Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Nairobi is a rapidly growing capital city in Kenya anticipating massive new investments in land use patterns, infrastructure for transportation, water and energy as well as building stocks both for residential and commercial use in the next three to four decades. The city’s governor, Dr. Evans Kidero understands that if Nairobi is to contribute to sustainability in its three spheres – economic, environmental and social-cultural – time is now ripe to start planning in anticipation of increased urbanization by the year 2050 coupled with the residents’ increased  income levels. 

The governor envisions cementing his legacy of being the first elected official in one of the city’s newest political office by planning a compact, mixed use and high-density urban neighbourhood design that makes intra-transit in the city more economic and where proximity to work places for residents, schools, shops and services are closer. His intentions will not only cut future greenhouse gas emissions and energy use per capita as compared to other sprawling cities, but also significantly cut the costs associated with mobility, commuting times, minimize traffic accidents and associated air quality problems. 

People will not see the need of using personal vehicles but rather opt for public transit systems, cycling and even walking. This will have dramatic reductions on the probable congestion on the roads, pollution and illnesses all which serve to undermine the performance of the country’s main economic hub and the capacity for changing in the future costly, high-emitting and non-climate resilient infrastructure. As is the case in many other developing countries, the high population growth rates are happening in urban areas where more energy per capita is consumed than in rural areas. The governor’s plans will save enormous future energy costs and achieve continued emissions reductions for many years to come.     

The recent financial economic crisis we all have experienced will not help the governor of Nairobi city drive capital investments towards a long term sustainable perspective. This is especially so because supporting a more dense and mixed urban form is very much associated with extra high costs for long-lived capital stock – like roads, buildings, and new infrastructure – and high public pressure. The governor will have to rely on multilateral donors and development agencies to make his technical plans and infrastructure financing a success. For the governor, the real challenge is to start changing the city residents’ urban lifestyle – how people live, work and play their daily lives.   

Governor Kidero’s plans will achieve sustainability by eliminating the probability of smog in the capital which is generated by burning combustion fuel especially from fossil fuel-fired power generation plants and car engines. When air quality is improved and the cost of living is reduced, the health of the local ecologies and population also improves so does the quality of underground water reservoirs. The productivity of the urban populace as workers also improves. The collective atmosphere of the urban environment also gets better and becomes more attractive. When the city becomes more liveable and efficient in its day-to-day operations, it will be much easier to attract and retain highly qualified urban professionals in diverse sectors and industries. Housing will become more affordable, businesses more competitive and new job opportunities and skills will be created. As such, money and skills will not flow out of the urban communities for instance in the form of energy purchases from fuel suppliers and utilities; rather, it will be retained within.

This blog is an entry to the Masdar’s 2014 Engage Blogging Contest: Smart Cities and Sustainable Development. The contest’s 2014 Engage Page with other submitted blog entries can be found at

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