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June 25, 2018

Urban planning is key to GDP growth

With an urbanisation rate of 4.3 per cent per annum and an urban population of 27 per cent (as at 2016 ), Kenya is considered a rapidly urbanising state compared to her East African neighbours.

It is projected by 2050, more than half of the country is likely to be urban, with increased populations in secondary towns such as Eldoret, Garissa, Homa Bay, Kajiado, Kakamega, Kiambu, Kisii, Kitui, Naivasha, Machakos, Meru, Migori, Nyeri and Ruiru.

The three primary towns, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, will also realise increased populations.

But my focus will be on the secondary towns, which double as county administrative capitals or key commercial nodes. Their management will significantly impact on services, a key mandate of the county governments.

Whereas attention has traditionally been directed at the primary cities, governors should now redirect resources towards effective management of their towns if local economic development is to be realised sooner than later.

Secondary towns are the engines of county-level job creation, revenue-generation and consequently GDP growth, a fact that had not been exhaustively explored in the past.

Are the county governments prepared to manage these towns and consequently harness the economic dividends that they could yield? Have measures been put in place to support existing and proposed structures that buttress service delivery in the counties?

The answer could be yes and no.

Yes, because counties such as Turkana are preparing urban development plans to spur economic growth.

No, because most counties are shying away from establishing effective urban management boards as envisaged in the Urban Areas and Cities Act ( 2011 ), diminishing prospects for effective delivery of services in water, sanitation, local transportation, trade, ICT, tourism, agriculture and food security.

Lamu, Kericho and Kiambu are at various stages of preparing and or operationalising their urban plans. Lamu is likely to realise enormous revenue since the Lamu Port has been integrated into the wider Lamu Spatial Plan.

In Kisumu, plans are underway to open and redevelop the lakefront area through a city extension plan under preparation in partnership with UN-Habitat. The plan will enhance trade and link the moribund railway to the CBD.

Kiambu has rolled out an automated planning and development application platform through which developers submit urban and related infrastructure plans for approval. It has automated its urban revenue streams, increasing annual revenue by over 50 per cent.

These are a few examples of local best practices that could be replicated.

As the new county governments settle down to work, it is paramount that governors embrace urban planning and development to achieve economic growth.

It is important to note that some multilateral agencies are already considering urban planning and development as conditions for accessing grants.

As the counties embark on writing their second-generation County Integrated Development Plans, there must be a link between the CIDPs and urban planning and development.


Urban planner, UN Habitat


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