#MjiWetu: Mixed Land Use is not Random Land Use

Recent trends in urban development have encouraged cities to transform in a more ‘people oriented approach.’ This trend places emphasis on the importance of cities to be commuter friendly (walkability and connectivity), environmentally sustainable and to create opportunities for human interaction and cohesion. A strong sense of place in cities and communities has also emerged. All of these developments are unlike what was experienced in metropolises in the past during the second half of the last century.

Cities facilitate commuter friendliness by establishing mass transit systems like Bus Rapid Transit, Cable Propelled Transit as well as opportunities for non motorized movement such as cycling and safe pedestrian ways. Environmentally sustainable towns take into account green spaces, clean and renewable energy and other resources. Opportunities for human interaction and cohesion are provided by parks, plazas and other well-designed open spaces and by encouraging human activity on the streets through diverse community features. Features of this nature promote transitions to mixed land use.

Recent transformations in the City of Nairobi have resulted in areas within close proximity to Nairobi’s Central Business District being designated as mixed land use areas. Multi-storey commercial blocks amidst high rise residential blocks have gradually substituted the single unit residential dwellings that previously defined residential neighbourhoods like Kilimani, Upper Hill and Westlands.

Dagoretti Corner2002

Dagoretti Corner2016

Aerial Images above from showing how the same place has changed between 2002 and 2016 with no change in transit options

Unfortunately the direction that this ‘mixed land use’ is taking seems to be an unfavourable one that is generating more negativity than benefits. Examples include the construction of multi storey buildings right next to residential maisonettes which interferes with the right to privacy. Even worse are the shadow effects produced by multi storey structures constructed directly adjacent to each other. Little appreciation of the need for urban design standards is also evident.

The change in land use has not been focused around the development of a mass transit system as seen by the location of multi-storeyed buildings far away from public transport. This encourages increased reliance on personal cars with a corresponding increase in traffic congestion and carbon footprint. Attempts to expand roads to reduce this effect have, not unexpectedly, borne little fruit. In a dramatic statement last year, Kenya’s transport Cabinet Secretary (equivalent of a minister) dismissed the idea of Nairobi having an effective mass rapid transit system citing poor planning!

The haphazard approvals of change in land uses have caused conflicts of interest in various parts of the city. Several disputes have occurred between residents and business owners as is evident in a recent case where an open nightclub was set up right in the middle of an established residential area. Some elements among the authorities quickly responded by dismissing the residents as being ‘negative to investors,’ an allegation that was not well received by the residents, leading to protests and the eventual closing down of the establishment.

There have also been cases where multi-storey buildings are constructed without proper improvement of utilities leading to challenges with sewerage systems and water provision. A recent ‘operation’ by Nairobi City County officers saw the arrest of upmarket apartment owners whose sewer lines were depositing waste in a nearby river.

mixed land use

Although mixed land use is distancing us from the traditional zoning systems that were seen to encourage sprawl and develop vehicle driven cities, certain key factors exist that will lead to depletion of mixed land use areas if ignored. These include compatibility of uses, transit and mobility, environmental management and density management.

Compatibility of uses is an important planning element that enables a proper ‘mix’ within residential areas when providing services like schools, health centres, markets and open spaces. Although it also accommodates the opening of business premises of a certain calibre that allow people to reside close to their workplaces, it does not extend to allowing any ‘random’ business to open anywhere or any building to come up anywhere within an area.

Transit and mobility are among the most important challenges in urban areas today. Cities like Curitiba and Bogota have been able to adequately face this challenge through prioritising mass rapid transit systems. Many other cities like Chennai have improved their transit and mobility through emphasis on NMT. Reduced travel distances characteristic of mixed land use areas permit this to work very well. Coincidentally, Nairobi’s mixed land use areas are among the most pedestrian unfriendly zones.

Environmental management aims at addressing factors beyond water retention and renewable energy, two of many objectives which can be promoted through proper attention by both local authorities and developers. Analyzing the impact of sunlight and shadows on buildings is one of many additional aspects that merit consideration. Singapore has developed an analysis system designed to ensure compatibility in highly dense areas. Protection of green and open spaces through proper urban design also plays a key role in encouraging well managed mixed land use areas.

Finally, to ensure that sewerage, water, power and other utilities are in good supply for the denser mixed land use areas it is important that density management varies with location and utilities.

As changes cause the decline of old fashioned zoning the new mixed use areas call for proper management rather than random and haphazard development.

Well managed mixed land use can provide one of the most effective planning solutions and way forward for a growing city like Nairobi. Left to the ‘random’ and haphazard direction that it has taken, however, the city should expect nothing less than congestion, environmental degradation and increased urban decay.

How does your city manage mixed land use zones in a compatible manner? Does your city have challenges with transit, mobility and access in mixed land use areas?

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#MjiWetu: Do Walls improve the Security of our City?

Slightly over two decades ago, most residential fences in middle class areas of Nairobi consisted of natural trees like cypress or key-apple. For a city that doesn’t drain well, this manner of fencing greatly benefited it during the wet season, providing adequate paths for rainwater to flow towards the many small rivers that pass through the city.

Security in Cities

However, the sharp escalation of insecurity (cases of household robberies and carjackings) in the early 90s led to the uprooting of natural fences and their subsequent replacement with stone and concrete walls. In the early 2000s these were further enhanced by electrical fences and in more recent times, nearly every property not only features CCTV cameras, but also administers detailed security checks almost identical to those at leading airports. Recent terror attacks have contributed to the current prevalence of security checks too.

