcoming development.

Master plan

Why is it such a hard task to develop a working city master plan and zoning regulations that are at par with time? It is no longer a speculation; the review of Nairobi city zoning regulation will continue to be vehemently resisted from within the county, either directly or by design.

The current, outdated zoning policy pays rent for many within city hall. It is a cash-cow during development approvals.

It is foolhardy to expect the very people to champion for city zoning review and master planning. It is akin to biting the hand that feeds you – it won’t happen.

In 2012, an attempt by the Nairobi City Council to review the zoning policy faced resistance from Nairobi Residents Association which petitioned the council to carry out consultation with city dwellers before re-zoning. You really don’t have to think very hard as to why city residents, who were such a key stakeholder, were left out in this effort. Of course they knew it wouldn’t go unchallenged, hence defeating the process by design.

There was another lacklustre attempt by the County assembly in December 2017.

If we don’t harden and demand for this city’s master planning and zoning regulation review, then we must be ready to pay the price dearly; more flooding, traffic snarl-up, sewer bursts, water shortages and a deteriorating environment due to skewed developments will be our way of life. Buckle up!

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