WHEN GROWTH ISN’T A GOOD THING:Real Estate and Population Growth

Kenyans in our quest to be home owners  have thrown all caution to the wind and we are now selling our farms to fulfill  dreams of being multi billionaires.The real estate industry in Kenya has spawned off a list of noveau riche  Kenyans who are living large courtesy of the land deals they have been able to broker.If you doubt me just take a look at the number of real estate agents in Kenya’s growing towns from Nairobi to Kisumu all the way to the coast,land is changing hands and is appreciating in value like no other time in our country’s history.

We can partly lay the cause for the rise in land prices on the growing and better infrastructure in most  parts of the country and also the  burgeoning middle class that is seeking to be home owners.Banks have quickly cashed in on this  and most are offering mortgages and home development loans to their customers.The cement industry in the country is also growning and testament to this was when the President opened up  Simba cement factory in June of this year.The company joins the list of cement factories that have been seeing a growth in the building industry and are recording healthy bottom lines.

While lauding all these commercial activities that can be nothing but music to the ears of economists we must be cognisant of the fact that the boom will not last forever and there are ripple effects not at all positive for other areas of the economy like the farming  industry and the environment .Take the case of the four junctions development project whose owners sold off 200 acres of land that was previously a coffee farm to developers who are putting up plush and luxury apartments for sale.Much of the land under construction around the Thika road super highway and the Northern bypass that will link Nairobi to Thika passes through land that previously had coffee trees ,one of Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners.

In Nakuru and parts of Njoro the real estate bug has hit the residents of these growing town and real estate agens have sprung up everywhere selling land for development.The same can be said for other major towns in the country now growing rapidly. The growth curve  is projected to show a steady ascent as now governance has been devolutionized to the counties.With the battle for investment that is expected to set in among the counties, it is time we weighed the benefits of providing housing versus that of feeding a growing populace before the madness sets in.

Growing population
Just recently our MP’s were in Mombasa to discuss the runaway population growth we are now seeing as the last census of 2010 showed we are growing at the rate of a million annually.With not much focus being put on expanding public facilities like hospitals or even schools to accommodate this  growth i wonder how we will be able to feed and house 70 million Kenyans in 30 years time,seeing that our population right now is at 40 million.Maybe we will have to demolish structures to give way to farmland or lease out land from other countries to feed ourselves.

When the Mp;s held the meeting in Mombasa opinions were split as usual and an interesting article on what was discussed can be read here .However the opinions expressed were not surprising because they were representative of the view Kenyans have on the sensitive issue of population growth.The opinions though were a good indicator that we still have a long way to go in shedding our ignorance on issues affecting us.
In my opinion politicians are the wrong people to be discussing population growth because they are most likely to rely on everything except scientific data and cold hard facts.If we look at the way land has always been and continues to be an emotive issue,marry that with our ethnic bigotries and vested interests in the political circle you have disaster in the making.The reason for this is because decisions made politically will always be skewed towards selfish interests and not national interests.

We need to hear more about the effects of our growing population and appetite to be home owners from our scientists.The National Environmental Management Body (NEMA)should be focusing more on what our commercial and industrial activities are doing to the environment and what this will translate to in the future.Giving too much attention to the wars over whether waste baskets should be availed in public service vehicles and over the noise made by establishments like bars,churches,mosques though relevant is banal in the long term.Where are the great minds that have passed through the corridors of our universities,with great and fresh ideas on how we can manage the resources we have?

An asinine excuse for not discussing population growth is the excuse that our traditions prohibit us from doing so,but ask that in 20 years time and we will be reeling form the effects of the excess growth that was not reigned in in time.Much of the effects of this unchecked growth can be seen in our slums where competition for scarce resources in our cities and towns has seen unemployed youth turning to crime .

Looking for Solutions….
Maybe it is time the government gave farmers incentives to make them hold onto their farms instead of selling them off for quick money.Despite the back breaking work they do,farmers remain some of our most underrated public servants because feeding Kenyans to me is a form of public service.Too often you hear them complaining about price or lack  of farm inputs,lack of transport or poor infrastructure that would allow them  to take their produce to the market.These are things the government can provide solutions to if not ease the inconveniences involved .

Educating our citizens on the benefits of controlling population would go a long way towards demystifying the problems our country is now facing from the land battles that form a major part of the cases in our judiciary,to stemming the rising crime levels in our towns.All these because people are fighting for resources that are not there or aren’t enough to go round.

Our solutions are in our hands and in our heads if we put our collective effort together and there is no better example of this in the recent days than in the Kenya for Kenyans initiative that has raised more than half a billion shillings.This has set off a positive vibe of activism that is now seeing Kenyans discussing long term solutions that will see that this national embarassment never happens again.

We need to discuss what the effects of our economic activities will mean for future generations of Kenyans,we need to stop being the ostrich that buries its head in the sand hoping that our problems will magically find solutions

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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.