Municipal Council residential estates were not spared as blocks of flats began fencing themselves off from others and hiring night guards to keep watch. Neighbourhoods that previously offered several entry points sealed all except one and currently operate single gated entry.

Security remains one of the most important aspects of urban life. Without good security citizens are unable to focus on their daily activities such as school, work and play. Socialization is also restricted as residents prefer to get home as early as possible.

While there are several socio-economic factors that cause insecurity, basic urban management and planning procedures can assist in reducing this state by eliminating the ‘enabling environment’ for criminals.

Security in Cities

It is possible to integrate important features on streets that enable them to me more human, and thus more secure. Jane Jacobs captured these quite well in her book ‘The death and life of America’s Great Cities’.

“A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, out of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities:

First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects.

Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.

And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.”

Many African cities were either not developed with, or are failing to incorporate these characteristics, as they focus on securing private property through construction of walls that seal the view of the street from building occupants. Increased motorization has also driven away most of the focus from streets being human centred to car centred. Efficient mass transit systems as well as promotion of non motorized transport  like cycling and safe walkways are simple ways in which urban planning can be used to increase the number of ‘eyes’ on the street.

In some parts of Nairobi, the increase in informality has contributed to improved ‘eyes’ on the streets. This characteristic is evident in places where informal traders sell their wares. Informal food vendors operating in a certain section of the city hired idle youth to collect garbage and deliver water. Initiatives like these promote security by providing the youth with an income and keeping them away from crime.

Security in Cities

Poor or vandalized street lighting systems, increased distances between complementary land uses as well as lack of social cohesion among residents are factors conducive to increased insecurity in a city. Trading activity, seating facilities and taxi parking along the streets  during both day and night time are important features that if well utilized, naturally beef up the security of an area.

Security and public safety issues directly and indirectly affect us all. As cities in developing countries grow there tends to be a corresponding increase in crime. Planners must look at land-use juxtapositions, street layouts, building and site design, transportation system planning, infrastructure improvements – especially lighting, landscape maintenance, physical planning to allow for activities and public space – have variable impacts on crime opportunity and on the subsequent incidence and fear of crime.

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Images by Constant Cap, Data linked to Sources


Nairobi: Mixed Use Zones are Redefining the City


Both Homer Hoyt’s Sector Theory of Urban Development and Ernest Burgess’ Concentric Zone Theory highlight how cities grow outward from a core district (the Central Business District) towards the periphery with distinct land use zones. 

Without good land use management, cities run the risk of growing too far out, a concept known as urban sprawl. Sprawl tends to force high infrastructure investment to support vehicular modes of transport leading, in turn, to increased congestion as people approach the core district. Sprawl interferes with neighbouring farmland areas, reduces human interaction (contributing to a reduced socio-cultural sense of community) and increases the carbon footprint.

The City of Nairobi has developed partly along the lines of  both Hoyt’s and Burgess’ theories and, together with its own unique geographic and demographic dynamics, Hariss-Ulmanns multiple nuclei theory. Residential areas close to the CBD are slowly transforming into mixed use and commercial zones. This has been experienced in Upper Hill, Westlands, Kilimani, Ngara and Parklands where the former European and Asian residential neighbourhoods that were taken over by the African middle class after independence changed from single unit dwellings to multiple unit and eventually high density residential and, in some cases, commercial properties.

The change in zoning occurred as a result of increasing population pressure and the increased commercial activity that was evading poor mobility and access options existing in the core CBD.

These changes have resulted in different reactions. In some residential areas, residents have attempted to use their collective voice to prevent unplanned transformation while in other areas landowners and developers have gladly welcomed the increased land values of the properties. The change in zoning, however, appears to be encouraging haphazard development, with very little sense of urban design.


Mixed land use is increasingly being promoted by urban planners in the more recent past as an effective means of reducing urban sprawl as well as reducing congestion by enabling shorter distances between home and work for city dwellers. It is, however, important that occupants and policy drivers in Nairobi’s first concentric zone utilize their advantages and the experiences of other localities to create a better urban environment. These include:

  • Protection of green and open spaces, even along road sides

There are very sensitive areas in this zone ranging from rivers and parks to tree-lined streets and forestland. The zone must attend to these areas, for example, Kirichwa River, Nairobi River, City Park and the Nairobi Arboretum and regard them as the pride of the city.  

Competition for public land has always been very high in Kenya and a lot of it has been lost to greedy land grabbers and developers. Protecting the little public land that is still in existence as well as reclaiming land for public purposes like food markets, parks, public toilets and other essential spaces required for a more cohesive city will be a key consideration.

  • Emphasis on Transit Oriented Development 

Increased densification and mixed land use allows for reduced travel distances. This can  be readily encouraged through improved walking facilities, easy access to mass transit, proper connectivity between different modes and reduced motorization. Pursuing this approach would warrant the location of the largest buildings closer to the transit channels and implementation of reliable public transportation along those transit lines. spects of privacy, natural lighting and access to greenery are also taken into account.

  • Modal shift and promotion of Non Motorized Transit

‘More roads will not mean less traffic congestion’. Unfortunately there is little understanding of this reality within many of the relatively new urban areas which otherwise present a golden opportunity for investment in non-motorized transit as well as a variety of other means. Cycling, cable propelled transit and segregated lanes for public transport are among the various options available. Adequate modal shift between different districts enables better mobility and access thus reducing the need for the private vehicles responsible for generating both peak and non-peak congestion.

Although Nairobi is putting into place plans for a BRT system, mass transit development needs to also remodel current transit services into a more organized functioning service that can attract more users thereby reducing the necessity for personal vehicles where possible.  

