By Ogova Ondego
Published October 23, 2014
Urbanisation is escalating across Africa and the so-called ‘developing world’. As this happens, so does the rate of exposure to incidents of violence, crime and lifestyle-related accidents.
Towns being viewed as presenting better economic opportunities, have higher densities than rural villages. It is in towns rather than in rural areas that most people invest in property and other commercial venture. Accordingly, towns should be planned with safety, security and disaster preparedness mechanisms in mind. Without safety and security safety nets, they not only labour in vain they that create and manage them but even the best designed cities with beautiful parks , hanging gardens , wide boulevard and nice-looking architecture are not fit to live in; and neither can they attract investment.
Writing in a United Nations publication called Habitat Debate, Mitchell J Rycus argues that for a crime to occur three factors must be in place: opportunity, ability and motive.
Rycus, who is identified as a professor of urban planning, argues that crime can be curbed by either preventing it or exercising social control. While the former is directed at preventing someone from being a victim by reducing potential criminal’s opportunities and abilities to commit an offence, crime control method are targeted at reducing a potential offender’s motivation to commit a crime.
Rycus stresses that crime-reduction is part of an urban planners’ job. If they fail to tackle it, they are encouraging crime by default!
In the situation where a town is zoned along racial, ethnic, political or economic line, it is almost impossible to rule out crime as the urban dwellers who feel disenfranchised go on the offensive in the areas they feel are advantaged.
A sociology teacher at the University of Nairobi says Rycus’s is an apt description of Nairobi. She argues that unless the police work closely with the city planning department, violence and crime will soar as the law of the jungle takes root in what was once known as a green city in the sun but that has over the years become a city on the garbage dump.
Rycus says Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategy can help ensure security and safety in urban centres.
CPTED is a set of procedures and practices that address the design of public spaces in town such as parks, walkways, alleys and bus stops in such a manner that such places cannot be used as hideouts for criminals.
Rycus contends that because it is urban planners who approve site plans, they should recommend only those designs which incorporate safety into city landscape. He further suggests that they could influence the private sector by recommending landscape designs for shared public spaces that reduce criminal opportunities.
Building standard and regulations and local government by-laws should be modified to include security issues. Current structures should be re-designed or retrofitted to include safety considerations.
Some 31 shoppers and workers were said to have died in an inferno that razed Nakumatt Downtown supermarket on January 28, 2009. Media reports revealed that safety outlets had been sealed with concrete by Nakumatt to prevent workers from stealing wares. But this became a tomb when the fire broke up in 2009. The efforts of rescuers were hampered and thus people who could have been saved ended up dying in the inferno that destroyed Woolworths House at the junction of Nairobi’s Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street. Among the three offenses with which Atul Shah, managing director of Nakumatt was charged with was failing to provide adequate means of escape to occupants.
Arguing that planning is more than just land-use maps and zoning, Rycus contends that planners should factor any prevailing socio-political and economic situation into their work.
Currently it is unsafe to walk through alleys, go to parks or withdraw money using the automated teller machine (ATM) facilities in Nairobi as safety was never considered when designing these places.
A man who had been robbed of Sh40 000 he had just withdrawn from an ATM facility along Nairobi’s Harambee Avenue at mid day told the media, “If Nairobi should have ATMs, they should be placed in secure sections and guarded by armed police officers around the clock.”
It is feared that unless planning incorporates safety, many more people could die from accidents, terror attacks or epidemics should they occur in towns.
As has been evident in 1998 and 2013 when terrorists attacked the embassy of United States of America and Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi CBD and Westlands, respectively, leaving hundreds of people dead and several tens of hundreds injured and traumatised, towns require to have disaster preparedness mechanisms in place.
Although we were at the scene of the 1998 blast minutes after it had gone off, it took quite a while for rescuers from the Kenya Police, Kenya Red Cross and the Nairobi Fire Brigade to respond leaving the onerous task of rescue to ill-equipped street urchins, matatu public service crew and members of the public who happened to be at the place.
A report of the International Federal of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCRCS)—World Disaster Report 1998—says that an urban world holds the key to reducing the number of people at risk from disaster; but only if local authorities become more accountable and transparent.
By concentrating people, enterprise and their wastes in one place, the IFRCRCS report says, there are economies of scale in reducing risk and in responding rapidly and effectively to disaster. But, once again, only if disaster-preparedness is incorporated in urban planning.
Yes, the concentration of industries may reduce the unit cost for pollution control, disposal of hazardous wastes and checks on plants, equipment and occupational health and safety in well planned towns. Can Kenya’s commercial and political capital, Nairobi, benefit from this economy of scale?