25 January 2013

Kenya: My Vision for Konza


The people of Kenya did not participate in the planning of Nairobi. It was planned by the colonial government, as a city for themselves, around a railway station serving a coffee, tea and cotton growing hinterland.

The city was for the white civil servants and business people. Africans were allowed in only in the morning, to work unobtrusively, leaving before sunset except for a few bar and restaurant hands, lest they saw 'white mischief' when the sun went down!

The residential areas were separate from the Central Business District or CBD. The whites lived in the immediate neighbourhoods of Muthaiga, Kileleshwa, Lavington, Kilimani and Upper Hill, while the Africans trekked to their labour camps of matchbox houses and bantustan-style crowded informal settlements, without basic infrastructural facilities, further away. This was not a city of the people, for the people or by the people of the land. It was a city planned to entrench apartheid or separate development.

Enter Konza, an ultra modern Technopolis, planned by the people of Kenya for themselves albeit fifty years after independence.

My vision of Konza is that it is an integrated city. The residential and work spaces, offices and businesses are all within the 5,000 acres that the city covers. It would be back to square one if workers have to commute to the city from neighbouring slums that may mushroom around it.

Integrated city planning would save time and fuel. There would be fewer motorists driving into the city. This reduces harmful emissions from cars, as most people would walk or bicycle to their places of work and the environment would be clean.

Modern city planning must be informed by the needs of the people. Consider the transport system. The users may be placed in three categories, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, in order of numbers, the pedestrians being the majority.

City planning must therefore put the pedestrians first in that there must be safe walkways on both sides of the main roads. This is followed by cycling tracks on both sides of the motorway.

The motorists come last as they form the minority. I envision a city with a three-tier transport infrastructure, starting with an underground subway, ground level transport, and a skyway, each level providing for rail, pedestrian, cyclists and motor transport, thus making traffic gridlocks a thing of the past.

Walking and cycling must be encouraged in Konza for good health. Motoring must be discouraged as it encourages obesity, pollutes the environment and runs up a huge energy bill. Company executives should be encouraged to walk or bicycle to their places of work for better health and to reduce the national health bill.

My vision of workers in Konza is that they come to work walking or cycling in their sportswear, while clothes for work are in a carrier bag, or in wardrobes in the offices! The design of today's office buildings will include a gym, where the worker goes for a workout, takes a shower, changes into working clothes and goes to work. The worker walks or cycles back home, as it is safe to do so.

I envisage Konza as a city where children walk or bicycle to work and are not hurdled into squeaky school buses; a well lit city which is safe to walk at night; a city where I can work late into the night because my residence is within easy and safe reach; a city in which I can wake up at any time of night and walk or bicycle to my office in a clean and secure environment or take a walk in a nearby park; one in which a twenty four hour working economy is practicable; where half the residents of the city work at night and the other half during the day, thus working in shifts and creating and sustaining full employment. Even government offices operate on shift basis, day and night, growing the economy at more than 12% per annum.

My vision of Konza is a green city, with spacious green and water areas, tree lined streets, with some of these trees laden with fruits; a city with walls of buildings covered with creepers of green and the top of buildings covered with a forest, yielding a biomass emitting sufficient oxygen per capita, keeping at bay global warming and the negative effects of climate change.

I dream of a city bedecked with flowers filling the air with nerve-soothing aroma; a city whose streets are cleaned using water tankers with a spinning scrubbing brush below, leaving behind a tinge of cosmetic scent all day and all night long, in other words, a healthy, relaxing place for human habitat. Konza will have the Eastern and Western by-passes so that trucks plying from and to Mombasa and Nairobi, destined for other destinations do not have to pass through it.

Konza is the first step towards building a city that provides a high quality of life for Kenyans. What about building a new capital city in Isiolo as it is geographically at the centre of Kenya and decongesting and redesigning and upgrading Nairobi to make it more habitable for all citizens, a second city planned, designed and built by Kenyans for themselves.

Amb. Dr Hukka Wario is the former director of the National anti-corruption campaign steering committee.

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