Adequate utility provision, smart systems and integration of the micro-economic systems add onto the range of positive adjustments that can be made by the occupants of this zone.

Increased citizen participation through the involvement of Business Associations and Community Foundations such as the Upper Hill District Association, Westlands District Association and the Kilimani Project Foundation is evident in areas around Nairobi’s first concentric zone. These community organizations have helped to create an environment of better understanding and cohesion between the Nairobi City County Government and other agencies like Kenya Urban Roads Authority  and Nairobi Water & Sewerage Company.

The movement of more commercial activity to the first concentric zone as a result of transformation in the CBD  provides the city with an opportunity to either develop and transform itself into an inclusive, people driven modern African metropolis or the contrary: decline into a congested, unfriendly urban village. Only time will tell.  

How should the various districts in Nairobi’s first concentric zone interact with each other?  How has your city dealt with its expansion and changing land uses?

Images by Constant Cap, data linked to sources.

Is Nairobi Central Business District DEAD?

The Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) has undergone a gradual transformation in the last few years that has seen it turn into a large bus yard and parking area for public transit vehicles (towards the east), a queuing zone for authorized buses (around the centre) and a large taxi park (towards the west).

Nairobi CBD 1

Retail stores have gradually reduced in size over the years with many being converted into exhibition stalls measuring less than 10 square metres. Buildings that once hosted leading corporates and embassies are now offering shared space while others have turned into bars and fast foods with life-spans averaging less than 4 years. The remaining part of the built environment has been taken over by universities attempting to meet the massive demand for higher education and compete with the prestigious University of Nairobi. What has not changed, however, are the Central and Municipal Government Offices that occupy a substantial section of the CBD.

Nairobi has over time changed its zoning regulations enabling areas within what urban theorist Burgress would define as the first concentric zone (outside the CBD) to incorporate mixed land use and high commercial and residential buildings. This has led to massive changes in the urban print of the city.

Leading corporates and embassies have slowly moved out of the CBD to locate in the first concentric zone. Over a decade ago, all major finance companies, banks, foreign embassies and professional firms took pride in being located in the CBD. The one time residential areas of Upper Hill, Kilimani and Westlands have gradually transformed into high end business enclaves among upmarket residential properties. Upper Hill, which hosted residential government bungalows for close to a century, is now the site of 25 storey and above sky scrapers . The Upper Hill District Association is working towards their stated vision of creating the ‘leading financial district’ in East and Central Africa. Noteworthy growth in the hospitality industry has not been left out as leading hotels establishing themselves in Nairobi are now developing within the same zone and not the CBD which was the case in the past.

Many embassies have moved towards Gigiri, a suburb that hosts the UNEP headquarters along the outskirts of Nairobi.  

Nairobi Concentric Changes

While the local authorities have remained focused on beautification and traffic flow, the Nairobi CBD has gradually been converted into a large small-scale marketplace, major taxi parking space and public transport (paratransit) transmission zone. In spite of these recent developments, there are proposals to construct a multi-storey parking yard and a double decker highway under the notion that these will reduce congestion. Most transportation policies over the years have focused more on punishing PSV drivers rather than directing user needs (bus design, routeing, fares, ticketing) while traffic police and marshals continue to depend on manual/human control of vehicular traffic management. Policy makers, on the other hand, continue to talk about ‘decongestion’ rather than ‘mobility, accessibility, placemaking and transit oriented development.”’

The transformation of the CBD can be attributed to several reasons. Primarily, however, mobility directives and poor land use management bear the brunt of the  blame for the negative challenges it faces. Secondary challenges include insecurity and vehicular congestion. Over the years, poor mobility and accessibility options have encouraged the use of and continuous dependence on personal vehicles whenever possible.  No effort has been made to encourage denser land use along transit lines, thereby pushing such developments to the CBD. Shortage of parking space and congestion in access and exit are some of the resulting challenges that have gradually deterred people from using the CBD. Other challenges related to security had emerged within the CBD such as its conversion to a major hub for street children in the 1990s (eventually managed by the then Nairobi City Council) and increased terror threats and alerts in the country (these deterred embassies from remaining in the CBD). Following the change in zoning policy, corporates slowly began to move out.

Nairobi is not the only city that has seen a decline in the ‘quality’ of its CBD. As demonstrated in a well documented two part feature,  “The changing city,’’ the Johannesburg CBD has also undergone adjustments resulting from policy changes and social transformations leaving authorities working hard at attempting to rejuvenate the district.

PWC India prepared a report on ‘Transforming CBDs’ in consideration of  their projection that over 843 million Indians will be living in Cities by 2050. The report identifies retrofitting, overcrowding, transportation and sustainable consumption as major challenges facing their CBDs. The report recognizes the importance of physical infrastructure, in particular availability of public transportation, last mile connectivity plus a focus on energy and environmental issues.

Cities like Melbourne and Bogota also made concerted efforts towards transforming after witnessing decline in their CBDs. These were mainly driven by people oriented developments as opposed to highways and vehicular rights of way.

Nairobi does not need to be discouraged by all the changes in the CBD; instead it may be an opportunity for transformation. It is important, however, that the Nairobi County Government, TOGETHER with the people of Nairobi re-define what they want the CBD to be. The major arms of government remain in the CBD and so do several hotels, the biggest convention centre in the country as well as several open green spaces.

