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When 20 minutes to CBD becomes three hours

By Graham Kajilwa | July 15th 2021
Mombasa Road Traffic Jam which inconvenienced many many travelers and people who were going to work , others took hour to reach their destination and workplaces in a place which usually takes five minutes . Picture By Maxwell Agwanda

?“Where else would you live in a quiet place only around 20 minutes to CBD?” reads an advertisement by a property company.

“We have this vacant apartment in Thindigua along Kiambu Road going for Sh35,000 per month plus one-month deposit,” it adds. 

For anyone working in Nairobi’s Central Business District, the thought of spending only 20 minutes to get to the office is enough to make you relocate to such a property.

Yet, this does not always guarantee that you will spend those 20 minutes to work or back home.

In fact, the advertiser’s time is dependent on the fact you will use Kiambu Road to access the CBD, which Google Maps estimates to take 23 minutes.

Google Maps also shows that it can take you 28 minutes if you use the Embu-Nairobi Highway, which will join Thika Road A2 before you get to the CBD.

Additionally, it can take you 34 minutes via Kiambu Road and A2.

While this type of marketing usually factors in only the perceived shortest route to woo new tenants and property buyers, it does not consider traffic jams, which are a big drawback in Nairobi.

Johnson Ndege, a property management consultant, notes that when advertisers quote certain times they typically do not consider traffic.

“They assume normal traffic flow and set traffic speed,” he says.

Yet as the layout of the city is, the closer you live to the CBD – also perceived as walking distance – the higher the price or rent of the house.

This also applies to the fare on public service vehicles as it would cost one Sh100 to get to the CBD if they live in Rongai, for instance, but Sh30 or Sh50 from Kileleshwa or Ngara.

Secretary General of Urban Landlords and Tenants Association Ephraim Murigo says prices and rents in Kenya are determined by the distance to CBD, unlike in most developed countries where zoning informs the cost of a house.

This is also determined by how well a particular area is developed.

“When you go to some areas you have to carry an extra pair of shoes because the roads are not well developed such that by the time you get to the bus stop, you have walked for more than 10 minutes,” says Mr Murigo.

“People want to look good when they get to the city but must live in cheap houses.”

Mr Ndege says most marketers will distance themselves from the claim of 10 or 20 minutes to CBD by adding that ‘not all information is warranted’.

“It is a whole discussion that can bring an argument: is it ethical? Because in reality we know there is no day there will be no traffic, unless you will be coming home at night,” he says.

“The best thing is to tell a client that all marketing information is not warranted, take a step and do your own due diligence.”

These ‘false’ claims may be unnecessary in marketing of property if planning of the city was redone, says Constant Cap, an urban planner.

This, he says, could be done by breaking down the city to have more than one centre of influence. 

“(If this happens) you will not see adverts saying five minutes to town. In fact, you will be saying five minutes’ walk to the nearest railway station, and it will be a true five minutes,” says Mr Cap.

He says the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system being implemented in Nairobi could complement the development of other centres of influence, but has paid little attention to it.

“When you focus on CBD as the only centre of influence, you will end up having a lot of congestion,” says Cap.

The ideal way of planning an urban area, he says, is to have a polycentric approach and not homocentric. This is where the city has several centres of influence other than the CBD.

Nairobi’s planning is essentially homocentric with almost every activity revolving around the CBD. As such, most offices are located there, which pushes up the rents and prices of property around it.

If a city is polycentric, then even the way real estate planning is done will change, says Cap, as the CBD will cease being the only selling point.

Some property developers have become aware of this phenomenon and while they still market their houses using the CBD as a focal point, they include nearby centres.

One such real estate project is Westpoint Heights, by Pan African Housing Fund located in Kikuyu.

While Kikuyu is 42 minutes to the CBD via the main highway A104, the project is marketed using the centres of influence in the area, among them The Hub in Karen and Wilson Airport on Langata Road.

“The key advantage to the project is the close proximity to the Southern Bypass giving residents easy access to Karen, Wilson Airport and Westlands,” says Dorothy Sule from Westpoint Heights in a video advertising the project.

The two-bedroom apartments are selling at Sh6.9 million.

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