By FRANCIS AYIEKO
Posted  Sunday, September 25  2011 at  19:58

A major development in Kenya’s real estate sector since last year has been the efforts by private investors to put up well-planned mega-housing projects. By all standards, these developments are setting the pace in urban management.

A good example is Tatu City in Ruiru. Touted as the country’s largest real estate investment, the massive housing project is expected to be Kenya’s first privately-run city.

Promoters of Tatu City, whose master-plan was launched in October 2010, say it will incorporate 11 different land uses, with residential houses accounting for 60 per cent of the total land area.

The remainder will host a technology park, as well as commercial retail and hospitality facilities. On completion, Tatu City will be home to an estimated 62,000 residents.

Migaa, described as a green estate set on 775 acres in Kiambu with its own golf course, is another example of upcoming self-sustaining housing projects.

With their emphasis on proper planning, which includes development of adequate infrastructure right from the word go, these projects are unexpected order amid the chaos that has become our urban centres.

Both at national and local levels, Kenya’s urban areas are expanding without being guided by planning regulations. This is happening even as the country remains one of the most rapidly urbanising nations among developing countries.

Indeed, the World Bank estimates that about 200,000 Kenyans move to cities every year. Matters have been made worse by the fact that formerly rural areas are increasingly becoming urban.

This is what urban planners call chaotic or rogue urbanisation. Unfortunately, this trend ends up accentuating under-development.

This should concern the implementers of Vision 2030, a government development blueprint aimed at transforming the country into a middle-level economy in less than 20 years.

Thankfully, the fact that poor urban development can stifle the country’s development seems to have dawned on the Vision’s implementers.

Last week, for instance, Vision 30 Delivery Board led by its chairman, Dr James Mwangi, describing Tatu City as a model for private development and management of municipalities.

In particular, Dr Mwangi thanked Tatu’s planners for “developing a holistic urbanisation model that takes cognisance of the social and economic pillars of Vision 2030”.

More than ever in the history of this nation, the need for forward planning is crucial. Reasons? The first is the direction the growth of the country’s vibrant real estate market is taking in major towns.

Due to scarcity of land for development in the traditional housing estates in major towns like Nairobi, most developers are opting to put up new houses on the towns’ outskirts where land is still available at relatively cheaper prices.

Indeed, a new study released last month by the Architectural Association of Kenya on development control frameworks in Kenya established that about 70 per cent of urban developments are occurring in peri-urban areas such as the Thika corridor and Mombasa Road.

Under these circumstances, the report notes, the development projects taking place in the peri-urban areas are beyond the jurisdiction of a municipality and the developments take place without any control guidelines.

According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, the bulk of new growth in rapidly urbanising developing world cities, is taking place on the urban edge, and in some parts, is linking up settlements to form extended urban corridors.

This form of growth presents a host of new planning challenges in that this new settlement is informal, unserviced, fragmented, has a mix of tenure systems, and is, in many cases, beyond the boundaries of single municipal governments.

Secondly, the devolved government structure under the new Constitution dictates that once sleepy small towns may turn into “real estate hubs” as they are picked as county headquarters. The towns will attract many who will settle as employees or in business.

We all know the reason planning in Kenya normally lags behind new developments – even by more than a decade. Authorities have kind of unofficially told developers: “Develop first, then we will come later to regularise”.

As we start focusing on developing county headquarters, are we planning ahead for the growth of these towns or are we waiting for development to take place and then plan later?

If we don’t change the way we do our planning, then we will undoubtedly “export” the slum problem currently bedevilling major towns like Nairobi to the counties – with painful results, like the Sinai tragedy.

Mr Ayieko, a land economist, writes on real estate. (frankayieko@gmail.com)

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