There may be need for removal of on-street parking from some streets so as to accommodate movement of people and encourage retail trade. The success story of New York’s Broadway that has been fully pedestrianized may serve as a good case of how some of Nairobi’s CBD streets can be converted into people friendly open spaces. Streets like Kimathi and Muindi Mbingu could easily be part of a network of pedestrianized and well-serviced streets that draw more people and drive business. The relative security prevailing in the CBD over the last 15 years (one can walk in many parts throughout the day and night) can initiate progress towards a 24 hour retail and social economy. The history of the city is also deeply entrenched in the CBD, a fact that is more recently being appreciated through various guided tours of the Nairobi CBD.

Nairobi CBD 2

Nonetheless, a re-assessment of mobility options to and within the CBD is also important. Authorities need to consider assigning segregated lanes for authorized buses with priority at junctions in order to access, move within and leave the CBD. These can easily be provided for along the key bus entry points – Haile Selassie, University Way, Moi and Kenyatta Avenues among others. Regrettably, fear of the ‘unknown’ tends to deter authorities from enabling such provisions.

The CBD will have to redefine itself through restructuring aimed at drawing more people towards it and creating greater social cohesion among city residents. This, however, will require a paradigm shift from all. The CBD has to become a place that people visit with pride, not avoid out of shame. It has to be a place where people are happy to walk and to spend time in. In other words, it has to be ‘livable.’

What changes would you like to see in the CBD to make it more attractive to visit? How can Nairobi encourage more businesses to establish themselves in the CBD?

Credits: Images – Constant Cap, Data Linked to Sources, This post was imported into WordPress in one click using Wordable.

Nairobi, Kenya, faces a Growing Challenge of Noise Pollution

Noise Pollution is defined as a form and level of environmental sound that is generally considered likely to annoy, distract or even harm other people. The sounds we hear become noise when they are unwanted, that is, when they interfere with thinking, concentrating, working, talking, listening, or sleeping.


By virtue of rapid and continuous growth, urban areas have become centres of multiple activities within limited defined space. In many cities, some activities contradict each other leading to user and land use conflict. A significant example of such conflict is noise levels in urban centres.

Over the last few years, noise pollution has become a matter of growing concern in the City of Nairobi. With increased densification, people are finding themselves in closer proximity to each other, a trend manifested by the recent increase in ‘mixed land use areas’ as well as development of apartment blocks on what were previously single unit premises (parts of Nairobi are slowly growing according to the Burgess Concentric Zone Theory).

Studies of noise pollution in Nairobi have mainly focused on the Central Business Distrct, where sounds  averaging  70 Decibels have been recorded. Significantly more noise has been noted  on the eastern side of the CBD, where public transport vehicles are found in plenty. Shops on that side of town also occasionally play loud music to attract customers. Researchers who were involved in Mapping of Noise Pollution areas in Nairobi using GIS noted that ‘Problems with noise in developing countries are often not rated at the highest level of concern. The link between noise and human health is not taken seriously and hence there is not much done to curb the emission of noise.

Noise issues have been are evident in some residential areas afflicted by excessive noise ensuing from places of worship, bars, nightclubs and construction sites. Noise is also associated with public transportation, where it is popular to play loud ‘disco like’ music and for vehicles to boast loud exhaust pipe systems. Increased urban pressure has also led to new neighbourhoods developing near airports thus forcing residents to have to live with loud noise from planes throughout the day.  

Although the city has clear guidelines entitled The Environment Management and Coordination (Noise and Excessive Vibration Pollution) (Control) Regulations, 2009 under the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), enforcement is wanting. Changes in the country’s legislative structure have also seen some functions of environmental management being devolved to the local government.

The city government recently tried to enforce orders requiring nightclubs to have noise metres. With the problem of corruption and impunity in public service as well as shortage of manpower to enforce many directives, however, one is left to wonder whether this is one of the ‘desktop directives’ that remain on the shelves and never get implemented.

The health effects of noise are well documented by scientific researches and these include but are not limited to impairing cognitive functioning in children, affecting people’s sleep and concentration levels, as well as biological stress among others. The Kenyan media has also been in the forefront of the noise pollution situation with print media highlighting the noise menace in residential areas: ‘Noise pollution regulations must be observed’ and ‘Rising Noise levels starting to make city dwellers go deaf.’  

Noise Pollution

Noise Pollution is a challenge in many cities around the world. San Francisco’s tendernoise project collected data on noise levels in different parts of the city. It involves an application that can enable one to measure noise levels before moving into a residential area. In New Zealand, a guide note has been prepared on how to deal with noise control and public  disturbance.

How can city planners and managers handle Noise Pollution? Noise Pollution is an environmental issue and thus city planners ought to take some responsibility in its control. There are various ‘best practice’ efforts that urban planners and managers can make in order to prevent and control noise issues in urban areas:

  • Zoning areas so as to avoid conflicting land uses within close proximity.
  • Restricting construction at night and on Sundays/Public Holidays within residential areas.
  • Controlling how much noise can be emitted by motor vehicles on streets.
  • Local regulations that emphasize quieter public service and transit vehicles (e.g. hybrid buses).  
  • Control of vehicle speed and maintenance of  streets (street design) can limit general traffic noise.
  • Enforcing sound proofing when machinery and equipment is installed in new buildings.
  • Adopting building standards to require quiet interiors (e.g. 55 dBA Day and 40dbA Night)
  • Noise standards for loud machinery and equipment which involves restricting the use, location, or timing of specific equipment or activities to protect health and sleep.
  • Regulating outdoor public events.
  • Monitoring and enforcing noise standards in residential areas.
  • Governments can consider subsidizing acoustical retrofits (e.g. double pane windows, mechanical ventilation) for existing residential buildings near traffic noise sources.
  • Cities can permit and monitor entertainment venues requiring building insulation and limiting hours of operation.

