Karen is gradually becoming ghetto, its once classy charm fading faster than a middle-aged woman’s beauty.
The leafy suburb, previously associated with old money and upper class sophistication, is now assuming some characteristics associated with Eastlands. This was unheard of before in this once exclusive neighbourhood, where horses still neigh and Dobermans are pampered family members.
The once expansive land in Karen is being demarcated into smaller plots, drawing in new dwellers, mostly politicians and wheeler-dealer tenderpreneurs.
Today, Karen has narrow, potholed roads. Dingy joints, where goat meat is roasted, now compete with refined establishments. The Karen Shopping Centre is a shadow of its former self. It looks poorly planned, overcrowded, and the decrepit matatus plying Karen roads make it look like a provincial town in a God-forsaken banana belt.
Karen is not alone in this decline of what were once posh residential areas: Kileleshwa, Loresho, Lavington, Upper and Lower Spring Valley, are slowly turning into heavily populated Eastland-like estates, where flats compete with the traditional bungalows and maisonettes.
True residents in these high-end estates are mourning the near-overnight invasion of wannabes; some have moved out while others have accepted to tolerate the crowding and the traffic.
Rarieda MP, Nicholas Gumbo, a resident of Karen, admits the penetration of all and sundry to suburbs occasioned by the re-zoning is fertile ground for insecurity. “I used to walk and jog around the estate until wee hours of night, or early in the morning, but now I learnt there is an advisory that some areas are unsafe as early as 6 am. This is why we fought this re-zoning.”
Gumbo blames the uncontrolled development, and poor services delivery in Karen, on shady officials at City Hall, with vested interests. “Karen was supposed to be the estate with the lowest population in the city but some residents, with the help of corrupt officials, have been erecting flats here even where it is strictly for residential homes.”
It is the same story in Kileleshwa.
Lena Kinyanjui, a resident of Kileleshwa, laments the invasion of privacy. “You can’t enjoy privacy when a five or seven storey apartment is towering over your bungalow,” she says. “It is crazy here in Kileleshwa. I came here when there was one flat but now they are all over, some going up over ten floors. I have decided to relocate.”
Alvin Olango, a resident of Loresho, which has been categorised as low density homes, says multi-storey buildings have taken over, changing the estate’s status and traditional tranquillity.
Besides the down grading, there is that small matter of sewerage.
Karen, home to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Deputy President William Ruto, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and a host of MPs and business moguls, has deficient sewer network and water hitches are not uncommon.
Runda, too, has no sewer system and like Karen, its distinguished residents rely on ‘honey-suckers’ to empty their septic tanks.
“Exhausters and water vendors make a kill from Karen residents. It is a booming business,” a resident says.