Years back Ebenezer Howard proposed a ‘Garden City’ in his famous text “Garden Cities of Tomorrow. The world famous urbanist envisioned self-reliant and independent cities that are spacious and organized; have limited/controlled populace and unified land ownership. Le Corbusier later analyzed the challenges faced by increased urbanization in Europe and came up with his version of a “Contemporary City” for three million inhabitants.


In 1800 only 2% of the global population lived in urban areas. The industrial revolution witnessed the start of modern urbanization and this continued such that today up to 75% of the population in developed countries is now urban. Although only 40% of Africas population lives in urban centres, an urban growth rate of 4.87% defines it as the region with the highest rate of urbanization.

Founded on colonial origins, the design and development of African cities has traditionally followed a top – bottom approach, where a central body of municipal authorities and planners control development and service provision. However, mismanagement, corruption and limited financial ability have led to the rapid deterioration of many cities. Continuous urban growth coupled with poor development of legislative and administrative procedures has resulted in many cities growing without emphasis on environmental sustainability, implementation of development plans, and sustained urban growth.

With a growing middle class, a new phenomenon is emerging in some African cities where private developers  (and occasionally the public sector) are proposing the construction of new private cities. The developers envision in these cities the  efficient provision of services, availability of efficient and well maintained infrastructure as well as adequate security.

While some argue that the development of new towns and urban centres is the only way forward for developing countries, there are many lessons to be learnt from those who have tried and failed or succeeded to varying degrees.

Several parts of the world have experienced the phenomenon of private cities with various results. One of the most successful “private cities Jamshedpur in India. It was the vision of Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata and was developed by Tata Steel Company as an industrial town. All facilities are managed by Jamshedpur Utility and Services Company Limited (JUSCO) much to the satisfaction of the residents. However, the areas around the town not managed by JUSCO experience poor roads, power cuts and water shortage.

Another new upcoming private city in India is Jaypee Green Sports City. This is a 2,500 acre town that will be distinguished by international standard sports facilities for cricket, formula one racing, hockey and others. It will also have residential, commercial and educational functions.  

The United States also has some positive experience with private cities, most notably Reston, Va., and Irvine, Ca.  Both have been listed as among the best places to live in the country.

Not all parts of the world have had positive experiences with private cities or purpose built cities. China has had to re-think some of her urbanization model after putting up cities like Kangbashi in the Ordos region or the Yujiapu financial district in Tianjin that have remained “ghost cities, a danger sometimes  attributed to  building cities without thinking about the people being targeted. It has taken more than four years for people to start settling in Angola’s Kilamba. Built to house 200,000 people, it had remained a ghost town with a population of only 40,000 by 2014.

Experience proves that designing a city requires both top-bottom and bottom-up approaches which allows for a merger of both the technocrats (urban planners, managers, engineers, etc.) and the citizens (public participation). The merger enables understanding of the socio-cultural dynamics and thus the construction of a people driven city.

In Nairobi, Kenya, many “new private cities are to be developed in  the capital city’s periphery on what were previously large scale commercial farms. These are in a way similar to ‘edge cities’ that have developed in other parts of the world. An ‘Edge City‘ is depicted as a semi autonomous town that develops on the periphery of another larger city. Ordinarily edge cities are stated to have:

  • five million square feet of office space
  • 600,000 square feet of retail space
  • population must rise every morning and drop every afternoon (more jobs that homes)
  • single- end destination (the place “has it all”)
  • area must not have been anything like a “city” 30 years prior

These cities do not lack their own challenges. Most are automobile dependent for access and internal movement. Attempting to change this would require coordination with local government authorities towards establishing an effective mass transit system to ease access to the new city. Most African cities do not have mass transit systems and the possibility of these being developed to serve only privately run edge cities may not be sustainable. 

Settlements developing at the periphery of Mombasa

African cities are characterized by high levels of informality, a trend that emerges as an offset of economic disparities. The newly planned private cities have to consider how to handle attraction of informal sectors and activities. With their close proximity to the capital city, there will be many push and pull factors that will attract the informal sector towards these private cities as well as to their peripheries such as subordinate jobs and ready market for cheap products. This gives rise to the likelihood of a ‘Private City’ ending up as  an “island of wealth in an ocean of slums..

Private sector drive tends to be profit oriented. Within the public sector the  tendency is to view new cities  as a means of reducing  the growing population’s demands on the public sector  as well as enhancing economic growth. However, key questions surrounding the overall sustainability of private cities must be asked. This includes the effects of poor management of current cities creeping into the new cities. An example would be the proposed ‘MachaCity’ by the Machakos County Government with regard to which an emerging concern is whether the County Government would propose a new city next to the current town because of fears that it is not competent enough to handle the issues of the existing town. Other similar cases are the “Mombasa Gate City’ and the proposed African Silicon Valley ‘Konza TechnoCity.’

