The 31st of October is globally recognized as World Cities Day. The Day promotes the international community’s interest in global urbanization and contribution to sustainable urban development. Nairobi is one of the fastest growing Urban Centres in Africa. It is an economic hub of the East and Central African Region and offers key services including hospitality, education, industrial, transit and residential.

Naipolitans, a non-profit that brings together urban professionals and enthusiasts put together a public discussion that touched key issues affecting urbanization. The dialogue was held at McMillan Memorial Library, one of the most iconic buildings in the heart of the CBD. This was thanks to a partnership with Bookbunk Kenya, a not-for-profit organization who are restoring public libraries in Nairobi. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, who have been leading two study groups: The Just City Study Group and the Socially Just Public Transport Study Group, were also part of the event as well as the Safer Nairobi Initiative.

The event commenced with a video by Book Bunk Kenya that brought out some of the progress they have made in restoring McMillan Library and other public libraries. Njeri Cerere, co-founder of Naipolitans gave the welcoming address and recognized all the organizing partners.

Titus Kaloki, from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) gave a short review of the ‘Just City Approach.’ This was accompanied by an infographic that was on display and shared with all attendants. The key principles were:

  1. A place with dignity for everyone.
  2. A city that respects equity and diversity.
  3. Citizens are responsible for their city not just claiming rights.
  4. A city that is democratic; where citizens have a stake in what is being done.

Wilkister Musau from the Open-Seneca Group in Nairobi gave a presentation on some of the citizen-science work that they have been doing on air quality. This involved putting together air-quality detectors and installing them on various vehicles – Bicycles, Motorcycle Taxis (Boda-boda), Uber Taxis and Public mini-buses (Matatus). She gave an brief on the alarming levels of bad air quality along some roads, especially highways. Their exercise raised awareness in the city environment department and has assisted in establishing an air quality unit.

Post -doctorate researcher Teddy Delaunay presented his recent research on Ride Sharing Services or Transport Network Companies (TNCs) in Nairobi. Some of the highlights of his findings were:

  • In Nairobi, women use them more mainly due to issues such as security, which is different from other cities.
  • All ages use TNCs, however 35-49 use it most while those over 49 use them least.
  • Students and employees use them most. Lower income earners use them least.
  • Those who own private cars use TNCs more than those who don’t own cars.
  • Nairobi has a higher frequency use of TNCs compared to other cities globally, and TNC trips are more work related (30%) .

TNC services also complement Transit services temporally (saves time) & spatially (connecting people to public transport systems).

Dr. Anne Kamau, a faculty at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Development Studies, gave a presentation on the Socially Just Public Transport Group. This group began with monthly meetings where they unpacked the concepts ‘social justice’ and ‘public transport.’ They came up with the pillars of socially Just Public Transport which are based on the Universal Bill of Rights & Constitutional rights. These were shared with the attendants through an infographic. They include:

  • Pillar 1: Availability
  • Pillar 2: Accessibility & Affordability
  • Pillar 3: Inclusivity
  • Pillar 4: Human Rights & Equity
  • Pillar 5: Sustainability

The evening was followed by a panel discussion that included Prof. Alfred Omenya who spoke about the issues and concerns around the newly proposed ‘Nairobi Expressway.’ This is a road expansion of 27 Km that includes an 11 Km double decker highway right through the city. Among his main concerns were:

  • Lack of feasibility due to its financial implications on the Government of Kenya.
  • Deconstruction of water, sewer and other utilities.
  • Cost of land acquisition.
  • The population in Nairobi by the time the project is complete will be 14 million yet only 0.3% will be using the expressway.
  • The environmental implications of the project are quite immense with the risks of issues such a flooding.

Jared Ontita of the Just City group talked about the Pangani Housing Project where the government failed engage the Project Affected Persons (PAPs). They were informed about the upcoming housing project a week before evacuation and demolitions. No resettlement action plan was done and the PAPs were paid Ksh 5000 as disturbance allowances.

The Draft Eviction and Resettlements Bill as well as the National Land Act clearly states how people should be evicted and resettlement handled. The dignified aspect of eviction lacks, and funds should be set aside for eviction and resettlement of PAPs.

Debashish Bhattacharjee from UN Habitat talked about some of the current projects they are proposing including BRT systems that would cost about a tenth of the proposed expressway. He emphasized the need for provision of multi-modal transport and vendor spaces on transport routes to improve security. Improving street activities and NMT promotes inclusivity and better air quality.

Teddy Delaunay highlighted the fact that TNCs are improving accessibility to motorized transport.  He pointed out that from some other research he did in France, carpooling improved the financial cost of transport but increased the need for more transport solutions leading back to the initial problems. Proper urban and land-use planning should be done to reduce the need for mobility.

Dr. Anne Kamau emphasized that the matatu workers should be involved in discussion and plans to improve transport systems. The workers should also be represented to have their input.

There were several highlights from the interactive session with the audience. This included Lessons learnt from Luthuli Avenue intervention:

  • Politicians listen when you approach them with issues affecting their citizens and constituents.
  • The professionals of the Built Environment need to be vocal so that the media is well-informed.
  • Public participation lead to the actualization of the project.
  • Policies can be initiated by the professionals and proposed to the government to avoid poor policy making. We should all get to the ground so that the issues discussed don’t become foreign to the public.

Njeri Cerere concluded with the 2019 World Cities Day Nairobi Resolution

  1. Priority – Recognize that if the City is not a space conducive to the welfare of children, then it is not a livable place for anyone.
  2. Philosophy – Lobby for the complete adoption of the Just City Principles for Kenya as a value system for development.
  3. People – Position people and not things at the center of solutions through People- Public-Private Partnerships (PPPPs)
  4. Process – Challenge Wananchi to take up the mantle of responsible civic duty by actively engaging in the public participation process as required by the Laws of Kenya
  5. Purpose & Posterity – Leverage the power we possess as individuals and groups to set measurable targets, influence policy-plans-projects and in so doing determine our own future
  6. Profession & Practice – Acknowledge that African Cities share similar opportunities and problems. Scholarship and practice in Africa should therefore be forceful and demanding enough to challenge the status quo and tirelessly present evidence that revolutionalises governance

Special thanks to Annabelle Nyole (write-up)

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