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The Centre for Urban Research and Innovations in collaboration with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Nairobi and Makueni County Government have embarked on a learning experience of an Urban Studio in Makueni’s commercial hub of Emali. The studio is the first of it kind in Makueni County and its collaborative in nature therefore allowing for information sharing and learning exchange between the Univerity of Nairobi and Makueni County.

It goes further to promote and nature the relationship between the Centre and Counties that’s captured in the Centre’s thematic area of Collaborative Urban Studio. At the university, the studio practice isn’t new, it has been an on-going learning experience at the University of Nairobi where third year students at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning are involved in a practical planning experience, which includes field data collection, analysis and design. Each year the students are involved in these learning experiences for the practical practise of Planning. This year alone the B.A 3 students have undertaken a studio in Namanga, while currently others are involved in the on-going Kitui Learning Studio, which is being undertaken in collaboration with the Centre, Slum Dweller International Kenyan Affiliates, University of Nairobi and Kitui County Government.  The financing of the Emali Urban Studio is as a concerted effort from the Centre for Urban Research and Innovations, University of Nairobi as well as, the County Government of Makueni.

Such similar studios aim to build partnership between different stakeholders within context including residents, businesspersons, youth and women groups, administrators, national government at local level, decentralized governments as well. These partnerships enable key partners to work together in appraising development challenges, identify and prioritize needs and formulate strategies to transform their context into set vision, mainly to improve the quality of life. To this end, some of the similar studios have been done including the Mathioya Constituency Strategic Development Plan 2010-2017in 2011 and Mathare Zonal Plan a Collaborative Plan for Informal Settlementsin 2008. The result of these has been increasing knowledge co-production, better management of urban areas as well as further partners over time.

Emali town fits the description of a small and intermediate town in Kenya. Studies show that these towns are experiencing rapid urbanization trends, which in most cases are unmatched with infrastructural provision and appropriate forward planning. As such Emali faces numerous challenges among them uncoordinated physical development, poor infrastructure provision, incommensurate provision of community facilities and social amenities and weak economic base. Interestingly and with all these standing, Emali is considered the strongest economic hub in Makueni County, although the quality of life remains low, while unemployment high. To counter these deplorable status, the county within its County’s Vision 2030, envisions Emali as Commercial and Industrial Hub. The strategy document envisions the town as such considering its strategic location along the Standard Gauge Railway, Mombasa – Nairobi Highway, Oloitokitok to Tanzania connection as well as, Wote to Makueni access point and sees it growing around the industrial and commercial functionality. In addition, this project seeks to support this vision of creating a vibrant commercial and industrial hub.

The inception of this project was in September 2016, and since the planning team has constantly redefined the scope of the studio, made a reconnaissance visit, interacted with the residents of Emali, met with the relevant planning bodies in Makueni County including the Minister of Lands and Physical Planning, Director of Physical Planning, Planners as well as Mulala/ Emali ward Administrator. Through these engagements the studio team has defined its objectives so as to explore the planning and development strategies for a progressive commercial and industrial centre in Emali. As indicated earlier the process has and will continue to be collaborative in nature. Just like the inception phase, the plan will be developed through intensive discussions and negotiations with relevant stakeholders with an overall vision of charting a viable future for the town, improve its economic vitality while maximizing on the potentials of its location and develop future prospects while addressing unemployment and quality of life.

Besides the inception phase, the planning team will be involved in a rigorous field study, which will involve qualitative, quantitative and spatial data analysis. In this phase a number of methods would be utilized including interviews, surveys, observation and mapping. In addition, Focused Group Discussions and Workshop Discussions would be utilized to collect in-depth qualitative data of issues and prospects for the town.  At this phase, we expect in depth learning from community and university planning team on the planning process and priorities of planning from the residents, business owners and other relevant stakeholders. In addition, the information generated from the interviews and surveys would aid create an inventory for the town and aid in future planning processes.

Following this phase will be the planning and design phase, which will retrospectively address planning issues raised in the first phase. At this point the study team will further develop a consolidated vision and generate policy and spatial strategies with detailed action plans to response to the issues, challenges and aspirations identified in the data collection phase. Just like the other stages, the residents and different stakeholders will be involved in the design conceptualization of the interventions within the towns. Overall all the design interventions will be tied to the overall vision of creating a vibrant commercial and industrial functional town in Emali.

Following this, a plan will be development and the findings presented at stakeholder workshops in Emali town for verification. After this the plan will be presented to the County for adoption.

By Jacinta Mwikali Mbilo & Eric Muiruri,


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