Kenya: Why Popular Uhuru Park Makes a Strong Case for Open Spaces

Members of Komb Green Solutions pose for a picture in Korogocho, Kenya on March 27, 2019.
28 December 2018

It is time for twinkling lights, decorations, shopping, friends and family, partying, and lots of food.

With such fun and merriment, festive seasons are very precious.

But while they mean different things to different people, the atmosphere of transformation that comes with the holidays is as refreshing as ever to all and sundry.

On Christmas Day when thousands of city residents stepped out to celebrate one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, many of them went to Uhuru Park.

You would, in fact, be forgiven for thinking that a political rally was taking place at the park.

With shukas spread on the manicured lawns, revellers chatted away the time, others enjoyed boat rides on the small artificial lake and yet others took photographs.

REFRESHING RELIEF

Located on the fringe of the city, the popular recreational park has been used by Nairobians for picnics, social interaction, recreation and sometimes revelry for years, yet its refreshing relief has almost remained pristine.

Having access to green spaces, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), can reduce health inequalities and mental illness.

Besides expansive lawns, the park boasts an artificial lake, trees and serenity that have made it a popular recreational spot.

Established by the colonial government in 1948, Uhuru Park is the place to go to for many Nairobians during holidays and weekends. It has endured tough times, land grabbing attempts and neglect.

But while it has survived a number of turbulences to offer the much needed recreational break to city residents, the city's bursting population could spell disaster to green spaces.

Many Kenyans say more recreational areas and public spaces are needed in the city. A number of them registered their views on social media.

"With the crowd witnessed at Uhuru Park on Christmas Day, Nairobi should have more parks ... " Jackson Mwadikwa wrote on Twitter.

'FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT'

"Many Nairobians converged on Uhuru Park. Very few places left for family entertainment ... Maybe we need more parks," observed another social media user.

Overcrowding at the park is common, with WHO saying this could contribute to spread of diseases such as respiratory infections.

Furthermore, as multitudes stream into the park for merriment, they dispose of food waste, cans and other litter which not only compromise the park's hygiene but also becomes potential vectors for other diseases.

"Municipalities should accord the public more parks. Uhuru Park is where low income earners take their families during holidays. But we shouldn't view parks as just that. A park provides peace of mind for one to think soberly. The flora at the park provides hope in life", says Ms Ruth Waithera.

For the past few decades, many people have been migrating to towns seeking employment, leading to rapid population growth.

ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT

While such migration often mirrors economic advancement, it also poses socio-economic and environmental challenges.

Experts say rapid urban growth strains existing infrastructure and discourages preservation of natural habitats in favour of more infrastructure and development projects.

In Nairobi, urbanisation has caused encroachment on former green spaces such as the nearby national parks and forests.

Environmental experts say urban planning must consider green spaces. "Such places provide a wide range of ecosystem services that could help combat urban ills and improve life for city dwellers" according to Arch20, a publication.

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