Too Many Urban Planners, Not Enough Planned Urban Centres

Have you ever wondered why Kenya doesn’t look like Copenhagen in Denmark or Singapore? let’s not go far, Rwanda!  Why do we have so many traffic jams, pollution, slums, and crime, while other cities have efficient public transport, clean air, green spaces, and safety? The answer is simple: urban planning. Or rather, the lack thereof. There are other factors but we are focusing on Urban planning today.

Urban planning is the process of designing and managing the physical and social aspects of a city. It involves deciding how to use land, where to build roads, bridges, buildings, parks, and other infrastructure, how to provide services such as water, electricity, sanitation, and waste management, and how to promote the well-being of the residents and visitors.

The concept of urban planning is not new. Indeed, some of history’s oldest civilizations had urban planners who created master plans for their cities. The ancient Egyptians, for example, planned their cities along the Nile River, the ancient Greeks designed their cities using geometric principles, and the ancient Romans built their cities using a grid system and aqueducts. Let us not forget about our country! Kenya has a long history of urban planning that dates back to colonial times.

However, urban planning appears to have declined in importance in recent years. Many urban areas have grown haphazardly and without proper planning due to rapid urbanization, population growth, migration and technological changes. As a result, there are numerous issues such as traffic congestion, pollution, inequality, poverty, social unrest, and environmental degradation. One would think that such a massive urbanization process would necessitate a robust and responsive urban planning system to guide the design and management of our cities’ physical and social aspects.

The irony is that our country has no shortage of urban planners. Many Kenyan urban centres lack proper planning, despite the fact that over 10,000 urban planners are working in a variety of sectors, including government organizations, private businesses, academic institutions, NGOs, and international organizations. As a result, there are numerous issues such as traffic congestion, pollution, inequality, poverty, social unrest, and environmental degradation.

So why are there so many urban planners but not enough planned cities? The answer is complex and multifaceted. Some have claimed that urban planning is not something we do in Kenya; rather, what we do is create lovely documents that we display on shelves, and we are so good at it. But the issue doesn’t change; there is still congestion in the city and a whole other problem in our urban centres. 

Urban planning is not something that you do on your own, as in one company waking up and deciding to build a road somewhere. It’s a collaborative thing. Planning is a chaotic field that requires a lot of coordination and collaboration between departments, which is where the major issue lies. There is a significant disconnect between planners and implementers. Planning in Kenya suffers from fragmentation and silos that hinder communication and cooperation among these actors. They may also face conflicts or competition over interests or agendas that prevent consensus or compromise. Be for real you expect a politician who doesn’t know what planning is to come and implement your plans?

Urban planning is a field that necessitates long-term vision and commitment from political leaders and stakeholders. However, many politicians are more concerned with short-term gains and personal interests than the public good. They may also be unaware of or dismissive of the advantages of urban planning. As a result, they may disregard or undermine the recommendations of urban planners, or favour certain groups or interests over others.

These are some of the possible reasons why there are too many urban planners but not enough planned urban centres. Of course, there are also some examples of successful urban planning initiatives that have improved the quality of life. Sources say that a lot of our plans are thriving in Rwanda, this shows that it’s not impossible but rather we are more than capable of achieving good urban planning. Enough of the talks time to take action!

I was so tempted to include a research-based solution and recommendations in this article but I welcome your views. Please Engage me!