WHERE ARE KENYAN URBAN PLANNERS?

Kenya’s cities and towns seem to have no forethought put into them when it comes to their growth  whatsoever and we can blame this on our lack of urban planners whose job it would be to make decisions on how our cities and towns should develop.Of course each administrative council in the country be it ,a town council,municipal council has a department of urban planning but it is questionable if their advice is even sought if the rate at which thoughtless developments are taking place is anything to go by.

In an earlier blog post here  in April of this year i had lamented the fact that the real estate industry was threatening the very livelihood of our country by encroaching on agricultural land .Housing estates are coming up left ,right,centre in every major town in the country,the situation is especially sad in Nakuru because people are selling off rich agricultural land .In areas that should be the source of food and livelihoods,people are looking for the quick shilling to be made by subdividing the land and selling it off to Kenyans who have suddenly got a voracious appetite to be home owners.Sad indeed….

If we indeed do have  urban planners in some of these towns am sure they should be  at the fore front of managing the now free for all real estate industry that is slowly becoming a cash cow for the well heeled in terms of money.Land has always and will always remain an emotive issue but i think prioritizing our needs and wants should be key.Would you rather live in an Italian  marble palace or go to bed with a full stomach.These are some of the questions we should be asking our selves.

Our cities and towns are growing daily with malls,office blocks and all manner of structures being put up daily,but how many of these have been well thought out ideas that take into consideration the growth of these towns and cities in the future.We are seeing most of these towns turning into concrete jungles with no thought given to recreation facilities like parks or even public utilities.

What is interesting to note is that for our cities and towns to grow we need to think not of today but 50 years ahead.In 2070,where will the residents of Nairobi be living,getting their water from,will there be enough electricity,sewage lines to cater for the cities population or will the city be another spot in the annals of history that was obliterated by a lack of planning.

Take the case of Nakuru that is said to be one of the fastest growing towns,how will the town;s growing population affect the environment around the lake,the deforestation in the Mau Forest that is threatening the very existence of Lake Nakuru,is there worse to come if we do not mange the way this town is growing?

These and many other questions can be replicated in the planning of the towns we envision to have by 2030 and that i think should be what urban planners (if we have any) should be asking themselves and advising the county governments set to come in after the general elections next year.

NAKURU:Reaching for the Stars

I have watched Nakuru town grow from the dusty little town it was seven years ago,where shops closed by 7.30 pm to the bustling town it is right now,labelled among the fastest growing town in Africa.Then people hardly ever came to Nakuru except if it was to watch the Nakuru sevens tournaments or visit the Lake national Park.Nakuru to me is home,having fallen in love with this little town more than a decade ago it has become like a little sibling that i have watched grow from infancy and it is bursting with potential.

As things stand right now everyone wants a slice of this little town that sits smack in the middle of the Rift Valley tourism circuit.Banks have already made their presence felt and Kenyatta Avenue the main street is literally overflowing with these financial institutions.High rise buildings are present whichever way we look with their gleaming glassy fronts and security guards in their spanking brand new uniforms can be seen at nearly all entrances to these new edifices making up part of the emerging Nakuru skyline.

It also seems that Kenyan corporates and the non governmental organisations have also got tired of holding workshops and conferences in the capital city and are now trooping to Nakuru where the towns hotel’s are working overtime to accommodate the sudden influx of conference attendants trooping to the town.A report of the sudden increase in conference tourism can be read here.

With all these happening in the town we need to ask ourselves how the local leaders and Nakuru residents are readying themselves for what is easily going to be one of the busiest counties in the country.Too often we have heard of the rising cases of insecurity with everything from muggings,to hijackings to murders taking place.For Nakuru to cash in on the goodwill it is receiving from investors,the local administration and security network needs to spruce up the image of the town and beef up security.

For investors security is like breathing air,businesses  only flourish in safe havens.It does no good for businesses to be worrying about getting robbed or the increasing cost of ensuring their investments are secure when they are doing business.It is hoped the security apparatus in the county are watching things keenly and putting measures in place to ensure security is beefed up.

The hotel industry in the town also needs to spruce up their establishments for the growing number of local and foreign tourists who are coming to savour what the town has to offer.We also have to see the towns officials also have to come up with incentives that will attract more investors interested in the growing populace who call Nkauru home and investors who are finding what the town has to offer very attractive.Only in this way will Nakuru reap from all the goodwill it is generating from the people who have seen its potential for growth and have invested in it.

I  wish I had  the job of marketing this now bustling metropolis ,the peole charged with this are not yet doing enough for this little gem of the Rift Valley.We seem to have forgotten  our administrative units are now counties and we need to market them as much as we can so that we see the benefits of the much touted devolution.

