The construction of Thika Superhighway began in 2009 and was completed in 2012, a period which saw the rush for ‘prime’ land along the project. With sprawl inevitable, the need for housing was imminent, and with housing comes the need for service centres to offer consumable goods, recreation, and other necessities, thus developers took the opportunity. Large malls; mixed use developments incorporating wholesale and retail enterprises, office spaces, residential houses, leisure/recreational spots and banks, have since been put up, generally transforming the character of Thika road environs. So far, since the completion of the superhighway, Thika Road Mall, Garden City, Mountain Mall, Juja City Mall, and Uni-City Mall in Kenyatta University have all been put up, or are under construction.
However, the big question arises on the sustainability of the benefits accruing from these establishments, vis-à-vis the negative impacts. In as much as we cannot deny the positives such as increased economic vibrancy, increased housing stock, employment opportunities for many, new investment opportunities, improvement in security among others, it is not all smiles for the Thika road environs.
With conversion of the land use from agricultural to residential and commercial, the surge of malls has largely contributed to the sky-rocketing of land and housing prices within the environs, with areas such as Kahawa, Kasarani, Zimmerman, Githurai, Ruiru and Juja greatly affected. Research shows that land values along Thika Road in 2007 were about Sh5m per acre. The same property is now valued at Sh50m per acre, bringing the question; are these land values sustainable? What is in store for the low income earners around the area?
These malls have also attracted large traffic, contributing to making the flow in and out of the city a nightmare, despite the superhighway being an 8-lane road. As noted by an article in the Daily Nation on October 9, 2013, one of the main causes of traffic snarl-ups along major highways in Kenya are the huge shopping malls that fail to consider the congestion caused by vehicles leaving and entering from main roads.
In an ideal situation, major developments in urban areas are tied to infrastructure improvement in the surrounding areas through land Value Capture. The shopping malls lead to rise in land values which would be identified and captured by the respective government. This is done by the use of taxes and fees to collect a part of the increased values in order to funding public infrastructure and service improvements. In essence, with the skyrocketing rise in land values along Thika Road form the establishment of Malls, the Nairobi County through application of LVC would be able to invest millions of dollars in infrastructure in the area.
Through policy realignment and legal provisions, the rise in developments that increase land values in Nairobi such as malls, there would be proper funding of public infrastructure in the city. Traffic jams resulting from this development is an oversight that can be avoided through enforcement of planning laws that will facilitate integration of development and infrastructure provision. The Rating Act does not give sufficient provisions to adequately capture land values as it only allows urban authorities to levy a rate in their areas of jurisdiction. At the moment the Act is under review so as to adjust it to the current dynamic urban landscape.
Majority of the urban issues in Nairobi rising form unplanned development can be controlled and even prevented. Urban stakeholders need to work together to guide the rapid urbanization down a sustainable path. A firm policy and legislative foundation is necessary and in case of the already existing provisions, enforcement should be facilitated.
by Sharon Boit