#WhatsNext Living

In this edition, the focus was on the ‘living space’ with the conversation leaning towards the “Sustainability” of Nairobi City and “Entrepreneurship” in the Real Estate Sector.

With cities and town as the primary human living space, they are the first line of pressure when it comes to the burgeoning population growth.

60% of the world’s population will be living in urban environments by 2030.

Nairobi Central Business District. Photo Credit: 99th Sense- Dan Kiptoo

In Nairobi, there remains serious questions about the underlying infrastructure, city management and resilience especially with a high urbanization rate currently at 4.4% against the global average of 2.1%.

Nairobi’s population is currently estimated to be between 5 to 7 million, with about half a million moving into the city every year, a range expected to rise to 28 million by the year 2050.

The conversation and questions from the audience at the #WhatsNext Living took a very human-centered approach showcasing the concern around the quality of living in Nairobi.

Here is what we learnt?

5 Surprising Facts

  • Nairobi has 210+ registered informal settlements.
  • There has been no new park in Nairobi since independence.
  • About 70% of buildings in Nairobi are not designed by professionals and not approved by the local government. In fact 99.9% of the buildings that collapse in Nairobi are not built by actual professionals- Emma Miloyo, President Architectural Association of Kenya.
  • 80% of Optiven Limited customers are women below the age of 35 years.
  • “Slum-Dog Millionaires”- Slum housing has the highest Return on Investment (ROI) in rental income i.e. highest return per square foot based on the total lettable space- Njeri Cerere, Urban Planner, Citilink.

Nairobi City Plan

A city is only as resilient as the plans underpinning its growth.

The first city master plan was developed in 1927 to capitalize on Nairobi’s strategic location as the hub of the Kenyan Railway line. The second master plan was implemented in 1948 with the aim of making Nairobi a more attractive for industrial investment. The third master plan was developed in 1973 by the Kenyan Government, World Bank and United Nations in order to formulate a metropolitan growth strategy for the city leading up to the year 2000. However, many of the recommendations were not realized due to shortages in capacity by the old City Council and lack of political will.

In 2013, the government launched the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Plan (NIUPLAN), funded by the Japan International Co-operative Agency and set to cover Nairobi for the next 17 years, however it is said to remain a high level plan without much involvement of the people on the ground.

“Urban Planning is not Planning for the people, its Planning with the People”- Constant Cap, Urban Planner, Naipolitan.

Some of the major concerns raised by the panelists/audience included:

“50% of the population in Nairobi walk to work. 25% commute and only 15% drive, yet 90% of the investments in infrastructure ignore the needs of the majority of the city’s residents.”- Emma Miloyo- President, Architectural Association of Kenya

Data-driven investments should always be the key decision drivers especially when it comes to public infrastracture. It’s quite evident that there has been a neglect in some aspects of the city such as the walk-ways and the connectivity between different areas within a city. Finding the right balance between the current needs of the public and future needs based on data will be key in taking the city to the next phase of growth.

“Upper hill was planned as low density residential. We are seeing densification without a corresponding investment in the underlying infrastructure — roads and sewers especially.”- Njeri Cerere, Urban Planner, Citilinks.

The once low-density zone is now densely populated with corporate office headquarters. Perhaps another worthy exploration would be to question how involved the corporates are with environmental consciousness, not only from an external event sponsorship (CSR) but also about from an the intra-region point of view.

“One of the largest legal issue we have around urban planning is the buildings approval process & sanctity of title. The buildings we saw coming done last week were not built at night.”- Judy Chebet, Parner, Chebet & Munyaka Advocates.

One possible solution to the embargo is to look at the root cause which is the commitment by the associations and government from a policy creation and enforcement point of view. There should be more open, transparent and clear ways of applying for permits with technology- possibly with an exploration with blockchain technology to provide an evidence trail in case of any future disputes.

The engineers and architects associations should also take a fore front role of delisting their members who are investigated and caught on the wrong side of the law. An open database that enables the public to search for qualified practitioners could be a great way to prevent fraud.

“Why are Nairobi’s Two Rivers, Rosslyn Riviera and Village Market malls all in a radius of less than 5 km of each other? (And what happens when we realise they’re not economically viable?) Where are the essential services and infrastructure like hospitals?- Aarti Shah (Audience).

The changing zoning laws aimed at accommodating the multi-dwelling developments in low density neighbourhoods have spurred a whole new economic developments based on the premise of the growing middle class. It remains to be seen whether this will turn out to be good or bad investments.


According to Emma Miloyo, here are some of the key things Nairobians want:

  1. Affordable Housing- An agenda in “The Big Four’ plan for economic development of Kenya, meant to provide social housing and affordable housing. Status: Loading.
  2. Green Space- Quality not just just functionality. Beyond organized chaos. Status: Why the cost?
  3. Ease of Doing Business- Conducting business with no harassment. Status: Ongoing Battle.
  4. Effective Development Control- Having a plan for the city. Status: Yet to be seen.

And some good progressive thinking:

“We have to stop thinking exclusively of the ROI. Parks (e.g. the historical Arboretum, Karura forest) & public toilets shouldn’t only be valued monetarily.”- Constant Cap, Urban Planner, Naipolitan.

Anything else you would like to see. Comment below.

Thank you to the well versed panelists for their wonderful insights.

Panelists L to R: Constant Cap, Emma Miloyo, George Wachiuri, Thomas Kaberi, Judy Chebet, Njeri Cerere and Reginald Bryant.

Further Readings and References:

How Sustainable are the emerging private cities around Nairobi, Kenya?

Is Nairobi Central Business District Dead?

‘A service not an enterprise’

Nairobi, Kenya’s 1973 Master Plan Receives an Update

Integrated Urban Development Masterplan for the City of Nairobi (NIUPLAN)

Urban Darwinism: How Species are Evolving to Survive in Cities

Affordable Housing in Kenya

Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP)

WATCH: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

What KAPS Tickets Tell Us About Malls in Nairobi