- 20-year Sh27.9 billion project will include modern transit station, offices and industrial parks
- But previous, much publicised plans touted to make Nairobi a modern city have come to naught
Traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing and water supply problems within Nairobi could be a thing of the past following plans to expand the central business district and develop a new railway station to link all city suburbs.
The Sh27.9 billion project will include a modern transit station, offices and industrial parks.
The master plan seen by the Star reveals the refurbished city will comprise commercial and residential buildings as well as open public spaces, police and fire stations and walkways.
Situated on 425 acres next to Upper Hill, Nairobi Railway City will be a 24-hour city as envisioned in the Vision 2030 master plan.
“New central station is designed to ensure the seamless connection in the CBD. It has a commuter rail, three BRTs, Airport Limousine, City bus, and NMT like bicycle,” the project's artistic impression reads in part.
Divided into three core areas, the government hopes that the proposed plan will transform Nairobi into a sustainable, integrated, iconic and inclusive city that eases Nairobians' traffic woes in addition to enhancing business within and without the city.
“Nairobi has been allowed to grow in a chaotic manner because of lack of planning. Even though we may want immediate results, it is important to plan efficiently,” Housing and Urban Development PS Charles Hinga said on twitter .
The three core areas include meetings, incentives conferences and exhibitions (MICE) core, the centre core and the East core. Located along Bunyala Road area, MICE will provide conference facilities.
The centre core will be an economic zone composed of hi-tech industries and small and medium enterprises. The East core will comprise a residential complex, including a school, park and affordable housing units to accommodate approximately 28,000 residents.
The 20-year project comes against the backdrop of past efforts to transform the city, which has become synonymous with traffic congestion, garbage build-up, hawkers menace and air pollution.
However, these efforts are yet to yield fruit as the city continues to wallow in these problems that were created by poor urban planning and poor leadership.
The situation has been worsened by lack of relevant physical development plans that take into account the changing circumstances of the city including population increase.
A World Bank report in 2016 on the state of urbanisation in Kenya reveals that urban planning officials are unable to cope with rate of urbanisation in Nairobi.
“The urban services provided cannot keep up with rate of urbanisation in the city and other urban centres in the country,” the report says.
It is noteworthy that the Nairobi Railway City master plan seeks to alleviate some of the urbanisation problems highlighted in World Bank’s report.
One of these challenges is affordable housing, a problem the World Bank report acknowledges has been accelerated by high cost of land, lack of access to housing finance, exorbitant taxes and regulations and high cost of formal registration.
Most residents, unable to afford formal housing, have resorted to slums that are characterised by poor water and sanitation facilities. Current estimates are that slum dwellers constitute half of Nairobi’s population.
In light of the housing crisis, development of a residential complex will help relieve urban planning officials of the housing headache. Situated on the present Landi Mawe area, the housing complex will come as a relief for approximately 28,000 residents.
In addition to the mooted BRT system, the project would contribute to a sustainable urban transport system in Nairobi that has been elusive for many years.
Sustainable urban transport would reduce air pollution related to greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring the safety of all road users, including pedestrians, by minimising traffic snarl-ups and road accidents.
The central station will improve accessibility of the CBD and enhance the connection between the CBD and other areas within and without the city. It will also include exclusive lanes for pedestrians and cyclists.
Past efforts by the national government to implement a bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Nairobi have been unsuccessful. The timeline for its roll-out has been changed many times owing to various hitches.
The Jubilee government has been engaged in a tussle with Matatu Owners Association, with the latter accusing the government of not consulting stakeholders in the industry. Plans to import high capacity buses from South Africa have also stalled, with the government eventually opting to use local manufacturers.
Apart from traffic congestion, water supply has been a headache for the national and county governments. In 2018, the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company Limited revealed that it could only supply 504,000 cubic metres of water, far short of the demand of 770,000 cubic metres.
For Nairobi residents who have borne the brunt of water rationing, development of an underground water tank to recycle wastewater and harness rainwater comes as good news.
The underground water tank will be built below the proposed railway station whereas some of the water harvested will be used to irrigate the green areas, including recreational parks.
Public participation is important to cater for the needs and concerns of all stakeholders – including Nairobi residents – before the first phase is rolled out in 2020. Hinga noted the need for public participation before implementation can commence.
“Railway City master plan is ready. This will most certainly change the face of Nairobi. I will appreciate your comments before we embark on its implementation,” the PS said.
On paper, this plan represents just what the doctor ordered for the transformation of Nairobi into an ultra-modern city. However, caution should be exercised considering that similar plans that were previously developed have come to naught.
Success of the project, which is part of Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Plan, will depend on prudent management of the resources for implementing it. Equally important is strong and transparent leadership to steer the project through stormy waters and bring it to a fruitful conclusion.