The rate of Urban development in African cities is at levels never experienced before. Sub-Saharan Africa is the least urbanized region globally, however, it nevertheless has the highest rate of urbanization. Small towns, municipalities, cities and metropolises are expanding at extremely high rates.
Only three decades ago, Nairobi had a population of slightly over 1 million people. It has since experienced a five-fold population increase and is predicted to grow even further. Kinshasa, Cairo and Johannesburg are also growing at unprecedented levels. Kinshasa currently hosts 11 million residents while Lagos is home to over 8 million people.
Rural-Urban migration has been the leading factor in the growth of cities in Africa. Urban centres are viewed as oases of prosperity and people flock to them seeking greener pastures.
Over the last 120 years, Nairobi has grown from a small railway centre into a bustling metropolis. As expected, growth comes with several challenges and Nairobi is not exempt. A large fraction of the population resides in informal settlements that are multiplying by the day. Kibera, Mathare, Mukuru and Korogocho are some of the well-known settlements of this nature. According to a 2010 audit, over 200 informal settlements are now scattered in different areas of the city.
Aside from this, the City also has a growing middle class. Pundits often say that Nairobi has amongst the fastest growing middle-class communities in Africa. A growing middle class exerts a higher demand and pressure for services like better housing, education, health and mobility. The demand for middle income housing has also seen the evolution of various neighbourhoods involving increased densification within the city and sprawl outside the border.
Interestingly, however, the city remains shackled to a Zoning Ordinance that has neither been revised nor updated to meet any of the new needs or requirements. The ordinance, last revised in 2008, sets standards regarding plot ratio, ground coverage and building heights in areas covered by sewer. The reality on the ground is that rarely are these regulations are adhered to. It is believed that developers have put officials under pressure to approve developments that do not comply with these rules. Additionally, land values have shot up astronomically thus reducing profitability or financial viability for those projects that meet the regulations.
The Nairobi County Assembly passed and approved the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN) in 2014. The master plan was to be followed by the formulation of new development control guidelines. These would define the general structure and procedures for urban development up to 2030. However, the city’s failure to complete this process has ended up hampering the proper application of the Urban Master Plan. Attempts at developing Local Physical Development Plans have also been unsuccessful due to lack of funding.
A social media post by the city’s governor attests to the resulting impunity of some public officers who are accused of accepting bribes to approve projects that go beyond the Zoning Ordinance. On top of this, neighbourhood organizations are forced to engage in interminable battles with developers over projects that they believe are incompatible with their environs. Increased pressure on services and amenities emanating from the current state of affairs is also manifested by shortages and rationing of water, sewer bursts, poor public transport and struggles with garbage collection.
It is time for Cities to re-draft their zoning guidelines based on futuristic trends over the next two decades. A shift from Euclidian zoning – emanating from the British planning style of the 1940s in the colonies – and the adaption of Form Based Zoning and Transit Oriented Development is required.
Such an approach would appreciate the importance of social equity and environmental sustainability. It also defines development that builds communities and not merely concrete and mortar.
What approach should a city take to keep up with pressure for development and growth? How often do you think should cities revise their development control guidelines? With proper planning, would there by any need for this?