Friday, September 7, 2007

LGI News: Give priority to urban planning

["The transition from short to long term planning as represented by vision 2030 is a step in the right direction.

Vision 2030 and its predecessor, the Economic Recovery Strategy, are watershed documents whose implementation will forever change the destiny and direction of the nation.

The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. Time has come to start laying the foundation for implementing Vision 2030. Some of the items in the document require urgent bold policy actions.

The Problem Of Urban Planning and development is one of them.

According to Vision 2030, the population of Kenya will reach 60 million in the next 23 years. This will put Kenya in the same demographic league as current day Egypt.

OTHER THAN THIS, THE MORE worrying phenomenon is that 65-70 per cent of the population will be residing in urban areas. Nairobi alone is expected grow to a population of 15 million people by 2030.

This development will come with many challenges. While the entire country will bear the burden of providing resources for this big population, the urban areas will bear a disproportionate part of this burden. This will manifest itself in various ways.

First, the increased urban population will have unique demographic traits, with high proportions of the youth and single parents. More young people will be moving from the rural areas to the urban areas in search of education and employment.

Second, the already stretched resources in the urban areas will reach a crisis level unless measures are put in place to avert the inevitable. Housing and transportation will be key issues. One cannot belabour the problems with traffic jams in our major urban areas, especially in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Intervention

Left to their own devices, other urban problems will not just disappear. On the contrary, they will be aggravated as we move towards 2030. Pollution will not disappear through divine intervention and the crisis in council-run health and educational facilities can only get worse.

Lack of sports and other recreational facilities will only be exacerbated by the rapid population growth and rural urban migration. Security, if an issue today, will be worse in another 23 years. All these issues do not require small, incremental improvements in the way we approach urban planning. On the contrary, they require strategic thinking and planning.

This strategic thinking will necessitate restructuring of the bodies responsible for the management of urban centres.

Today there appears to be no clear ownership of the planning processes in urban areas. Functions and responsibilities are straddled between various ministries.

For example, the ministry of Housing whose mandate is to develop housing units has to ‘’beg’’ the city or town councils under the Ministry of Local Government to approve plans. While the councils are semi-autonomous in matters of health and education, the dependence on the parent Health and Education ministries is significant.

THESE MANY LAYERS CREATE multiple glitches in urban management. To move to a more strategic approach, the starting point is to establish clear, single ownership of the urban planning responsibility. This could be done through the creation of a ministry for Housing and Urban Planning.

A ministry for Housing and Urban Planning would largely inherit all the functions of the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Local Government. It by consolidating such functions that we can prepare our cities for the new challenges ahead.

Mr Mbaru is the chairman of the Nairobi Stock Exchange"]

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