Planners must work towards preventing problems before they occur and this approach applies to noise pollution with a key focus being directed to land use management and building approvals.

Africa has experienced the highest urban growth during the last two decades at 3.5% per year and this rate of growth is expected to hold in to 2050. Although the continent developed towns for many centuries along its coastline, the last century has witnessed the most rapid urban development ever in interior Africa. These developments have come with various challenges, ranging from continuous growth of informal settlements and the ever increasing paratransit industry, and learning opportunities. Noise Pollution is yet another addition to this list as it becomes increasingly difficult to find a residential area in cities like Nairobi where one live in peace and sleep in silence.

Can the city of Nairobi be able to set a trend for the rest of the continent in handling noise pollution? Are African City Governments willing to tackle the noise pollution challenge head on, or will it continue to be lowly ranked  in the priority list?

Data linked to Sources.

Kenya: Teaching Public Service Drivers First Aid and Safety

The majority of public service vehicle drivers in Kenya have very little knowledge on first aid. When faced with minor or major vehicle accidents while at work, many depend on well wishers to come to the aid of victims.

matatu 1

Kenya has one of the worst road safety records in the world. There were over 3,057 road crash deaths in 2015, up from 2,907 in 2014. Pedestrians accounted for 1344 of these fatalities while 688 were passengers and 339 were drivers. (Road Safety is not something new in the country: The 1971 deathtoll was at 371 which shot to over 2,100 in 1991 leading to a popular local musician to produce a song on PSV road safety). In many cases victims do not survive because they are not attended to on time. Generally, the first people to arrive at accident scenes are PSV drivers and conductors as the nature of their work keeps them on the road.

Research done at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of the University of Nairobi in 2014 showed that most Kenyan PSV drivers were only trained in driving and to some extent, in basic motor mechanics. In many countries, first aid is part of PSV training where public service and school bus drivers are expected to have a certain level of knowledge of first aid. In Canada, for example, first aid training is a requirement to work at most levels of public transit.

Two organizations, The Automobile Association of Kenya and St. John Ambulance, have teamed up with the Matatu Owners Association (who bring together public service vehicle owners). The organizations are working on a pilot project to provide public service vehicle drivers with first aid skills training and equip them for fast response to emergency situations on the road.

The Automobile Association of Kenya and St. John Ambulance are among the oldest institutions in Kenya. The Automobile Association of Kenya (East Africa) was started by Galdon Fenzi, the first man to drive from the coastal town of Mombasa to Nairobi, capital of Kenya. St. John Ambulance, a renowned first aid and ambulance services provider, were introduced to Kenya in 1920 initially to help persons wounded during conflicts between native Kenyans and settlers.

Owing to the fact that PSV crews deal with hundreds of citizens on a daily basis, it is believed that their acquisition of first aid skills will make an enormous contribution in helping save lives.


The project is entitled ‘”Msamaria Mwema Initiativewhich means ‘Good Samaritan’ in Swahili. So far, the training sessions have taken place in Kenya’s two main cities, Nairobi and Mombasa.

The 6-month Msamaria Mwema project runs from June – November 2016 and is targeting Matatu Owners Association (MOA) and its members as the principal beneficiaries. MOA will identify drivers on selected routes known to have black spots and where vehicle densities are highest. This will ensure maximum benefits from the training.

The selected locations are Nairobi, Mombasa, Voi, Machakos, Naivasha, Nakuru, Eldoret, Malaba, Kisumu and Thika.

Some of the key targets of the programme include:

  • Impart First Aid knowledge & skills to at least 500 PSV drivers
  • Improve post-crash care & management of victims before and during transit to hospital
  • Change  drivers’ attitudes towards accident victims & management of the scene of the accident in general
  • Promote & raise awareness on the importance of defensive driving in road safety and accident prevention

It is hoped that after the training, the drivers will be empowered with first aid skills, their attitude and behavior towards accident victims will change for the better and thus more lives will be saved.

msamaria mwema

This training will go a long way towards improving standards for those getting into the PSV sector. Although many view the sector as a rogue and uncontrolled one it nevertheless continues to play a vital role in the economy with little or no modern transport system in the country. In the long term, the programme should be able to set new standards for public service vehicle work qualifications, where knowledge on safety is emphasized.

Queries, however, have been raised as to whether the programme can be extended to major bus services and long distance drivers. Continuous education is also critical and calls for some form of CPE for PSV drivers.

For more information on this initiative follow: @msamariamwemaRS #MsamariaMwema #RoadSafety #SafetyFirst

Any Future for Nairobi’s Dandora Dump Site?

Dandora Dumpsite 2015

The Dandora Municipal waste dumping site is Nairobi’s main (and only official) solid waste disposal site. The former quarry comprises a 30 acre expanse located to the east of Nairobi, about 8 kilometers from the city centre.

The dumpsite is surrounded by both working class estates like Kariobangi North, Dandora and Babadogo as well the informal settlement of Korogocho.

On a daily basis, the City of Nairobi generates over 3,000 tonnes of waste. Approximately 2,000 tonnes are collected and dumped at Dandora. A mix of industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical and other wastes are found scattered at the site due to the ‘unrestricted’ dumping process.

At the dumpsite, local youths sort plastics, cloth and papers. They are part of about 3000 people employed by the site which in effect supports over 5000 people. Each youth can make up to KES 300 per day (3 USD). The youths claim that they would want a good system where companies can buy sorted garbage from them. However, they have a fear for ‘order’ because it is likely to be   corruption-ridden.

