A little over two weeks ago, the County Government of Nairobi suddenly realized the menace that Pipeline Estate has grown into. Despite the growing 'concrete slum' being prominently mentioned since seven years ago, 2016 was the year, the promised time.
For the many that have never been to Pipeline Estate in Nairobi, the houses are apartments just like any other. Poor infrastructure in the area gave birth to its improvised and jerry-rigged plumbing and electrical wiring.
Often water must be ported great distances, and rudimentary methods of waste disposal pose health hazards. The muddy paths, blocked drainages overpopulated streets, unhygienic sidewalk 'karangas', suicidal motorbikes crisscrossing paths that four year olds call playgrounds and buildings so dangerously close to each other, are all but impressions of what an unplanned real estate plan is slowly plunging our city into.
Landlords may be slumlords in the foreseeable future, if buildings are allowed to crop up on 'pump-my-pocket' criteria.
Despite all the economic gains preached to us about Brazil, there is the one sneeze detail that still makes Brazil so third world; ‘favelas’. Over 500 shantytowns or slums, known as ‘favelas’, exist within the confines of Rio de Janeiro, comprising more than a third of the city's population.
The structures in ‘favelas’ are primarily brick and cement houses that are built well and to last; conditions are not squalid, with running water, electricity, garbage collection and Internet access, though of low quality, reaching the majority of homes. ‘Favelas’ are notoriously popular in Brazil that movies are being made in their mockery.
During the world cup, it was a tourist attraction. But you and I know all too well what backpacking Westerners with a camera do when they get to third world tourist attractions; they make a life out of it, so much that everyone knows how many blocked pipes contour the region. Tourist attraction.
The story of how ‘favelas’ came up has that curious paragraph about Urbanization in the 1950s that provoked mass migration from the countryside of Brazil to the cities by jobseekers. Those who moved to Rio de Janeiro, however, chose an inopportune time. Unable to find work, and therefore unable to afford housing within the city limits, these new migrants remained in the ‘favelas’. Despite their proximity to Rio de Janeiro, the city did not extend sanitation, electricity, or other services to the ‘favelas’.
Back to Pipeline, housing is cheap. Single rooms range from Sh3, 500 to Sh4, 500, bedsitters go for Sh5, 500 to Sh7, 500 while one-bedroom houses are Sh10, 000 to Sh13, 000. You don't need to break down a Riemann Hypothesis to know where newbies in the city will head to, especially when they are looking for jobs, or just got a job, or even families who don't earn much but cannot live in the popular slums.
When the Nairobi county Land and Urban Planning Chief Executive Chris Khaemba raised the red flag over its surging population and rapidly diminishing infrastructure, you should have nodded your head in dismay, because you are keen enough.
Nairobi is slowly growing into a shanty of these concrete slums. Despite them solving part of the menace that affordable housing has become, therein lies a bigger problem. We risk letting apartments crop up without a plan. We risk having people live in apartments that can no longer be sustained by the water available, or electricity and infrastructure.
It is one thing to scratch bellies and laugh about how big Kenya's real estate is growing, while it is another to see where the majority live. Because when you have more than 100,000 living in Pipeline, something is wrong.
Even more saddening is the fact that as you read this, a group of ten muscular young men are shoving spades of soil up and down as they dig a foundation for the next new apartment in the area.
Is it not the space everywhere? The solution is having a plan, knowing what number of buildings and housing units define the maximum any region can sustain. Not only knowing, but also being brave enough to tell a landlord that they cannot build another flat when we hit the established maximum. There are open areas like Utawala in Nairobi that have acres of land staring at the sky, waiting for buildings and tenants to breathe life into them.
Knee jerk reactions are the mainstay of our country's structures. But where the County has realized how bad the situation is in Pipeline, they should seriously consider how these buildings keep coming up. The pomp and colour we see when launching White-Papers and Masterplans for the city should at least reflect in the vigor with which the county follows up. Now they have realized a problem, work on the problem and not papering over the cracks.
Irvin Jalang'o is a Communications and Marketing Manager at Lamudi, an online real estate marketplace.