Poorly paved walkways- a big challenge to NMT in Nairobi

A walkway across Roysambu Roundabout, Nairobi

Image  —  Posted: August 27, 2016 by Baraka Mwau in Resilient Cities, Transportation, Urban Planning

Four-storey building collapses in Zimmerman Estate

Reported by the Star Newspaper

“However no casualties were immediately reported as tenants had vacated after it was declared unfit for habitation and marked for demolition by the National Construction Authority and the Nairobi County officials.”

“Residents said the building tumbled at about 2 am. It had been marked for demolition in 2014.”

It would be interesting to know what was happening between 2014 and now: court battles? Attempts to re-occupy the building illegally etc.? Good thing is that house renters shunned the building after it was marked for demolition. In the process, a disaster was prevented.



“Kenya’s matatu crackdown: ‘Pimped up’ minibus taxis under threat”

(Clink on above for the BBC article)

Matatu illustration-Source-Steve_ Mchoraji

Graphic: Courtesy of Steve Mchoraji

It’s yet another moment for Nairobians to take stock. Perhaps this time round worried less about the ever-increasing likelihoods of siting piled-up  garbage-even within the city centre- but more so worried by the unreliability of the city’s public transport.  Combined with other lived experiences, it’s certain that a lot needs to be done, including addressing the basics, in order to inspire hope for a better urban experience in the near future. This-public disgruntlement-is just adding-up to the concerns that the burgeoning city has consistently demanded from the responsible institutions, in the past and currently.

Of critical importance is for city to ascertain whether a public transport system run by the private sector, ‘governed’ by informality and operating within a relatively weak formal institutional environment, can guarantee a city the size of Nairobi reliable public transport services.  And thereafter, to decide what measures are appropriate, and sustainable.

The on-going crackdown on matatus, in attempts to compel the industry to comply with regulations has yet again just worsened the commuter experience in the city. Again leaving a number asking the same old questions: What are the substantive issues that the public authorities (including planners and policy makers) should even be concerned with, in the first place as far as the city’s public transport is concerned? And for how long will Nairobi rely on the current form of its public transport?

Perhaps it’s been long overdue for the city to not have had diversified its modes of public transportation. Over-reliance on one mode has evidently contributed to relatively lower productivity, if to go by the costs associated with the city’s daily traffic congestion, and overall this has undermined the city’s resilience and sustainability.  Evidently, a more complementary system; offering commuters choices, value for money, efficiency, reliability, enhanced connectivity etc. will remain an inescapable option for Nairobi. Hopefully,  the just concluded city development plan will result in significant investments towards alleviating the transportation problem.


DensificationPhoto: Mathare Slums, Nairobi©Baraka Mwau

“Delivering Better Development” simplifies the role of  Planning and Planners in development.

Click here to access the Delivering Better Development brochure-courtesy of RTPI International

“Planning is the single most important tool that governments have at their disposal for managing rapid urban population growth and expansion”

-Vanessa Watson and Babatunde Agbola- Who Will Plan Africa’s Cities?


street mkt Aoko Rd

Aoko Road Street Market, Nairobi (Photo: Baraka Mwau, 2011).

Another case of misguided policy?

-The spirit is welcome, but it’s part of this regulations’ content  that worries, considering at this point in time it would be useful to enhance the role of the informal sector in the agricultural value chain.

-At least, the regulations ought to have acknowledged that most of our urban neighborhoods are a product of urban informality and what is termed as “designated” could be or is non-existent, in these neighborhoods, even in neighbourhoods that were initially ‘planned developments’.

-Regardless, the urban authorities can still learn from the ‘mama mboga’ model, the informal vendor markets, and the informal corner kiosk, so as to enhance market spaces in the existing neighborhoods. Anyway, what will, for example drive Nairobi’s Eastlands, without it’s vibrant informal economy? The  informal markets or street stalls aren’t just mere occurrences of a the informal economy, but they define the character of these neighborhoods and double as public and social spaces. This doesn’t mean compromising on public health, productivity, revenue collection etc. rather, interventions ought to enhance a more sustainable and inclusive approach.

“New rules set to outlaw produce hawking, boost markets”


  • Under rules proposed to guide the implementation of Crops Act 2013, “all food crop produce shall be offered for sale only at designated markets.”
  • Any person found selling food items outside the designated markets will face a Sh500,000 fine or imprisonment for a period of one year.
  • The new regulations are set to upset the deeply entrenched ‘mama mboga’ street vendor culture preferred for their convenience by most households.”

