Cities as drivers of growth and prosperity

Frank Ireri, Chairman of Habitat for Humanity Kenya. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

This year's World Habitat Day was marked on October 2 under the theme 'Resilient Urban Economies: Cities as Drivers of Growth and Recovery'.

We find ourselves at a crucial juncture in history. The year 2023 has presented unprecedented challenges for both Kenya and the global community, testing the resilience of our urban economies like never before. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the spectre of climate change, cities are emerging as both the battlegrounds and the laboratories for building a more resilient and sustainable future.

In Kenya, the effects of the pandemic on urban centres have been profound. Nairobi, the capital and economic hub, bore the brunt of the crisis, with its vibrant streets and bustling markets suddenly silenced by lockdowns and restrictions. However, it also demonstrated remarkable resilience.

The city's entrepreneurs quickly adapted to the new normal, with many embracing digital platforms to sustain their businesses. E-commerce and delivery services became lifelines for countless Kenyan families, illustrating the role of cities in driving innovation during times of adversity.

Globally, cities have been grappling with the consequences of the pandemic. They have faced challenges ranging from strained healthcare systems to disrupted supply chains. Yet, cities have also shown their potential as engines of recovery.

As governments worldwide rolled out stimulus packages to revive their economies, urban areas became the focus of investments in infrastructure, technology, and green initiatives. This shift in priorities has highlighted the pivotal role of cities in shaping the post-pandemic world.

Kenya's commitment to building resilient urban economies is reflected in recent developments such as the ambitious Konza Technopolis project - a smart city initiative aimed at positioning Kenya as a technology and innovation hub. In a world increasingly driven by digital technologies, cities such as Konza have the potential to attract global investment, create high-skilled jobs, and contribute significantly to the country's economic recovery.

Moreover, Kenya's commitment to environmental sustainability aligns with the global push for greener, more resilient cities. The country's dedication to renewable energy sources, such as geothermal and wind power, not only reduces carbon emissions but also sets a positive example for urban centres worldwide.

In the context of World Habitat Day's theme, these efforts signify Kenya's aspiration to foster resilient urban economies that prioritise environmental sustainability.

On the global stage, discussions surrounding resilience have taken on new dimensions. The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) emphasized the need for cities to play a pivotal role in mitigating climate change. As urban areas are responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, they must also be at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change.

Initiatives like the "30-Minute City," which promotes walkability, cycling, and efficient public transportation, are gaining traction as a means to reduce urban carbon footprints.

Nevertheless, challenges persist. Rapid urbanization in Kenya, as in many parts of the world, brings its share of problems, from inadequate housing and infrastructure to social inequality. As we look to the future, it is imperative that urban planning incorporates inclusivity and equity into its core principles. A resilient urban economy should not leave anyone behind.

At Habitat for Humanity Kenya, we are actively engaged in supporting Kenya's journey towards resilient urban economies. We firmly believe that sustainable urban growth begins with empowering communities. Our efforts extend to providing affordable housing options and essential infrastructure to enhance the quality of life for urban dwellers.

Moreover, we focus on fostering livelihood opportunities within these communities, aiming for holistic and sustainable development.

Affordable housing is a cornerstone of our work. We strive to bridge the housing gap, ensuring that individuals and families have access to safe and decent housing, which is fundamental to economic stability and growth. Access to adequate and affordable housing not only impacts individuals' well-being but also plays a vital role in propelling the economic recovery of cities.

In the face of climate change, it's imperative to prioritise climate change resilience in our urban development strategies. Habitat for Humanity Kenya emphasizes climate-smart construction, using environmentally friendly materials and designs. We aim to create homes that are not only affordable but also capable of withstanding the challenges posed by a changing climate. By focusing on sustainable and climate-resilient housing, we contribute to the overall resilience of urban economies.

As we move forward, it is crucial that we prioritize sustainability, inclusivity, and resilience in our urban development strategies. Habitat for Humanity Kenya remains steadfast in its commitment to these principles, recognising that the well-being of our cities and the prosperity of our communities depend on our ability to create urban environments that are environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive, and adaptable to the challenges of the future.

Globally, cities must unite in the fight against climate change and invest in the health and well-being of their residents. By doing so, we can build cities that not only drive economic growth but also ensure a brighter, more resilient future for all.

- The writer is Chairman of Habitat for Humanity Kenya