What you need to know:
- During the colonial era, suburbs were strictly intended for residential purposes, with a single home sitting on acres of land with manicured lawns.
- In 1987, 2006 and 2012, policies approving the rezoning of Nairobi and other major towns in the country were passed, allowing the construction of higher density developments in areas where they were previously not allowed. According to the Nairobi City Development Ordinances and Zones Guideline, these areas were under controlled development.
- But now the county government argues that with a rapidly increasing population, it can can no longer allow controlled development in some estates, given the huge demand demand for housing.
- However, the rezoning plan has caused jitters in certain quarters, with some stakeholders calling for a holistic approach to tackling the city’s housing shortage.
The increased demand for housing in Nairobi, which has a population of more than four million people, has prompted the county government to come up with innovative ways to meet the demand.
Consequently, late last year the county government passed a motion allowing the construction of commercial centres and high rise apartments in upmarket neighbourhoods.
The county government plans to introduce a new zoning policy. The areas to be affected include Zones 4, which comprises Spring Valley, Riverside Drive, Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Thompson and Woodley.
Also affected will be Zone 5, which includes Upper Spring Valley, Kyuna, Loresho and Lavington/Bernard Estate and Zone 15, which includes Dagoretti.
The new policy will see the suburbs lose their exclusive status.
Not much has changed regarding the basic planning of Nairobi since the colonial era. The north-west part of the city, commonly referred to as the leafy suburbs, and which were reserved for Whites at the time, are still occupied mainly by the affluent. Africans and Indians were mostly confined to the east and south of the railway line, where the municipal council largely neglected services such as sewerage and garbage collection.
During the colonial era, suburbs were strictly intended for residential purposes, with a single home sitting on acres of land with manicured lawns.
In 1987, 2006 and 2012, policies approving the rezoning of Nairobi and other major towns in the country were passed, allowing the construction of higher density developments in areas where they were previously not allowed. According to the Nairobi City Development Ordinances and Zones Guideline, these areas were under controlled development.
But now the county government argues that with a rapidly increasing population, it can can no longer allow controlled development in some estates, given the huge demand demand for housing.
However, the rezoning plan has caused jitters in certain quarters, with some stakeholders calling for a holistic approach to tackling the city’s housing shortage.
Besides, the plan has faced resistance from the residents of the affectedestates.
The Kenya Alliance of Residents Associations (Kara) Chief Executive Officer, Mr Henry Ochieng’, accused the county government of coming up with an ad hoc solution, thinking that the housing problem is that some zones are more densely populated than others, hence the need to pass a law to address that.
“While we appreciate that there is pressure in the city for housing and that there is aneed to address it, reviewing the zoning policy to allow multi-dwelling developments in low-density neighbourhoods will not conclusively and sustainably address the problem. A more holistic and consultative approach that takes into consideration various aspects of development planning for the city is required,” he said.
Mr Ochieng’ said that, before passing the motion, the county administration should have conducted an audit of infrastructure in the areas proposed for rezoning. He added that if the county goes ahead with its plan, the problem of blocked sewer lines and overflowing liquid and solid waste will be witnessed in the estates.
Another major challenge in these areas is water shortage. Mr Ochieng’ further pointed out that the properties whose land-use has been changed to multi-dwelling units including commercial and office developments do not have adequate parking at plot level.
“This has made motorists park on road reserves which, inevitably, leads to loss of green open spaces, traffic congestion, insecurity and road accidents,” he said.
He defended zoning, saying it had been instituted because of the level of infrastructure, which could not support a big population, and that has not changed since the county has not upgraded the infrastructure.
Mr Ochieng’ accused the county assembly of not consult stakeholders before reaching the decision.
He added that if the rezoning is implemented, it would fail terribly, given that the defunct city council failed to implement the master plan that was in existence between 1974 and 2013, leading to the chaos in urbanisation being experienced to date.
“There was a clear plan of what needed to be done in the 1974 master plan as far as urban development was concerned. It did not work because there was no systematic implementation of the plan. An impromptu implementation will not work, especially in estates like Kileleshwa and Buruburu,” Mr Ochieng’ said.
He is urging the county administration to implement the new urban development plan launched in 2015 that, in addition to tackling also touches on infrastructure and land use.
Mr Ochieng’ said that the urban renewal programme should be implemented in densely populated areas, especially in Eastleigh, where the county should think of vertical development.
The Kara CEO said that if rezoning is carried out, it will significantly dilute the value of the properties in the affected locations with the rise in the number of houses.
However this has been disputed by Waithaka MCA Antony Karanja, who moved the motion. Mr Karanja said that the national and county governments had invested a lot on infrastructure, including ring roads, street lights, police stations and Sh5 billion sewer lines in the estates.