Courtesy of the Business Daily

Convinience-improved informal toiletGetting creative-by any means necessary: An ‘improvised’ WC Toilet in Mathare slums 

(Photo: Baraka Mwau, 2011)

It’s perhaps unfortunate that as our city’s continue to commit more funding into constructing highways, shopping malls and skyscrapers etc. (making the ‘global image’), the same cities are still caught up with addressing cholera outbreaks-a product of poor water and sanitation services in the affected areas.

One will agree that although other forms of infrastructures are important to our urban development, that alone; cannot be a justification for shifting goalposts, especially with regard to ensuring universal access to basic infrastructure services. If we are to attain the desired flourishing cities, we must then be committed to addressing basic needs, across the social divide, and more so investing significantly towards bridging the divide.

Below is a link to an article-Courtesy of the Nairobi Star- that highlights some of the current manifestations of underinvestment in water and sanitation in Nairobi. Similar cases have been reported in Mombasa and Nakuru.

It’s no surprise that virtually all the cases featured are from the slums and informal markets.

Eight dead, about 100 admitted in Kibera cholera outbreak 

A study undertaken by the The Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance reveals the stark reality that water access inequalities are spatially embedded in the city of Nairobi.

Here is a link to this insightful study:


Post-Baraka Mwau



Again, we are witnessing yet another product of flawed systems. This morning, another flat/apartment block/tenement has collapsed in Nairobi. This time round, in what one would describe as a ‘middle class area’; and not the typical low-income tenement areas where a number of the previous disasters have been reported. It’s quite evident from the typology of units that the neighborhood possess characteristics of a ‘middle-class residency’, typical of Nairobi. This section of Roysambu offers: one; two or even three bedroom units, whose rent prices range from about Kshs 10,000 to 30, 000 per month. This building also happens to be within a neighborhood, where one of the recently opened Nairobi’s shopping mall, Thika Road Mall (TRM), is located.

But that doesn’t seem to make the area’s construction any exception; from what we see-everyday- in what some have labelled as “the large construction site” that is Nairobi. Residents of the neighborhood will agree with me, that; flats/apartments are opening doors to tenants arguably every day. The supply seems higher than the local demand (at least for now); even some of the finished buildings are counting empty units a year or even more, after completion. The construction is largely informal and in some sites, could be sub-standard or doesn’t comply with the city’s building regulations. In fact, if to go by the stipulated building and planning regulations, few or none of the constructions in the area will entirely comply. Besides, we should also focus attention to how the failure of development control in this small neighborhood is gradually turning the place that was once a ‘garden-city’ neighborhood, into a ‘concrete jungle’; with slim chances of a single tree in the coming years, if the current trend persists. Do not event try to imagine of a green-public open space in this neighborhood, in the coming years; given the current trend.

However, and like I have mentioned before, there are the good side of this kind of neighborhoods; for example, the mixed-use development and social mix that have resulted in this area have enabled Small and Micro Enterprise (SMEs) to thrive next to a much hyped shopping mall. The residents still get their milk, bread, groceries etc. downstairs. And they often visit the saloon, barbershops; and even try a fashion fit downstairs. But, it is the greed of unscrupulous landlords and developers, fueled by flawed city planning and development control system that is keeping most of us (tenants) worried about the safety of these buildings.

As we follow the unfolding details of this disaster, we should not forget that this collapse comes at a time when we’re waiting report of the Structural Audit that was ordered by the national government in January, this year; following a series of similar disasters. Whether the audit was done or not, what remains unanswered or unaddressed is the continued uncertainty surrounding the structural safety of a number of rental flats/tenements and the continued deterioration of public health in the low-income tenement areas (recently, there were reports of a ‘bed bug’ menace in sections of Eastlands). Meanwhile, the ‘silent pains’ over the seemingly ‘exploitative’ rental housing markets remain rife, among section of tenants.

Living the City

Collapsed Huruma Building

Image: Rescue Efforts At the Scene of Disaster, Huruma Nairobi

Image Source (AFB, accessed from Channel NewsAsia)

It’s only a day after posting an article, which raised critical concerns over the sub-standard constructions in tenement areas of Nairobi. Watching yesterday’s (4th Jan 2015) prime time news at 9  pm, local time in Nairobi, the nation was treated to yet another sad headline; “breaking news” alerted the public about the collapse of a seven storey building in Huruma, Nairobi. It’s another grieving moment for innocent victims, paying the price of renting sub-standard construction; a product of flawed urban planning, engineering and architectural practices, driven by inefficiencies in urban governance.

Huruma area is among the best exemplification of informal, illegal or even legal processes of tenement productions in Nairobi. By the time of posting this article, the death toll had reached 2 persons, with rescue efforts underway. Sad as the news sound…

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