Is Nairobi a Child-Friendly City? An Interview with David Shisya, Reality Tested Youth Programme

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Young Nairobian discusses his plan for his neighborhood

One of Bogota’s most successful mayors, Enrique Penalosa, once said “The measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can safely go anywhere.”   “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”

On November 8, 2014 Reality Tested Youth Program (RYP) exhibited some of the urban planning ideas of children from some of the poor informal schools in  Mathare. This is part of a project to explore the city from children’s eyes. NPI asked David Shisya, a program officer at RYP about the work and its implications.

NPI: Can you describe the work you do for RYP?

Reality Tested Youth Programme is a Community Based Organization (CBO) with a vision of having a society in which members participate in community development to address poverty. Currently the organization operates from the Ongoza Njia Community Development Centre (OCDC) at Kiamaiko- Huruma. RYP is non-governmental, non-partisan and not for profit, legally registered, by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Services.

RYP works in collaboration with 150 partner community associations/Self Help groups bringing together directly approximately 3,000 families in Mathare, Nairobi North District, Nairobi County, Kenya. The centre also serves as an “open forum” where people from the local communities drop-in to discuss, explain or express social, economic, or judicial issues and then receive guidance on how and where they can address their concerns.

Children and teachers as Furaha Community Center discuss their nighbourhood

Children and teachers as Furaha Community Center discuss their neighbourhood

In order to achieve its objectives, RYP offers direct services through the OCDC to partner CBOs. These services include provision of information, CBO leadership and management training, popular civic education, community based asset mapping and resource mobilization, computer and Internet skills training, environmental conservation, access to venues to hold meetings, assisting youth to acquire education and skills training sponsorships, support towards Community Economic Development (CED) activities and entrepreneurship training, support for youth in accessing national identity cards and other vital documents such as birth certificates, linkages to health care services (HIV/AIDS care giving), counseling, and supporting target partners to access legal assistance and justice (domestic violence, rape and general domestic issues.

Residents learning from their children

Residents learning from their children

NPI: Recently, you ran a competition focussed on children as urban planners. Can you describe this work?

Reality Tested in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University conducted an idea competition among informal school pupils from Mathare whose main purpose was to gain insight into how children see their neighbourhoods and city and what they would like to change. The five participating schools provided 12 pupils each aged between 9- 16 years for the competition. These schools were Codman academy, Destiny educational centre, Undugu Society of Kenya-Mathare UBEP, Reality Tested youth and Furaha Community Centre.

The idea competition was in two forms. First, there was the Focused Group Discussions (FGD) with the pupils in their respective schools. During the FGD the facilitators used structured questions to stimulate the participants into discussion.

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After the FGD, they moved to the next stage of drawing their neighbourhood as it is and if given an opportunity what they would like to change.

On 8th November 2014, 180 people attended an exhibition of their work at NCCK-Huruma. Participants, parents/guardians, representatives from the Mathare community, Nairobi County government representatives, other invited guests and the Assistant County Commissioner graced the occasion. The picture walk gallery begun as from 9.30 to 1.00 pm. All the participants were given book vouchers of 800 shilling each as a sign of appreciation for taking part in the competition.

NPI: What did you learn about poor children’s concerns and priorities for their neighbourhoods?

During the exercise, it’s clear from the FGD and the drawings that children’s concerns and priorities areas to be looked into are as follows;

  • Unplanned structures/dwelling in their neighbourhoods
  • Poor garbage /sewage disposal systems
  • Poorly constructed roads with potholes
  • Insecurity
  • Congested/crowded structures- in case of fire all structures burn down
  • No playing space/grounds for children
  • Lack/Poor infrastructures e.g. no electricity/ dangerous hanging wires
  • Lack of toilets
  • Lack of road signs such as Zebra crossing , speed limits near schools
  • Traffic jam
Children playing in Austin's playground. Austin, a Mathare footballer, organized the kids to clean up a dumping ground to make a place to play.

Children playing in Austin’s playground. Austin, a Mathare footballer, organized the kids to clean up a dumping ground to make a place to play. Such playgrounds are very rare for most children in the city.

NPI Do you think planners in Nairobi think about creating a “child-friendly city” for the large numbers of children who need to move around-to get to school, visit friends and family or get exercise?