NAKURU’S GROWTH

Everyone claims Nakuru is growing and very fast.A lot of the reasons put forward for this have been largely attributed to the post election violence in 2008 that saw people displaced from towns like Kisumu and Eldoret seek refuge in Nakuru.

A number of reporters have tried to do articles on Nakurus growth and while some have got it right some haven’t done their research.Just today morning this article appeared in the business daily-Banks rush to tap Nakuru’s robust growth.The writer claims that Eco Bank has opened shop in the last 6 months,yet it has been here for more than a year.The newest banks in Nakuru are Chase Bank,Bank Of Africa,First Community Bank and a newly opened branch of the cooperative Bank that is located on Kenyatta Avenue just next to Tuskys.

The newest entrants in the health sector have been the Karen Outreach Clinic and the Aga Khan University Hospital that has opened up a clinic too on the fourth floor of Riva Business Center.The only hospital that had a clinic in town was the Evans Sunrise Hospital.

With all these growth and opening up of new businesses,Nakuru has been injected with new life.Most of these banks and new businesses are employing young people because these are more willing to relocate .We also have young families who having moved here in the past 5 years when Nakuru’s landscape started to change.This has made real estate the most lucrative business for anyone interested in the towns commercial growth.From high rise office buildings to residential properties in Nakuru and its environs,the town is in a battle to find accommodation for its growing population.

Nowhere is this more evident than during peak hours in the morning and in the evening when people are going to work and commuting home in the evening.It is no longer surprising to see people queuing for matatus.We also have mini traffic gridlocks in the town center reminiscent of Nairobi whenever the heavens open.

Rapid growth brings with it undesirable elements like pickpockets ,robberies and burglaries and Nakuru once so peaceful and easy going is seeing a rise in robbery and theft cases.A few years back it was very hard to even find beggars along the town streets but nowadays they are common place along the main avenues.

Hopefully the Nakuru town council is tracking this growth and they arent going to be caught flat footed.It is now that they should be planning on how to harness the growth being exhibited right now to return this “pink town” into its glory days when it was the cleanest town in east and central Africa a few decades back.

NAKURU REDEFINED

The “cleanest town in East and Central Africa”,that was the tag given to Nakuru some years back and maybe then it was true.Right now when it rains the town is turned into a flood zone,there are more street children and beggars than when i came to live here three years ago. that When i first started visiting Nakuru about six years ago i fell in love with the slow pace of the town,amiable residents and generally the small town feeling it gave you.It was a seven minute walk to the town center from my house and i couldn’t be happier having moved from Nairobi where it took me at east two hours in morning traffic to get to work from Thika road.

Over the past two years since i moved here,Nakuru has become a bustling commercial town,there are high rise buildings coming up,shops have got a face lift and when it rains we even have traffic gridlock reminiscent of Nairobi.It also must be the only town in Kenya where you can count more than twenty five banks on the main street-Kenyatta Avenue.And the central bank is opening up a currency center here soon.

Nakuru started off as an agricultural town and it also gained popularity as the home of the flamingos,thanks to Lake Nakuru and Elementaita which are home to these beautiful birds.Since then Nakuru has grown from the little town where farmers dropped by tea hotels for the all weather kikombe ya chai after banking their farming proceeds to a town that now boasts a lounge bar,coffee bar and is host to the Aga Khan and Karen outreach clinics.

With these changes it is time businesses in Nakuru upped their game and started offering world class customer service because the town is open for business,it has been labeled the fastest growing town in the country.I will never forget the way i walked into an shop on Kenyatta Avenue and was looking for an oven tray and when i asked the owner of the shop to get me a pan i had admired from the top shelf ,she gave me a stool asked me to climb and get it for myself!Hotels need to start improving on their accommodation facilities from basic to posh.The council also need to provide more parking bays for the increasing number of vehicles in the town because more often than not,getting parking in Nakuru on weekdays is a nightmare.

The growth Nakuru is experiencing right now calls for planning by local county officials. Street children who are becoming more aggressive,beggars at street corners,pickpockets also need to be contained.It is also not uncommon to hear of theft cases and cars being vandalized along the town’s main streets which calls for beefing of security by the town council.

As Nakuru grows so does its population and housing which was a problem before will now be a ,major issue that the council has to deal with.While acknowledging the crucial role real estate plays in the development of the economy,it is sad to see arable land in various parts of Nakuru being turned into residential estates through the sale of plots.The council needs to identify areas where such development can be done and in a controlled manner,while maintaining the rich agricultural history of the town.