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December 17, 2018

G-Spot: Let us reclaim Nairobi city before it is too late

An aerial view of Nairobi's CBD on March 10
An aerial view of Nairobi's CBD on March 10

One of the things I am proudest of, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with it, is the fact that when I was born, my parents lived in a flat in the Nairobi CBD.

I am so proud of this, that I was very upset when 30-odd years ago, as I applied for a  Kenyan ID card, the government official in charge would not let me fill out my home district, division, location and sublocation in terms of the Nairobi area I was born in or that I lived in, but insisted that I put down my father’s home district, division, and so on.

Of course, in making this totally false statement, the man was disregarding and disenfranchising the millions of people born in Nairobi even before it became a city back in 1954.

I believe it is time for Nairobi’s people to take back their city by starting to plant roots there.

It would mean stopping this tradition of travelling out of the city during elections, for instance, to go and vote in people’s so-called ancestral homes. These are places where they don’t live, where they don’t send their children to school, and where they do not consume any of the services provided by the local government.

Another way would be to work together with private developers, building owners and the city authorities to reclaim, as housing, some of the CBD buildings being abandoned by businesses and corporations moving to suburbs such as Upper Hill and Westlands.

Introducing such a residential component will instantly change the dynamics of the city and lead to making the CBD more pleasant. It would be one way to save the CBD from almost certain decay and degeneration. It could even be a creative way to move our people out of unsanitary shacks in the slums on the edge of the city and provide them and others with decent housing in the CBD.

This could even lead to job creation, at first in the construction and building refurbishment industries, as well as in city administration, from security to cleaning, which could become a 24-hour service. People could work around the clock and on weekends, with 12-hour shifts as opposed to the normal eight, leading to the further reorganisation of the city and its dynamic evolution to meet the changing needs of a growing city.

It’s not a terribly new idea, even for Nairobi. As recently as 1979, some buildings on Kimathi Street, such as Kenwood House, were residential.

Imagine a regenerated CBD with shops, markets, street cafes and even regulated street trading. This could be achieved by, for instance, closing certain parts of the city to motor transport and creating pedestrian zones in certain areas.  Even if it is just from 9am to 4pm, for example, and with the obvious exceptions for ambulances, fire and police and electricity departments.

The city could finally truly engage with the 24-hour city culture that we’ve been trying to get off the ground for the last decade or so.

If anyone at City Hall is reading this and liking it, get in touch; I have ideas for days.

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