Privately proposed developments in Nairobi, Kenya include Tatu City and Two Rivers multi user developments that include residential, commercial, infrastructural and service provision components. These are depicting themselves as proposed well planned urban centres and a substitute to the publicly run municipalities. However, little is disclosed about their regional assimilation and long term plans.

Failure to take into account the eventual necessity for densification, extensification, or peripheral growth considering anticipated urban growth rates poses the danger of  private cities becoming constrained within their current borders. Development of private cities will create a new market for land demand and land use within the peri-urban area in an open market subject to the legislative guidelines of the local authorities. This is also no guarantee that infrastructure outside the private city developed by the local authority would be up to the same standard.

Legislative and land tenure challenges also arise in terms of  the relationship between the city management and the local government (which is subject to political unpredictability). The trend is to change the land from agricultural to commercial/industrial use, which in many cases implies a change in land rates and rents. This has an effect not only on the private city but also on the entire surrounding region. If not controlled, this creates an opportunity for the rural areas on its peripheral areas to develop into unplanned urban areas or informal settlements.

Service provision; water, sewage, power, garbage and public works are normally the responsibility of the local authority. Private cities require efficient long term planning for this to be done effectively. Some of the proposed cities intend to source their own water, power and manage their sewerage systems. Legal agreements with local governments are necessary so as to prevent duplication of roles at the peripheries of these cities as they develop.

On the political angle, freedom of movement is also a matter of concern. Do ‘private cities’have open access to everyone who wants to walk within them? Or are they to be ‘class segregated towns?’ In that case would one consider them ‘Cities’ or ‘Private Estates?’ How are beggars, job hunters and informal traders to be treated?

Increasing need to access the new ‘Cities’will predictably lead to increased traffic congestion on public roads which even when expanded may not satisfy the demand. A high automobile presence level may limit ‘pedestrianization’ and promotion of Non Motorized Transit resulting in a negative outcome as regards the area carbon footprint.  Additionally, in the instances where access to and mobility within the private city such as BRT, LRT or public roads are constructed by the local authority, is the city still private or is it public? And, are the city owners willing to subsidize internal mass transit facilities? The need for supporting infrastructure like industrial access to rail and roads also depends highly on local authorities and central government.

City Planning

Town planning and urban development has to be viewed as more than just the construction of roads and new buildings. It entails a study of all the other forces at play within the environment including social, cultural, legal and physical factors.

How can ‘private cities’  take these factors into account and develop accordingly? How can the development of private cities incorporate a socio-political balance so as to avoid future land use conflict?


9 thoughts on “How Sustainable are the emerging Private Cities around Nairobi, Kenya?

  1. I particularly like the point you have made about the effects these Private cities have on the surrounding areas. Most of the workforce will always come from there and thus the Island of wealth in a sea of slums.
    I think in my opinion cities/towns are an living organism that can be nurtured well. Private Cities on the other hand are like clones, well made but may have flaws.
    In all, you make pretty valid points Referee.

    1. Clones is a nice way of putting it, as they are not created naturally but more for imitation purposes (and profit). Workforce will be attracted towards them so will informal markets. Its not that the residents of these towns will not mind purchasing from ‘mama mboga’ or ‘mitumba shoes.’

  2. Hi,
    I have spent the whole night reading through your very well researched and articulated articles.I was looking for a map on Google that defines the boundaries of Eastlands Estates like Hamza,Uhuru,Jericho,Salem etc and I ended up on this blog.
    I have noticed the unique way that you handle a topic by tackling the challenges and at the same time penning your proffessional opinion on sustainable and workable solutions.
    My mind was left trying to imagine solutions for the questions that you ask at the end of each article.This has left me with a few question marks:
    1.Who is going to answer this questions?
    2.How can these answers be implemented?
    3.What Is my role in the above questions?
    I have spent half of the night reading other very informative documents notably the Nairobi City Master Plan-2014 and I feel concerned that the scholars/technocrats have done lots of research and we have enough solutions on paper-locked up in drawers and vaults.
    I am left with one key question: when will this solutions be implemented and what role can I play as an individual?
    Thanks for making my day an informative one and arousing my thoughts!

  3. Our company is currently involved in endeavors there in Nairobi Kenya to help curb greenhouse gases. We have worked with Dr. Bishop Stanley Michucki and been approved by Kenyan Bureau Standard for Transportation. Our company name is: Platinum Marketing Group, LLC

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