The planners so far have not considered ‘child friendly city’ as most roads lack the basic signs such as Zebra crossing and speed limits, for example  on Juja road which serves the schools in this area.

No space has been set aside as a children’s play ground. Those that the former city Council of Nairobi set aside have all been grabbed by influential people who have put up illegal structures. A part from the public schools grounds, the only one available used by non formal schools in the area is the Austin ground near Kiboro primary which if not protect might end up being grabbed.

Also, the footbridges constructed on Thika super highway are unfriendly to young children. At times they have to be carried by guardian to pass. The footbridges at the same time are far apart from one another causing more inconvenience to road users.

NPI: What are some of the safety concerns for children in the neighbourhoods where Reality Tested Youth Program works?

  • No road signs that makes children crossing roads very dangerous. Near Kiamaiko where our office is located many school going children have been knocked down by speeding vehicles.
  • There are no speed limits signs for vehicle along Juja road.
  • No playing grounds for schools making them use any space available such as the potholed roads thus endangering their lives.
  • Poorly constructed Iron sheets schools with as many as 100 children sharing a single toilet making spreading of disease inventible.
  • Pupils’ mistreatment in Matatus as they are ignored by the matatu crews, made to stand for long distances despite having paid the normal fares
Hillary of Mathare shows a well-marked nicely paved road with a clear zebra crossing and stop sign.

Hillary of Mathare shows a well-marked nicely paved road with a clear zebra crossing and stop sign. The child is conscious of safety and would make a fine engineer or planner!

NPI: The Outer Ring Road project will impact a lot of poor communities and children used to a much smaller, almost rural road. Do you have concerns about an upgraded road in your neighbourhood?

Yes, as an organization we have concerns namely that the wide road will lead to an increase in number of accidents as most residents will still attempt to cross the road avoiding the footbridges just as it happens on Thika superhighway. A long the 13 km stretch the footbridges to be constructed are few and way apart which may result in inconveniencing the residents especially the school children.

The traders along the road who will be displaced and not relocated might attempt to occupy the sideways also leading to accidents.

NPI: The proposed Traffic (Amendment)  Bill 2014 has provisions dealing with safety for school children including reduced speeds especially in school zones. Do you have any thoughts on this?

 Traffic Act (Amendment) Bill 2014 Section 3A (1) limits speed to 30km per hour on any road within schools boundaries and (b) on any section ordinarily used by children. This is currently not observed by both private and public vehicle drivers. Vehicle speeding near schools has led to an increase number of death and injurious to school going children.

Section 3B (1) (b) requires construction and maintenance of traffic signs such as speed limiting designs features such as speed bumps, rumble strips and traffic circles. Rigjht now all these are non existence on the Kenya roads.

Sub section (d) calls for ensuring that no man made or natural obstructions including stationary vehicles on roads or parking areas are near schools  blocking children’s view of the road.

The rules are good and should be implemented but to make all of this work, there is need for public awareness  to the drivers, school children and administrators and the general public at large.

NPI Can you share with us, the most striking urban planning ideas you saw coming from the children’s drawing competition?

The most striking idea from the drawing competition is the disorderly planning of the current neighbourhood children stay in. All the participants drew enhanced pictures of how they would like their neighbourhood and city to be from what it is now. Most were dissatisfied with the state of things as per now.

The Top-Bottom Approach currently used by planners with minimal participation from the consumers is undesirable. As end users of the projects the general public intentionally ignore the correct use of the project such as use of footbridges on Thika Highway and prefer to cross the road by running across to the other end.

In future there is need, before any project is undertaken, for local participation of those to be affected so as to feel part and parcel of the decision making process.

DSCF9073NPI: And planners need to think about how children experience their city and how planning can involve them and also make the city a safer and friendlier place for them! 

Nairobi’s Urban Enthusiasts: An Interview with Njeri Cerere of Naipolitans

Nairobi Planning Innovations is noting the growth of urban enthusiasts and civic patriots in Nairobi, people who care about their city and want to see it become a better, more livable place to call home.  We interviewed one such Nairobi enthusiast, urban planner Njeri Cerere who founded Naipolitans with Sheila Kamunyori in 2012. Njeri kindly took some time to talk us about Naipolitans.

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Naipolitans having fun in the city

NPI: How did Naipolitans get started and what does the group aim to do?

