What kind of interesting Placemaking projects can we discover in Nairobi? How is public space being used in Nairobi and what’s its current state? Which different initiatives and organizations are creating and improving public space in order to make a livable city? And what can we learn from them?
To explore these questions Placemakers organised a Placemaking tour in Nairobi on the 2nd of april. The tour was part of the Africa research program ‘New new towns’ of the International New Town Institute (INTI). During the tour we showed participants three examples of projects where citizens are involved developing their neighbourhood. In order to give insight in different sides of the placemaking process we invited both stakeholders and people from the community. On location we met mediators, initiators and planners to open up dialogue.
The kick-off started at the office of Kounkey Design Initiative (KDI) where Country Director Charles Newman and his team warmly welcomed us. After the introduciton we firstly visited several public space projects in Kibera, the largest slum of Kenya. As an area with scarce public space, because of the organic growth of informal settlements, KDI defined the river edges to control against flooding. The resulting buildable land is turned into public spaces. Their strategy is improving spaces by starting small interventions and use this as a catalyst into a network of connected public spaces and communities. From 2006 onwards KDI created 6 public spaces in extensive collaboration with the community like; water and sanitation places, a greenhouse, a daycare and a community building. They set up a group for exploitation and maintainance of the new facilities and coach the community in generating business, stimulating the local economy. The 7 communities are connected so that they can learn from each other on a peer to peer bases.
The second stop was Community centre Change Mtaani (Mtaani is neighbourhood in Swahili language). This is an initiative of Brian Inganga, who started a community bringing people in his neighbourhood together after the post election violence in 2007-2008 when different groups where attacking each other. This self-organisation of Brian Inganga was stimulated by Boniface Mwangi, a peace activist in Nairobi who also started the creative collaborative space PAWA254. After some years they succeeded to build a community house – for meeting, sanitation, reading, sporting and working – supported by the Amanda Foundation. It was build in between the informal settlements and the playground of Change Mtaani in order to protect this open space from ongoing land grabbing and building more settlements.
The last and third Placemaking project of the tour was the rehabilitation project of the Jeevansee gardens: a small park located in the Central Business District. Richard Irungu of the urban development department with one of the stakeholders Zahid Patel explained us about the history and the future plans of the park. The urban development department made a design together with local stakeholders to improve the facilities and safety in the park. Participation of citizens in urban development was officially incorporated in the constitution of Kenya in 2010. Later in 2012 it was incorporated in the urban development policy resolution of the City Council of Nairobi. Consequently, the urban development department of Nairobi initiated a placemaking program to improve 60 public spaces in the city. In this program they cooperate with UN-habitat and Projects for Public Spaces.
In this tour we truly experienced Placemaking is really happening in Nairobi! It is helping to create, improve and maintain lively public spaces. The key to succes lies in the way citizens are given ownership and makes them feel responsible for their own living environment. Both in small interventions and bigger urban development projects citizens are involved (for example in the redevelopment of the Railway area). Still, a lot can be done, because public space is still scarce and level of maintenance is poor. Placemaking in Nairobi to be continued…