LIVING

Cities should be havens of peace

Instead, they’ve been turned into little hells-on-earth by poor planning and execution.

In Summary
  • The freedom and safety that one feels in their house need to be communicated in the environment around it.
  • For a home to truly be one, the area around it needs to allow the residents of the home to walk about freely without having to fight for space with cars.
Tourists take a boat cruise along the Singapore River in the central business district in Singapore.
Tourists take a boat cruise along the Singapore River in the central business district in Singapore.
Image: REUTERS

Imagine having a beautiful house sitting on immaculate lawns and flowers; but right outside your fencing creaking shacks stare at you through your windows. Or the hooting and whooshing of a busy highway keeps blaring into your bedroom when you try to sleep.

Imagine wanting to go for a walk, but not knowing who will get you first, the cars you’ll be competing for space on the road with, or the thief up to no good. Or will it be the effluent crossing the road with you, or the choking fumes from the industry next door?

This is the nightmare that many city dwellers have to go through every day. Spaces that should otherwise be havens of peace are turned into little hells-on-earth by poor planning and execution.

As cities grow, they tend to overwhelm their original plans. Shops and stalls are built on sewerage lines, causing blockages. Industries dump their effluent into rivers. Mountains of trash grow in the middle of informal settlements.

We have seen it happen all over the country. Slums have grown seemingly overnight right next to posh estates, because lower income urban residents are often ignored. We’ve witnessed green fields and parks turned into high-rise offices because development controls are left by the wayside in favour of brick and mortar.

The future of urban living needs to be considered as just that—living. SDG 11 contends that all people should have safe and affordable housing, access to public transport and services, access to green spaces for recreation, and a clean environment. The interconnected nature of the sustainable development goals means that allowing people to have access to good, affordable and safe urban services greatly impacts their health, their ability to learn and work.

Families should have a place to walk to and have an afternoon picnic sitting on green grass under the shade of trees. They should be able to walk or cycle to work and avoid the long gridlock that has become synonymous with Nairobi’s streets.

Homes, in the same way, cannot be removed from the contexts they exist. As the places where we hide our weary bones at the end of a hard day, homes need to feel like home, even on the journey there.

Homes need to be in spaces where healthcare, leisure, work and play are all in one area. This is slowly but surely becoming a reality. Gone are the days when children got home late from school because of absurd traffic. Or water runs out in the middle of your shower, where any shower of rain calls for gumboots because of substandard drainage, where exaggerated electricity bills distort your monthly budget.

The freedom and safety that one feels in their house need to be communicated in the environment around it. For a home to truly be one, the area around it needs to allow the residents of the home to walk about freely without having to fight for space with cars. Children should have a place to play where they can fully enjoy themselves without any cares in the world.

Families should have a place to walk to and have an afternoon picnic sitting on green grass under the shade of trees. They should be able to walk or cycle to work and avoid the long gridlock that has become synonymous with Nairobi’s streets.

Cities that have such homes are not simply a dream of hopeful people. They are actually being built today. A local newspaper recently reported that Kenyan investors are flocking towards Nigeria to put their money in a city that has been designed for the future.

Cities as we know them right now stand little chance of making it past the SDG 11 goalposts. Sustainable urban developments mean no more effluent flooding your roads, footpaths and cycle lanes on every road, and recreational areas for everyone.