It is speculated that the garbage situation in Nairobi is run by cartels that control the collection of garbage in different zones of the city. There are also various groups that are believed to control parts of the dumpsite.

The dumpsite itself faces a number of challenges. It has gradually grown into a mountain of waste. The County Government has long talked about looking for alternatives as the dumpsite continues to approach capacity. The proposed alternatives – Mavoko/Athi and Thika/Kiambu have both been rejected, the former due to being in close proximity to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the latter due to failure by the Nairobi and Kiambu County Governments to reach an agreement.

Dandora Dumpsite 2015

The dumpsite has only one functional entrance, and due to this poor access, trucks have to drive into the site in reverse as they go to dump waste. This slows down the dumping process, causing long queues and minimizing the number of trips a collection truck can make in a day. In addition, during the rainy season, the access road becomes muddy and occasionally blocked – further slowing down the process.

The result of some of these problems has been illegal roadside dumping as well as burning of waste by residents. Rivers, forests, and other environmentally sensitive areas have also suffered from the ensuing fallout as business people and residents use them for waste disposal.

Stakeholders have made several proposals for the improvement or upgrading of the site, including construction of a perimeter wall, clearing access to the dumpsite, providing tools for the youth who work at the dumpsite to make sorting easier and improved co-ordination of the collection structure within and outside the dumpsite.

The Nairobi County Government has attempted to boost the collection of garbage by purchasing garbage trucks and allocating them to different zones in an effort to supplement the work of contracted private providers (there are also cases of rivalries among collectors). A joint task force between Nairobi County, National Youth Service and local youths aimed at improving accessibility to Dandora area was also initiated in December 2015. The taskforce was able to make some significant but temporary progress in improving the access route and clearing garbage thereby slightly speeding up the process.

Dandora Dumpsite 2015

There is, however, a need for a long term approach to the problems afflicting the Dandora dumpsite as well as analysis of other alternatives. Garbage collection is a continuous exercise that calls for/demands a well-managed process. Some of the considerations and proposals that have been made include the potential for   professionally recycling garbage, as well as setting up an e-waste disposal factory.

Taking into consideration the livelihoods and/or welfare of those working at the dumpsite and neighbouring land uses what is the most sustainable way that waste can be managed? What would be the best long term solution towards managing Nairobi’s waste?


*just before publishing the Nairobi County Government explained some of its limitations in garbage collection during a public forum with business people. In 1980, the now defunct City Council had 300 garbage trucks; as at August 2016 the Nairobi County Government has only  48 functional garbage trucks.

Nairobi, Kenya: No BRT due to Poor Planning?

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Transport recently stated that a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) would not be possible in the City of Nairobi. In his statement, according to press reports, he mentioned that the city lacked space for a BRT due to poor planning and added that to ease congestion, a commuter rail and expanded roads would be the alternative.

 Kenyatta Avenue

The CS’s statement could not have come at a worse time when Nairobi is experiencing massive traffic jams, increased congestion and environmental decay (evidenced by studies on the city’s air quality).

Several studies carried out in the past as well as ongoing ones  seek to, or have proposed, an efficient mass rapid transport system for the City of Nairobi. Many have been done by government ministries or authorities in conjunction with various global partners.

The recently launched Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan advocated for several recommendations concerning Rapid Transit. Making use of some of the previous independent studies, it proposes a variety of options such as BRT, Light Rail and MetroRail along various channels. The plan recognized previous studies that had identified 6 BRT Corridors and three metro corridors.

The City of Nairobi has been faced with various challenges related  to mobility, transportation and accessibility. The City once had an efficient but foreign owned bus service that ran by the minute and covered most city estates. Owing to the lack of an efficient public transport expansion policy or framework, the bus system was soon outdone by a state promoted para-transit system (known as matatus) that filled in the gap.

Nairobi currently runs a commuter rail system that transports up to 25,000 passengers daily. Kenya Railways has in the past planned on expanding the system with a goal of transporting up to 143,000 people per day. The system in operation was built based on geographical terrain rather than land use, thereby limiting its penetration to most neighbourhoods as land use patterns in the city have tended to follow road channels and not rail.

Commuter Rail in Nairobi

The transportation needs of a city have to be analyzed taking into account social, cultural, economic, environmental and political needs. This means that there is no ‘ultimate’ solution to traffic, transportation, mobility and subsequently, accessibility requirements.

It is important that every area of the city is studied comprehensively and where possible, changes made in order to first reduce the need for traveling long distances. This includes ensuring that certain services like homes, schools and health centres are located within close range. This process, which requires a multi-sectoral approach, can also be extended to workplaces and other commercial land uses.     

Along with reducing the need for travel where possible, efficient and less energy consuming means of mobility ought to be considered. These may include increasing walkability and other NMT facilities in the city. Already over 50% of Nairobians walk due to lack of alternatives and this proportion can be increased with the development of proper walking facilities and network within a 10 Km radius of the CBD.

After exploring and implementing these processes, authorities ought to work on how to improve public transport systems within the city. In this regard, rather than undertaking massive and expensive feasibility studies, comprehensive alternative analyses based on each route/channel can be taken. Taking into account current circumstances and future developments, the best options that ensure an inter-modal and integrated public transport system should be adopted.

Citizens have different needs and different transportation preferences. The majority  prefer a system that ensures last mile connectivity. Others prefer cheaper systems while a good number are willing to pay for efficiency and timeliness. All of these diverse needs can be integrated into the system. Equitable transport means should be put into place that do not favour some groups  over others. Citizens should be able to chose between using a bus, using a train, using a matatu, driving themselves or using NMT.

