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Urbanization of Kenya @50: Unlocking the Urban Potential in Devolution

On 8th November 2013, the Directorate of Urban Development, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development in collaboration with partners: the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi, UNHABITAT, National Construction Authority, the Technical University of Kenya and the Civil Society Urban Development Programme (CSUDP)

held a one day conference, themed, unlocking the urban potential in Devolution at Lake Naivasha Simba Lodge, in Naivasha, Kenya. Moderated by Dr. Mutahi Ngunyi and Prof. Alfred Omenya, the conference was attended by over 40 County Assembly Speakers, Members of Parliament (Environment and Planning Committee); key stakeholders in national urban development, the Civil Society Urban Development Programme (CSUDP), Government of Kenya, Vision 2030 Secretariat, the Urban Journalists Forum (UJF); development partners, Embassy of Sweden, UN-Habitat; Urban Professional Associations (AAK, KIP); the Directorate of Urban Development (Ministry of Lands, Housing & Urban Development), and the Transitional Authority.

The conference under the theme unlocking the urban potential in devolution focused on three objectives: establishing common understanding on the place of NUDP in County Integrated Planning; committing parties to champion urban equity in County development strategies; and launching a road map to the national urban forum. According to the conference concept paper, devolution has presented a unique opportunity for Kenya to re-engineer her urban development approaches to create equitable urban areas. As the 47 County governments take shape, they inherit an urban age that carries with it the burden of unfulfilled urban promises. Large populations attracted to urban areas in search of better livelihoods are faced with indignities associated with lack of primary needs such as appropriate housing, water and sanitation services to more complex systemic issues such as poor transportation, and unstructured trade and commerce. Consequently, urban inequalities continue to grow and with it come the attendant concerns on escalating poverty levels, rising insecurities and safety amongst a host of others. 

The NUDP, in this context, seeks to create a framework for sustainable urban development in the country by addressing the following thematic areas:  urban economy; urban finance; urban governance and management; national and county urban planning; land, environment and climate change; social development including infrastructure and services; physical infrastructure and services; Urban housing; safety and disaster risk management as well as dealing with needs of  vulnerable and marginalised groups. The policy is guided by three documents: firstly, by the Constitution of Kenya 2010 (CoK 2010), notably articles 184 and 176 (2) that provide for regulation of urban areas and cities, clause 200 (2) that outline the governance of the capital city, other cities and urban areas; the Urban Areas and Cities Act (2012) that spells out governance, management, planning and financial frameworks for urban areas, amongst others and, Vision 2030 that calls for a nationwide urban planning and development renaissance. 

The main speakers at the conference were; Arch. Mariamu El Maawy, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development, Prof. Peter M. Ngau, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Nairobi, Prof. Caleb Mireri, Kenyatta University, Mr. Partick Adolwa, Directorate of Urban Development, Mr. Kinuthia Wamwangi, Chairman Transition Authority , and Gustaf Asplund, urban advisor, Swedish Embassy. The Principal Secretary, Arch. Mariam engaged the audience in an open conversation around challenges facing County governments in managing their urban centres, and the opportunities presented by the new dispensation. She stated the ministry’s determination to have the draft NUDP approved, and support the preparation and implementation of County integrated development plans (CIDPs). Mr. Wamwangi informed participants on the efforts underway to review and streamline the urban areas and city’s act with regard to urban classification and management. He urged that such review should be done and incorporated in the NUDP before approval.

Prof. Ngau’s presentation begun with a review of Kenya’s urbanization and policy strategies since 1970s, the persisting urban imbalance in terms of percentage of population urbanized within the counties, the skewed urbanization along the Mombasa-Kisumu railway/road corridor in spite of pronouncements on balanced national urban and economic policies. The new legislation and policy framework present a great opportunity for re-engineering sustainable urban development and planning Kenya. For that to take place, urban professionals need to see their role as problem solvers, consensus building, conflict resolution and effective communication. The NUDP is expected to provide a framework that leads to balanced and integrated urban development framework. The divide between rural and urban spheres presents both opportunity and challenge. The SymbioCity Approach provides an overview of the many issues, linkages, interfaces and synergies between various systems, fields and functions which need to be considered in any urban development initiative. This approach complements rather than replace existing regulatory frameworks and policies. It is thus seen as supportive to realization of NUDP through introduction of suitable methods, tools and process-oriented approaches to sustainable urban development initiatives that integrate and articulate different needs, perspectives, and intentions of urban and rural spheres.

The County Assembly Speakers outlined numerous problems that face counties at the moment, including disputed town boundaries; land use conflicts, unavailability of land for public utilities and facilities, and for new investments, establishment of land based financing, disaster management, and mushrooming of informal settlements. To realize the opportunities presented by the new legislation and policy framework, counties will require considerable support for capacity building, establishment of proper administrative, management and planning systems for their urban centers, as well as the county area.

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