The City of Nairobi owes its development to the Kenya to Uganda Railway project, initiated by the colonialists in 1896. The railway ran from the coastal town of Mombasa to Kenya’s neighbor country Uganda. The town was then demarcated around 1905 through racial segregation and land was designated to different races; the Europeans, Indians, and Africans. Africans, who were mainly laborers and generally poor, received urban fringe to the east of the city, popularly known as the Eastlands. This became a low income, high-density area. It is here that one can find numerous institutional-owned housing estates that were developed to house workers.
One of the notable old estates is Ofafa Jericho, an estate which lies 300-hectares north of Makadara and west of Buru Buru Estates. It was developed in the 1950s by the then City Council of Nairobi, with an aim of housing about 10,000 people. However, this has changed over the years as population continues to grow. The area was set up with a housing scheme in mind, with proper streets to allow circulation within the estate, a community hall, and numerous open spaces. The basic house design comprises of blocks of the same size that are laid out in rows. The aim of the estate was to provide cheap housing and even today, over fifty years later, the Ofafa Jericho residents pay cut-rate rents, despite being in a prime area that is very close to the Central Business District.
The housing blocks. Note the extensions made of iron sheet.
What is the current situation? Over the years, the number of residents has increased to about 50,000 residents, which is five times the number of people the area was initially planned for. Most of the current tenants inherited the property from their parents or relatives who used to work for the city council. This is attributed to the lack of a proper management system.
This increased population comes with its costs. Houses are no longer adequate for the families and as a result people have been building uncontrolled extensions. Others build the extensions to rent out to earn income. Extensions are built from iron sheets, undermining aesthetics and giving the previous magnificent estate a slum-like look. The extensions occupy every available inch and now security is a concern due to the many alleys and enclosures that have resulted from these extensions. The facilities too have suffered from the congestion and water is a major issue. There is also a lack of a proper solid waste management system in the estate.
A dilapidated road within Jericho Estate.
Some people dump their solid waste along the roads.
All these congestion challenges beg the question of whether it is time for an urban renewal intervention. From an urban planner’s point of view, we can use Nairobi’s old estates, such as Jericho, to cater to the high demand of housing in Nairobi through densification. The land values are so high due to the proximity to the CBD and the potential of densification that this area holds is yet to be exploited.
The city county government of Nairobi has expressed its intentions to redevelop these old estates in order to provide more and decent housing stock in the past. This will be achieved through efficient space utilization through appreciation of the land’s vertical dimension. This development is expected to face opposition, however, from the current residents who will then have to relocate as redevelopment takes place.
It is agreed that it's the best time to redevelop Nairobi Eastlands, but what approach should the urban renewal take?
Credits: Images by Joseph Waithuki. Data linked to sources.