New master plan for Nairobi.In 2008 when Kenya's new coalition cabinet was named, a key ministry stood out. It was the newly created Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development.
It was about time too. Nairobi has all the signs of a rapidly expanding city complete with its urban sprawl - incessant traffic snarl-ups, sky-high real estate prices and multinational corporations jostling for space in a confined area. Clearly, something had to be done.
The 1948 Nairobi Master Plan and the 1973 Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy were obviously obsolete. The Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry needed to come up with a new plan integrating the need to deal with a population of 3.5m inhabitants in 2010 (up from 0.8m in 1989) and a commuter distance which had grown five times to 40 kilometres.
The result is the Nairobi Metro 2030: A World Class African Metropolis document. Key highlights of the ambitious plans are to establish a mass rapid transit system, rapid light rail, non-motorised transportation, closed circuit television and efficient GPS mapping, together with an effective parking system to give Nairobi an edge.
According to the Minister of Nairobi Metropolitan Development, Njeru Githae, the plan is for a peri-urban ring of 32,000 sq km that is expected to swallow all the 15 surrounding municipalities around Nairobi, doubling the city's population to 6.3m.
"The Nairobi Metro Vision 2030 is focused on turning Nairobi into a globally competitive business, industrial and services region," says Githae.
In September this year, the Ministry revealed that Consulting Engineering Services (India) had won the contract for the redesign of the future Nairobi. Nairobi's advantages are already being bandied around to attract investments. These include a lower cost of living, multiethnic diversity, world-class hospitals, elite universities, extensive conservation areas, good weather all year round, a large concentration of UN offices, international research facilities with global repute and scenic natural features.
"An efficient transportation system that minimises travel times and reduces externalities will be put in place. Key in this effort will be the promotion of public transport in enhancing flexibility and freedom of movement in the region. Further interventions in this block will aim at leveraging the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Wilson Airport and the Central Railway Station as transport and logistics hubs," says the document.
Nairobi is already changing rapidly. The high income, low density residential areas of Karen, Langata, Westlands, Parklands, Lavington, Spring Valley, Loresho and Kile-leshwa, which were initially zoned to accommodate single family plots, now house multifamily residential flats.
To the west of Nairobi, rich agricultural farmlands and coffee ranches are fast being converted into niche residential locales targeting the upper and middle classes.
Enticing country-style manor houses at Thigiri, Ridgeways, Rosslyn, Windsor and Greenspan among others now offer the very high end of the market and take-up is brisk.
These changes are not just limited to the middle classes. The urban sprawl, too, has expanded in equal measure. According to the Housing Ministry, Kenya still needs some 150,000 housing units annually for the low income and middle classes. The current housing supply still stands at 35,000 units annually, demonstrating a huge demand for affordable housing.
Commercial buildings, once the preserve of Nairobi's Central Business District (CBD) have now extended to the Upper Hill area onwards to Westlands. Indeed, Nairobi's status as the region's commercial hub is one of the reasons demand for better-quality homes has increased and led to a boom in the real estate sector.