For the city of Nairobi, this would mean the development of a public transit system that takes into consideration the presence of a vibrant informal transport system, a continual increase in the popularity of private vehicles as well as a constantly transforming urban morphology.

As a result, the suggestion that the city is not well planned enough for a BRT is uncalled for. A vibrant and growing city always has room for innovative ideas and diversity. None of the leading cities in the developing world that have adopted mass rapid transit systems have done so amidst a perfect urban structure. Good cities portray diversity, vibrancy and constant adoption of the ever changing circumstances.

A study of the Janmag BRT system in Ahmedabad (population of 6 million people and over 2.2 million registered vehicles) as well as the Lagos BRT provide some illustration of this. The City of Bogota developed its BRT as the ultimate solution for its traffic problems after rejecting a proposal made by ‘foreign experts’ to construct a multi level freeway’. Curitiba, on the other hand, the mother of the BRT system, developed the BRT system as the authorities analyzed the efficiency and financial viability against a proposed a light rail system that had initially been proposed. How does one therefore conclude, that a BRT cannot work and that instead a Rail System would be an ultimate solution?  

In addition, stating that the only solution to get rid of congestion is to expand roads and construct a rail system is failing to take into account factors like the constantly increasing number of motor vehicles (thus only a short term solution) and the necessity of financing and subsidizing the rail transportation costs. Tradition has shown that increased incomes in cities tend to have a direct relationship with increased motorization.

Developing an urban transport system is not a one-off project that identifies a problem and solves them immediately. Cities are diverse living environments that are affected by several factors and developments. Consequently, transportation planning is a continuous process requiring constant foresight to prepare a city to meet demographic, technological, environmental or other challenges. Planning is the process of deciding what to do and how to do it – do not blame planning, start planning!

Does the development of a rail system necessarily discourage the use of personal vehicles? If planning is the process of deciding what to do and how to do it, should we always blame planning or should we start planning?

Images by Constant Cap; Data and Videos linked to sources


Nairobi and the 100 Resilient Cities Programme

Dandora Dumpsite 2015

More than half of the world lives in cities. Estimates indicate that by 2050 about 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Cities are the centres of civilization, commerce, innovation and culture. They have diverse populations with different needs dependent upon various variables such as age, culture and economic levels. However, they are significantly affected by the modern challenges of climate change, mobility and energy consumption.

It is important for the good of the citizens that authorities work towards better social, economic and physical environments in cities. This includes their ability to be able to respond to unexpected natural or manmade events and occurrences. Thus, city management needs to have a strong focus on resilience.

Time and experience have shown that many cities share common challenges. These range from climate change and energy consumption to population growth and housing among other issues. These concerns have led to cities slowly recognizing the importance of building their resilient capacities.

As a result of this growing awareness, the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered the 100 Resilient Cities Programme. 100 Resilient Cities Programme has an ambitious goal of helping cities worldwide build resilience to the growing social, economic, and physical challenges of the 21st century. The initiative aims at enabling cities to work together towards solving their challenges in a proactive and inclusive manner rather than in  a reactive secluded manner.

As part of the Programme, a selected City will benefit through:

  • Recruitment of a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) who will be the point of contact between the City Mayor, Different Departments and city silos.
  • The City will create a resilience strategy, which will determine areas of strength, weakness and health levels. The strategy is expected to be implemented.
  • The City will have access to platform partners which includes tools, services and advisory support from academic and corporate sector partners who want to help the cities achieve their resilience goals.
  • The City will enjoy access to a network of Cities and CROs, where cities can acquire global knowledge from the experiences of others.

In a six-to -nine month process, the CRO (‘‘resilience point person”) will involve a wide variety of stakeholders in identifying the city’s resilience challenges, its capabilities and plans to address them, and then identify the gaps between these two. By applying a resilience lens, the CRO will ensure that the city’s resources are leveraged holistically and projects planned for synergy.

The City of Nairobi, Kenya, was on Wednesday 25th May, selected together with 37 other Cities to join the final list of 100 Resilient Cities. With an official population of 3,100,000 as of 2009, Nairobi’s case addresses the main challenges of aging infrastructure, terrorism, disease, flooding, high unemployment, infrastructure failure, lack of affordable housing, pollution/ environmental degradation.  This list may sound all too familiar to residents but a quick check with other cities shows these problems are not unique to Nairobi.

Cities with Similar challenges:

  • Aging infrastructure: Cape Town, Chennai, Accra, Rio de Janeiro
  • Disease Outbreak: Lagos, Paris, Vancouver
  • Flooding: Panama City, Nashville, Kyoto, Jaipur
  • High unemployment: Addis, Enugu, Tbilisi, Athens
  • Infrastructure Failure: Lagos, Honolulu, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv
  • Housing: Pune, Calgary, Seoul, Milan
  • Pollution: Jaipur, Guadalajara Metropolitan Area, Panama City ,Accra
  • Terrorism: Tel Aviv, Atlanta, Greater Manchester

Nairobi’s resilience is normally tested during its long rains season where in recent times flooding has led to destruction of property and loss of lives. A substantial amount of blame is credited to the municipal authorities who are perceived as allowing or turning a blind eye to sub-standard public works like drainage and roads. The urban poor are often the biggest victims of the resulting state of affairs. With over 60% of the population living within informal settlements (Nairobi does not have any social housing policy), during heavy rains these areas have witnessed massive destruction of property and associated  loss of lives. Rapid spread of diseases also occurs as many of these poor residents lack access to safe drinking water and adequate healthcare.