He noted that the current policy stipulated that 0.5 acres should accommodate 160 people compared with the previous position, only 10 houses could be accommodated on the same amount of land.
However, today, Kileleshwa has a large number of illegal flats and apartments.
Mr Karanja said he would escalating the motion to a Bill since the property owners in the affected areas had turned them into to cash cows by developing apartments illegally and colluding with corrupt county officials to change user to commercial purposes.
“Easing the development restrictions should bring down land prices and encourage new investments in real estate r. The Bill will allow land prices in these areas to go up. Currently, a plot in Kileleshwa sells at around Sh25 million. What will happen is that the price of housing will go down but land will appreciate as investors are allowed to build many houses,” said Mr Karanja.
He further noted that the cost of having an environmental impact assessment in the areas would go down since, at the moment, they use individual project reports, which are very expensive.
However, Kilimani MCA Moses Ogeto has vowed to ensure that the Bill does not see the light of day, citing insecurity, especially close to State House.
He said those pushing for rezoning had already already allowed high-rise buildings on Manyani Road and Child Drive.
Affected residents up in arms against proposed change
Q&A with the representative of Kunde Road Residents Association Koome Mwambia
Why are you resisting the move at a time when the city is facing an acute housing shortage due to population increase?
The real solution to housing, and particularly middle-class housing, lies in opening up new development areas through related infrastructure – new roads, a mass transport system, water and sewers. With roads and a working mass transport system, even distances of 50km to the central business district can be turned into high-end residential areas. The housing problem cannot be addressed by creating a congestion crisis – putting up apartments in every space available within the city. If that was the model to “development”, Uhuru Park and Karura Forest, among others, would have been a thing of the past. Even with these unique spaces preserved, Nairobi has continued to grow both its commercial and residential space.
What is your main concern ?
Planning. Thompson or Kunde Road is supplied with water only once, twice a week at most. Opening it up for mass development even with the best of intentions would demand that every half-acre plot sink its own borehole. Unfortunately, the laws of nature will render such boreholes dry in a couple of years. What next? Without water, residents will move out. Furthermore, the so-called sewer system in place requires massive expansion. That is why you have raw sewage flowing freely every time we have rains. The system cannot take additional pressure. There are many examples in Kenya and the world over of deserted cities. An example is Spanish Ghost city of Ciudad Valdeluz, whicht targeted 30,000 residents but got only 1,000. In China, there is the city of Ordos. Such scenarios also exist in the United States. Many of the over-priced apartments in Kilimani are half occupied. You can check with realtors.
How will the rezoning affect the area?
It will put pressure on the current services; there will be a huge reduction in tree/forest cover. Flora and fauna will be affected. The Thompson/Bernard area in Valley Arcade, for example, is a migratory path for unique monkey breeds, birds and other small animals. They might not mean much now, until they are gone. And their departure will mean a loss to the country as the city’s attractiveness will ultimately decline.
Has the county made efforts to improve infrastructure to suit such developments?
Not much. Like many other sections of the city, we clean our streets, cart out own garbage and buy water.
Don’t you think controlled subdividing the land in these areas will create more space for the growing population?
We are for planned development, where neighbourhoods participate in the planning of the areas they live in. We don’t believe that modern development should be held back for the benefit of hoarding land. Every city in the world, including New York, has a plan for housing, flora and fauna. For instance ,in addition to New York’s Central Park, the city has a forest – The Green Mountain National Forest, and many zoned “green areas”. It’s not for the benefit of residents and property owners, but rather, for future generations. For Planet Earth. It has to be planned and deliberate.
In terms of economic value, do the gated communities contribute to revenue?
Yes. Water (when we get it), land rates and tax from rental incomes. Most importantly, carbon credits (oxygen to the environment) from a much more concentrated tree cover.
Do you think it’s time to start rethinking these estates?
Yes. Real futuristic and comprehensive masterplans. The JICA Masterplan, for example. Not just about another high-rise apartment block. In Kilimani and Kileleshwa, the level of occupancy is not what you would expect. Nearl half of the poorly planned high- rises are overpriced and vacant.
What is the way forward?
Collaboration with residents’ associations and city planning experts – such as the JICA Study, and not the use of clever laws for short- term commercial gain. And if you check, a lots of the cash from the new developments belongs to foreigners. Most of it is being repatriated.
Will you seek legal redress to prevent the motion developed into a Bill?
Possibly not. We don’t believe the county government will sign it into law. It would be very odd since it goes against Governor Mike Sonko’s manifesto, which committed to work with residents’ associations as well as professionals to design the city. But again, our residents have pursued legal means in the past with a great measure of success.
What are the environmental impacts of the directive?
Huge. China, France, India are global cases. Back home, look at every area with uncontrolled development – even in some of the up-market neighbourhoods. Kileleshwa is a perfect case of unplanned development gone bad.