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Small towns take fight to Nairobi for residents

By Peter Theuri | November 26th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Homeowners have now been lured away from the traditional detached bungalows to townhouses in leafy neighbourhoods, a new survey by the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) indicates. [File, Standard]

Nairobi is bursting at the seams thanks to a rapidly swelling population, with the counties surrounding the city reaping the spoils.

The growth of Nairobi is inevitable, and like other rising cities, the capital keeps spreading its tentacles to rope in other townships.

As this happens, property prices continue to hike and the cost of living spirals out of control.

Nairobi is the most populous county in Kenya with a population of 4,397,073 people as at the 2019 census data. The population has grown 40 per cent in the last 10 years from 3,138,369 in 2009.

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This means the city now accounts for 9.2 per cent of the country’s total population - and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) projects it will host five million people in 2025.

Nairobi’s landmass is 703.9 square kilometres, meaning about 6,247 people occupy a square kilometre.

The congestion has seen city residents leaving to settle away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

It is increasingly dawning on potential homeowners that buying a property in the city, or renting one as many do, is barely viable and makes little economic sense.

The major factor that keeps people near Nairobi is work.

But the yawning difference between property prices is forcing people to inch out as they seek to find homes in places that formerly lacked any allure.

Lilian Mbugua, an actuary who bought land and recently built a bungalow in Ruiru, has no regrets. She might not have afforded land nearer the central business district (CBD) at the same price.

“Everyone wants to settle near the city as possible, but the prices are very high. At Allsopps (Thika Road), it could be impossible to acquire land for the same price,” she tells Home & Away.

Factors she considered when buying land included the potential of the place to develop and restrictions in the area on high-rise buildings, where such plans are not approved.

In the profile of the city is also nauseating traffic gridlocks. To move out of Nairobi is to not only ease the congestion on the roads, but also to stir development outside the city.

To satisfy their basic needs such as shopping and health needs, sometimes people living around the city have to come into the CBD.

Establishment of shopping complexes elsewhere has however gradually eroded the need to live in close proximity to the city as people can access the services in the satellite towns.

It now makes sense to live in Kitengela, for example, without the need to frequently commute into Nairobi unless you work there.

Land is available, and considerably cheaper, in places away from an overpopulated city.

“The congestion and lack of habitable areas close to the city due to the rising population and expansion of businesses has led people to seek alternative places to settle their families, such as Nairobi’s outskirts where it is easier for them to commute to work daily,” says Kennedy Murimi, the director of Denver Group, a Kamulu-based real estate company.

“The key reason for the movement is families looking for places in which they can raise their children in an environment conducive for their growth, and security for their future.”

Some of the preferred destinations are Machakos, Ngong, Kitengela and Juja, some well over 30 kilometres outside the city centre.

Land prices are favourable and starting a life in serene surroundings with modern amenities is a huge attraction.

“At Kamulu town, for example, you can buy a plot of land at Sh1.2 million to Sh1.8 million,” Mr Murimi says.

Joska in Machakos county is cheaper, a 50 by 100 feet plot selling at between Sh850,000 and Sh1 million, he says.

Other places such as Ngong would see the same piece going for between Sh650,000 and Sh850,000.

But Nairobi is still a commercial and administrative hub and decongesting it will be hard, with the secondary towns around it designed as “dormitory towns”, according to land planner Samuel Mburu.

“Some of these towns are people’s homes. They live here but are in the long queues snaking into town every morning for work. Nairobi is thus not decongesting.”

Nairobi City is a growth pole, he says. “That means it has all the infrastructural services to feed the needs of people. It presents itself as a major primary town with activities sprawling out from the main centre.”

A plan to decongest the city started with the setting up of the Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development in 2008 and subsequent creation of Nairobi Metropolitan Region in 2010.

The government published the Nairobi Metro 2030 that outlined a plan for a primary city surrounded by many other smaller towns.

These secondary towns were coming up to support the capital city, designed such that they were capable of offering complimentary facilities at the same level as the city.

The strategy was good as services were meant to trickle closer to the people. It has not been realised yet, but there is progress to note.

“The plan was to take services closer to the people and to ensure that they do not need to come to the city because what they need is provided for in more accessible areas,” says Mr Mburu.

Kitengela thus came up to serve people that needed to access Machakos, Kajiado and Nairobi towns for work.

But Mburu is not certain the city is about to decongest.

“As long as towns such as Kitengela do not themselves become economic towns and remain largely residential ones, then the city is unlikely to decongest,” he says.

The establishment of county governments has led to provision of services in the regions without requiring people to go to the country’s capital. 

Devolution means people can settle and work away from Nairobi without once needing to access the city.

“If Isinya, for example, is converted into a special economic zone, then the people coming from Kitengela to the city can have an alternative. That already reduces congestion in the city,” says Mburu.

Facilities such as banking have now found their way into some of these smaller towns around the city.

People love to live near where they work. But forced away from the city by costs, they buy land out there where they are affordable.

“The further you go from the city, the cheaper the land. That is why there are more people driving further out of town,” says Mburu.

In Thika, plots are going for as little as Sh1 million to Sh2 million. Juja town, which is fast-growing, sees the same sell at between Sh650,000 and Sh1 million.

This is a low price in comparison to what one would have to fork out in the city and the first phase of decongestion, the residential one, seems to be doing alright.

Nairobi Small towns Nairobi residents
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