By Ogova Ondego
Published January 4, 2017
Urban planners and landscape architects say more landscaped and open spaces are needed for recreation and reduction of pollution as cities like Kenya’s Nairobi, Nigeria’s Lagos and South Africa’s Johannesburg continue to grow.
The more the people move into a town and the more buildings come up, the more landscape the town requires, Stanley Kebathi, a Nairobi-based architect, told me some time back.
“That Nairobi is poorly designed only calls for more open spaces,” Kebathi, an expert urban planner and architect, said in an interview. “Pollution from factories, motor vehicles and people in towns reduces an average person’s life expectancy. However, this can be remedied through the availability of more open spaces and the planting of trees and other vegetation that absorb some of this pollution to levels considered safe.
But bad news isn’t in short supply in Nairobi that appears to be losing all its vegetation to ‘development’ or expanding concrete jungle: roads, railways, buildings. pave way for concrete jungle. Trading off lifespan for modern infrastructure?
Kebathi calls on city planners to divert motor vehicle away from certain streets to pave way for safe pedestrian and cyclist tree-lined walkways. This, he contends, “should be done as a matter of urgency before Nairobi becomes a dead city.”
The diversion of vehicles will also enable people to cycle to work instead of having to ride in smoky non-formal public service vehicles known in Kenya as matatu which pollute the environment.
“Cycling is both healthy and economical,” Kebathi says. “But most people cannot dare use them unless safe lanes are provided.”
With irregular allocation of public land known as land-grabbing rampant in Kenya, there is unlikely to be much landscaping in urban centres.
Open spaces and vegetation—flowers, plants, trees—provide a soft surface as this material provide a convivial environment as opposed to the hard steel, concrete and glassy skyscrapers.
Living and working in concrete buildings as those dotting the Nairobi skyline, experts say, stresses people out. Planners must ensure whenever there are more buildings there are also more open spaces with vegetation to help reduce stress and pollution.
Roads, Kebathi says, should be wider and lined with vegetation while there should be more recreational parks.
The architect argues that inhabitable space inside buildings should have vegetation to make them more habitable.
“Although hanging gardens cannot be stepped on, they nevertheless beauty the environment,” Kebathi says. “Nairobi calls for inner city redevelopment if we have to prevent its inner city from dying. Crime should be checked as it accelerates this process.”