Planners and other urban experts say that chaos that have characterised Kenya’s urban development for decades could be exported to the counties if they don’t embrace planning in their formative stages,
“ Kisumu has developed with its back facing the lake instead of the lake being the face of the town,” said Ruth Odinga, the Deputy Governor of Kisumu County, while opening a conference by the Kenya Institute of Planners ( KIP) in Kisumu recently. And while closing the same conference, Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti, underscored the need for planners to be involved in the development of counties.
The sentiments of the two leaders arose from the common concern that a lot of developments in the country have happened without requisite planning.
Some of the manifestations of poor planning in Kenya are haphazard housing estates and incessant traffic jams in Kenyan towns. In the past ten years, Kenya has seen unprecedented infrastructural development with major construction works seen in the roads, housing and rail sectors. It is, however, not lost on many that there are serious disruptions when such developments start.
It is not uncommon that during a road construction, telecommunication wires are cut or water pipes burst, a sign of lack of proper planning. For example, a long running standoff has existed between private developers and the government over the expansion of the three-kilometre road stretch between Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters in Nairobi and the Bomas of Kenya.
The construction work, which was to initially end in May last year, was rescheduled to end in October. That did not happen and work is still going on.
The question therefore is; did the government plan for this road early? If yes, why did the impasse come about just after the road construction started? There are many such scenarios around the country where roads are to be built but, on the other hand, property developers are crying foul, asking to be compensated despite their houses being located on road reserves.
Isaac Mwangi, the chair of KIP, says most urban areas in Kenya have plans that have not been implemented, leading to the jumbled up development that is rampant in Kenyan towns.
“We have good plans, policies and even findings of committees and commissions, which would improve the state of towns and rural development. However, it appears that once these were done, implementation never took place,” says Dr Mwangi.
Dr Mwangi also says there has also been no room for public scrutiny and participation in the implementation of the existing plans. He, however, says the new laws that have been put in place will help solve some of these problems associated with planning — or lack of it — in the urban areas.
“The new laws have opened planning as a public policy pro
The Kenya society has entered a new phase in history where development plans and other forms of national and county government development strategies, including regional development plans, have to be implemented in accountable manner,” he says.
Bosire Ogero, the vice-president of the Commonwealth Planners Association, East African Region, says that cities across the world contribute to more than 70 per cent of the world’s GDP, while in Kenya, 55 per cent of the GDP is contributed by the urban areas.
“Urban areas are areas of growth. There can be no growth without urbanisation. But no sustainable urbanisation can be achieved without proper planning,” says Ogero.
He notes that Kenya has allowed development to go ahead of planning and then resort to firefighting whereby corrective measures are taken only after the ‘damage’ — development — has already been done. This brings about conflicts among various actors, which at times result in court cases.
Vincent Kodera, Kisumu County Government Executive Member for Physical Planning and Development, says that urban areas have degenerated into concrete jungles because of lack of proper planning. “Any government without a well-thought out investment in physical planning is an epitome of chaos. We are currently grappling with how to deal with the mess due to failures in planning,” said Kodera.
Most counties currently have a dire need for planners who can help implement the Physical Planning Act. Kisumu, for instance, has only five physical planners who are not enough for the massive planning work in the headquarters as well as in other towns in the county like Awasi, Ahero, Katito, Muhoroni and Chemelil.
The Director of Physical Planning, Augustine Masinde, speaking during the Kisumu conference, said most county governments are now starting ‘to see the light’ and investing in planning.
“Most governors have asked for planners to be deployed to their counties to help with the planning as stipulated in the Physical Planning Act…and this is good news,” said Masinde.
Initially, most local authorities did not have planners because planning was taken to be an easy task that could be done by anybody in the construction industry. Some would take engineers, land surveyors and quantity surveyors to do the job of planning, without realising that planning was a field of its own.
The result is the chaos that has been witnessed in Kenya’s urban centres, beginning with Nairobi and its satellite towns like Ongata Rongai, which is a raw example of a concrete jungle.
But physical planning cannot stand alone. Ruth Odinga said that land fragmentation is a major hindrance to the preparation of plans since land has been subdivided so much that planning becomes challenging. She also pointed out that planning can solve the problem of rural-urban migration since people only want to live in big urban areas.
“Why can’t a town like Pap Onditi be developed so that people do not have to run to places like Kisumu, Mombasa or Nairobi because they appear better?” wondered Ruth.
Speaking during the Kisumu conference, John Koyier, a senior planner with the Nairobi City County, blamed the problem of lack of planned urban areas on the central nature of planning and implementation.
“Most urban areas lacked plans and only relied on planning from the headquarters in Nairobi. This came with its own challenges,” said Koyier.
On the issue of implementing plans that have been made, authorities have had to grapple with a lethargic public, resulting in court cases whenever authorities move to demolish structures that have been built without following requisite plans.
The law requires that before any structure is put up, approval has to be obtained. Lucas Kang’oli, an advocate of the High Court, says that approval is necessary for any development. Kang’oli says that if there was approval — because plans can change — then those whose properties are to be demolished but had followed the law should be compensated.