Better Cities, Better Life

The first Monday of every October was designated by the United Nations as World Habitat Day. The theme of the day this year is, rather befittingly ‘Better City, Better Life’. Now, UN Habitat happens to be headquartered right here in our ‘Safari Capital of the World’, Nairobi and with that should come a truckload of responsibilities that our city should take upon itself, both as an obligation to its citizens and as a necessity towards rising global standards. As the world experiences rapid and elemental changes in technological advancement, practical efficiencies and environmental conservation, it seems only reasonable that any global citizen would want a safe and secure setting to grow his/her business and bring up his/her family.

Beautiful City in the Sun, Nairobi

Africa is no longer being excused from meeting international standards. It would make no sense for a continent that was relatively at per with Asia half a century ago to still be lagging behind in many if not all aspects of advancement. It would also beat logic to try and assist a resource-rich continent with development aid that ultimately ends up being gobbled up by a greedy political class that seems stuck in a perpetually backward bubble. There comes a time when we, as citizens of Africa, must snap out of it and take charge…an ideological revolution. They say that the wars of the future will not be fought with guns and grenades but with guts and genius. This is not to mean that there is nothing good about our motherland, on the contrary, as we mark the 24th World Habitat Day, there is a plethora of strides that not just Africa, but the entire world, has made. This year’s scroll of honour awards went to various cities in the world for their unique and individual ways of helping to improve the quality of human settlements.

2010 UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour award Winners: Vienna, Austria was lauded for developing a model urban renovation programme…instead of carelessly tearing down old and disused buildings, the Municipal Council has been consulting residents and supporting ideas and ways in which it could improve existing sites. Johannesburg, South Africa was awarded for assisting city residents get affordable and decent housing and help improve living conditions. Morocco on the other hand is working fast to reduce the size of its urban slums as Medellin, Columbia successfully implemented and urban poverty reduction programme. Kunshan, China was awarded for granting migrants the right to having basic services as Singapore summed up the awards scroll for helping to provide ‘one of the world’s cleanest, greenest and most socially conscious housing programmes’.

The first Global Habitat conference was held in Vancouver, Canada in 1976. I’m not surprised then that the issues that beset the World at that time are still the very same ones that plague us almost 30years later: global urbanization and how to control it, inadequate shelter for growing populations, lack of sufficient water…I guess you get the picture. The blueprint is the same across the board, from the developed world to the emerging economies and the developing world. Nairobi itself is not exactly a model of perfect living but I do believe we can get there, with commitment and dedication to the needs of our population.

Shanghai, China is the location for the official global observance of the day, I guess because of the great strides the city itself has made in human settlement improvement. Back at home, the official observance venue in Kenya is the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru, which is also interesting because the town was recently declared the fastest growing town in Africa!

I had a look at a list of the World’s fastest growing cities, and it would seem that East and West Africa are in a global hotspot. Kampala no.13, Lubumbashi no.12, Dar es Salaam no.9, Lagos 7th and Bamako 6th. This is as much a blessing as it is a curse…the growing populations pose the greatest possible potential as well as the greatest possible threat. How will the administrations of these cities meet the growing service demands for its people? How will they minimize the growing threat to the environment? How will they keep the people healthy and ultimately how will the government plan for subsequent increments in numbers? And it seems that the bulk of this responsibility will belong to the developing world… have a look at this;

  • Globally, Karachi in Pakistan had the second largest population growth between 2000 and 2010 (3.1 million increase) followed by New Delhi, India (2.9 million increase). The ten cities with the largest population increments between 2000 and 2010 were all located in Asia and Africa;
  • 324 global cities with a population of over 750,000 registered rapid growth of more than 20.0% between 2000 and 2010. The fastest-growing city was Abuja, Nigeria (a whooping 139.7% increase!) followed by the Yemenite cities al-Hudayda (108.1% increase) and Ta’izz (94.0%). Of these cities, 53.1% were located in Asia Pacific, 24.4% in Africa and the Middle East, 16.0% in Latin America and the remaining 6.5% in North America, Australasia and Western Europe;
  • Of the world’s 324 fastest-growing cities between 2000 and 2010, 84 were in China. Of the world’s regions, Asia Pacific had the largest growth of urban population between 2000 and 2010, with an increase of 378 million;
  • Africa, the world’s least urbanized continent, is also the one with the fastest rate of urbanisation. The average annual rate of urban population growth in the Middle East and Africa between 2000 and 2010 stood at 3.3%, compared to 2.7% in Asia Pacific, 1.7% in Latin America, 1.3% in North America, 0.9% in Western Europe and -0.1% in Eastern Europe.

A future city, here with us, Hong Kong

As startlingly stark as the figures are, we are left with the task of ensuring that our future cities don’t turn out to be behemoths of congestion and filth but beacons of comfort, security and contentment. Africa as at now has a larger urban population than the whole of North America and out of every 6 people in the world, the likelihood is that 2 are Chinese, 1 is Indian and 1 is African! Let’s take advantage of the fact that growing populations will necessitate infrastructure and service development, thus creating more job opportunities and foster growth of businesses. Consumer markets will also grow and push these cities the limits. But let all this be a qualitative development and not just in terms of quantity. Building standards need to be held sacrosanct and continuous self -improvement checks made. The environmental impact of human settlements is also taking a front row seat in the arena of planning for the future. I found some interesting local suggestions for future developments that you might like to take a look at here:

http://www.a4architect.com/2010/09/20/green-architecture-south-east-commercial-parkhow-the-new-extension-of-nairobi-cbd-can-be-designed-to-become-%E2%80%98green%E2%80%99/

I’d like to see a Nairobi that caters for its residents faithfully, provides adequate housing and services and is a mile ahead in planning for the future…a Nairobi with reliable and efficient transportation, cleaner air and happier people. A Nairobi that rivals the Dubais, Tokyos and Hong Kongs of the World. But most of all, I’d love to see a Nairobi that is Nairobi, proud in its own right, wouldn’t you?