ORDERLINESS

Urban planning critical for development

If properly done, we could even see reverse migration from Nairobi.

In Summary
  • All towns with a population of more than 2,000 people should have a plan.
  • How many of our governors have started a serious programme to achieve this given the crisis is just around the corner?

The 2010 Constitution devolved urban and rural development planning from the national government to the counties. We found this to be necessary as the centralised system had failed to be bring the necessary changes to our towns and countryside.

I paid particular attention to this sector at Bomas because I had only recently been the minister in charge of Lands and knew of its challenges. I had also in my earlier banking career been part of a consultancy funded by the UN-Habitat that looked into the role of private sector in putting up houses in the low-income areas of Nairobi.

The first urban planning was undertaken in 1898 for Nairobi during the colonial times. The government later prepared plans for the areas where the colonialists lived but left the African reserves to develop in a haphazard manner. It borrowed heavily from the UK’s system of local government and its urban planning laws.

Our first Independent Kenyan law on this was in 1973 and was amended in 2014. The Director of Physical Planning prepared plans for several urban areas as did the then City Council of Nairobi. In almost all cases, these were never fully implemented due to several reasons, among them being the lack of budgetary funding. We can conclude that our urban planning has failed miserably over the years.

But even with general planning failure, we can see some success going back over the last 100 years. The British planned for roads, public parks, public land for future government institutions and markets. Some of the roads that have been opened up in Nairobi during the last few years were planned for, but not developed, several decades ago.

We hoped that the counties would make similar plans for future development of towns and markets. Their failure to do so now will lead to expensive payments in the future as they try to develop their areas, something that we are already finding to be expensive. We need the 47 county headquarters and their surrounding areas to be planned to avoid their becoming slums like parts of Nairobi. If properly done, we could even see reverse migration from Nairobi.

We need to plans to widen those nine metre rural roads near towns to allow them to carry the expected increased traffic and create space for public utilities. It is important to buy land for future projects today when it is still reasonably priced. The governors have the advantage of having funding, which the county councils did not have.

The population of Nairobi is growing at about four percent each year and it should reach 8 million soon. We are moving into an urbanised world at a fast rate and it is estimated that Kenya will have 54 percent of her people living in urban areas by 2030.

At this rate, it is inevitable that we shall continue to have traffic congestion, water and sewerage problems, poor health and education facilities, especially in slums, if we do not act quickly. We should not follow in the footsteps of Nairobi and allow this to happen to smaller and upcoming urban centres.

All towns with a population of more than 2,000 people should have a plan. How many of our governors have started a serious programme to achieve this given the crisis is just around the corner?

We need to plans to widen those nine metre rural roads near towns to allow them to carry the expected increased traffic and create space for public utilities. It is important to buy land for future projects today when it is still reasonably priced. The governors have the advantage of having funding, which the county councils did not have.

For the country to be well prepared for the urban population boom, we require county leadership with a clear vision and understanding of the impending crisis and start preparing now. We shall need to retrain the planners on working with many stakeholders and sharpen their lobbying skills too. The days of up-down planning are gone, this is the era of down-up planning. That is why we introduced public participation for most government plans.

The political class and greedy businessmen will find it difficult to grab and delay the plans if the public have participated effectively in the making of those decisions. We are already seeing unplanned developments in our rural towns, which is a bad beginning.

Our ‘new modern towns’ of Embu, Eldoret, Garissa, Wote, Migori, Busia and others must be well planned to ensure they will not face constraints in future developments.