Studies on Nairobi’s air quality have recorded high levels of toxins . Most of Nairobi’s water bodies can be mistaken for open sewers due to years of pollution.  Once again, these appear to affect the urban poor more than anyone else as several informal settlements are located near heavily polluted water bodies.

Aging infrastructure and failure to adapt to various needs of a modern city have hindered the development of Nairobi. The last decade has seen the construction of various roads and highways some 30 years after they were planned. However, a slow approach towards implementing expedient requirements like a mass rapid transport system, better land use management and infusion of the informal sector in planning directives is now evident.

The 100 cities are expected to become the lynchpin of a global movement and eventually spread to over 10,000 cities. With cities facing the intertwined forces of globalization, urbanization, and climate change this is viewed as one of the best opportunities to solve our modern challenges. By transforming how we think, plan, and operate, cities can turn most challenge into opportunities. Some cities have already developed their resilience strategy; an example is Rotterdam’s Rotterdam Resilience Strategy.

CRO Conferences will enable sharing of information as a key aspect of problem solving. CROs can celebrate successes, support each other as well as create a powerful, peer-led catalyst for resilience building across the world. Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation states that the coordination will work towards ensuring that no city experiences a failure that another city has already had.

The programme also has several partnerships that cities can benefit from such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) (challenges related to displaced populations). A partnership with The Street Plans Collaborative (Street Plans)  will provide “Tactical Resilience” workshops to 100RC network members to help implement cities’ long term resilience strategies.

Will cities be able to receive enough political backing to take the necessary steps towards improving their urban resilience? How can the programme be extended towards smaller growing cities beyond the selected 100?

Images by Constant Cap, Data Linked to Sources

Nairobi’s Long Rains: A failure in Urban Resilience?

Lack of resilience or poor planning?

Nairobi’s Long Rains season traditionally brings several urban challenges. A year ago, during the same season, a school bus was trapped in flooded waters and pupils had to wait for over 10 hours to be rescued. Unconfirmed reports indicate that on the same day and along the same road, one motorist died while trapped in his personal vehicle.

Amid promises by both local and central governments, little has changed and this year the city has been hit by a bigger tragedy with the collapse of a 7- storey residential building during the recent heavy rains. At the time of writing, several bodies were yet to be found, 33 people had been confirmed dead and rescue efforts were still on going. More recently, a leading supermarket had to temporarily close down after it over-flooded (investigations indicate that the shopping mall that hosts the supermarket is built on top of a river!).

Towards the end of 2015, the central government allocated about Ksh 5 billion (50 million USD) towards resilience and disaster management in preparation for the forecasted El-Nino rains. It took  concerted efforts by resident associations and interest groups to pressure both county and  central government into getting some work done in this regard. Some sincere efforts were made in realigning roads and re-designing some drainage systems. Clearly, however, what was done was not enough as evidenced by press reports indicating mismanagement of most of the allocated funds.

Urban resilience refers to the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. Such ‘acute shocks’ range from earthquakes, sudden floods and disease outbreaks to heatwaves and other disasters.

For a city to be resilient, certain fundamental parameters must exist including Leadership, Health, Economy and Infrastructure.  Nairobi’s long rains occur every year around April-May and this begs the question as to whether they come as an acute shock or  whether the city is just not well managed.

Lack of resilience or poor planning

A resilient City is expected to provide infrastructure that ensures reliable communication and mobility in a time of crisis, continuity of critical services as well as enhancing  the utility of man-made assets.

There are 7 general characteristics of urban resiliency that can be used to define an area or locality’s resilience.

Characteristic: Description: Review with Respect to Nairobi:
Reflective Using past experience to inform future decisions Have Nairobians used past flood related tragedies to inform decision making
Resourceful Recognizing alternative ways to use resources. How can Nairobians use their resources like rainwater better?
Inclusive Prioritizing broad consultation to create a sense of shared ownership in decision making. Do residents feel that they are part of the decision making process as regards responding to flooding?
Integrated Bringing together a range of distinct systems and institutions. Are all County Departments – Roads, Environment, Planning etc all involved in the decision making process, do they share ideas?
Robust Well-conceived and managed systems. Will most city systems continue working in spite of heavy rains or flooding?
Redundant Space capacity purposefully to accommodate disruption. How can the heavy rain disruption in the city be appreciated?
Flexible Willingness and ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances. Are the people ready to make radical changes as a response to flooding?

Characteristics and descriptions from 100 Resilient Cities

Examining Nairobi as a case study with reference to these imperatives leaves a lot to be desired when disruptions emerge.

Lack of resilience or poor planning?

Practically, Nairobi’s long rains tragedies are avoidable if  normal urban planning procedures are followed. The building that recently collapsed was located in a riparian reserve, right next to a river (such that rescue efforts on one side have been hampered). Evidence suggests that the flooded roads during the 2015 long rains were caused by building construction along other riparian reserves and resultant overflowing of flood water onto the roads.

Kenya has legislation and policies to ensure that such tragedies are avoided; however, a culture of impunity has ensured that little is implemented. There have been several commissions and studies involving development control, building quality and environmental protection. The most recent was a study that revealed that about 75% of the buildings in Nairobi did not meet the legislated  building standards.

If the city cannot handle the effects of its own annual climatic cycle, what would be the scenario if an ‘acute shock’ were to occur? How should Nairobi prepare for its annual long rains? How does your city prepare annual climatic challenges?