The City of Nairobi has witnessed a gradual transformation over the last decade. This is the change from what were single unit houses to high-rise buildings, of several stories, like office blocks and multi-story apartments.
The increasing urban population has created an increased demand for housing and office space. This has put pressure on the areas adjacent to the central business district (CBD). The City Council was forced to review its zoning policy and now many corporations are developing their headquarters in skyscraper-like structures in the areas adjacent to the CBD. Other residential areas not too far from the CBD, like Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Lavington, have also seen changes towards more intense construction and densification.
One challenge the densification programme faces is little input and minimal improvement of supporting infrastructure like water supply, sewer systems and access roads. Developers have also purposefully ignored green planning, such as the need to put up playgrounds and open spaces as they prefer to maximize profits instead. Any densification must add value to the existing urban fabric, with emphasis put into spacing between buildings to avoid shadows on one another, inner court privacy, air circulation and ecological aspects like green corridors, urban parks, nature reserves and public squares. When people have no personal space for a garden, the need for usable public space is essential.
Transport ought to be the backbone of metropolitan growth and such programmes should be accompanied by adequate investment in mass transit. This would help reduce the congestion created by increased human movement. As this is not the case, Nairobi residents are forced to use private cars and matatu’s resulting in perennial traffic jams.
One positive impact of densification is the reduction of urban sprawl. Urban sprawl tends to place enormous pressure on local governments who have to keep up with the infrastructure needs, while at the same time having a negative ecological effect. Costs such as highway maintenance, new water and sewerage lines, reduced agricultural land, need for new schools and hospitals are reduced with densification. Provision of utilities may cost up to 25% more in sprawling neighbourhoods.
Poor management and planning of densification in Nairobi has failed to reduce sprawl both towards the national park and the agriculturally rich central Kenya. Land ownership by speculators has also escalated land and housing costs. The urge for people to own houses on their own land is another factor that has escalated sprawl.
Nairobi could borrow a leaf from a city like Tokyo, one of the world’s densest cities, which has still managed to maintain lots of open spaces and have efficient service delivery. Copenhagen also initiated a densification program because they believed that higher densities would help them achieve sustainable urban development more successfully. It assisted in bringing distances between urban locations closer to one another, thus improving energy efficiency.
How should Nairobi renew its densification programme? Can a better transport system aid the current densification programme?
Credit: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.