Naipolitans started as a result of regular chats over coffee between me and my co-founder Sheila Kamunyori about the goings on in and around Nairobi. Sharing information on upcoming events and interesting urban initiatives made for lively and thought provoking conversation. As urbanists we knew that it was possible to have livable, vibrant urban spaces and wanted to bring this aspiration to bear on the Kenyan situation. We just were not sure where to begin. It then occurred to us that there were probably other “Urban Enthusiasts” who were interested in exploring practical ways in which urban areas in Kenya could become more livable.

The first such meeting of the minds was held in September 2012. It established that there was critical mass of people in Kenya who were interested in discourse on the urban experience and were willing to engage on a regular basis to share ideas on ongoing or possible urban-shaping initiatives.

Naipolitans in conjunction with various partners has since featured over twenty urban shaping initiatives through a combination of forums and tours. The Naipolitans platform provides that neutral space necessary to host conversations about urban-shaping initiatives taking place across our city.

 NPI: Who is a typical member? Can anyone join?

We are urban professionals, residents and enthusiasts, trying to figure out how, when, where, and what we can do to make Nairobi and Kenya a better place to live. Naipolitans is an open forum and all one has to do to get involved is attend a forum or tour and stay posted for future events through our mailing list or interact with other members via the Facebook group.

 NPi: What are some of the highlights of recent Naipolitan events?

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Naipolitans visiting Jasho Letu Bio Center

Recently, we participated in a Mapping Party for Cyclists hosted at the C4D Lab at the University of Nairobi. The event brought together cyclists, alternative transportation advocates and mapping techies in a studio setting to work on a cycle route map. The aim of the exercise was to visualize the existing bike routes in the city and imagine what a proper system of bike paths for Nairobi would look like. Information on previous activities can be found on our blog at http://www.naipolitans.org

NPI: What is the aspect of Nairobi you would personally like to see changed the most in the next few years?

I would like to see a city that realizes its full potential and makes it to the global list of most livable cities.

 NPI: If people wished to join Naipolitans, who should they contact?

They can get involved by: emailing us at naipolitans@gmail.com to be included on our notification list; visiting our blog at www.naipolitans.org; joining the discussion online by asking to join our Facebook group – Naipolitans: Urban Enthusiasts Getting Together; or following us on Twitter @Naipolitans.

Being a Matatu Driver In Nairobi: An Interview with James Kariuki

Nairobi Planning innovations had a chance to interview the experienced matatu driver James Kariuki who is also an avid blogger on matatu industry issues and the need for reform (See his blog at  http://wambururu.wordpress.com/). James is also a writer, an actor and a father who has been profiled as ‘the reluctant outlaw” by Al Jazeera. We asked him a few questions to get his views from inside the matatu industry.

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NPI: How did you start in the matatu industry?

After dropping out of school in form 2 in the year 1992, I stayed at home for about two years. I later joined my mum at her food kiosk in Nairobi’s industry-area. This is how I interacted with matatus on a daily basis and I fell in love with the way the business was conducted. Around 1993, I became a conductor for a family van that used to ply between my village and a town in the outskirts of Nairobi called Dagoretti; a lot of people in the village worked at the slaughter house in that center and the demand for transport was very high. I got my license in 1997. By that time, I was already the driver of the family van as the cops did not insist on age or things like a PSV license. I moved to Ongata Rongai when my driver’s license attained the recommended 4 years; I became a fulltime matatu driver plying a city route in 2001.

NPI: What are the biggest difficulties you face in the industry?

Bad driving is the most difficult thing that every matatu driver must learn to deal with. Although people are quick to blame matatus for all the bad things that happen on our roads, most of us have been behind the wheels for many years and have no accident record. Most of the times; and again because we are always present on the roads, we have to contend with very bad driving habits by other motorists. Many drivers carry permanent injuries as a result of accidents where they were not to blame. The second thing is working in a corruption zone where you can be victimized anytime. The absence of some form of employment contract for majority of workers in this industry exposes us to exploitation by different authorities including politicians. This opens the door to cartels including police officers and matatu owners who are harsh on matatu workers and who set very high targets making the job very difficult.

NPI:  What are the biggest pleasures? Is it sometimes fun?

The biggest pleasure is being able to pay the bills and raise a family and the opportunity to work and earn a living in a job where you are at different places at different times and interacting with different people every day. There is pleasure in serving and taking care of hundreds of peoples travel needs. It is fun to drive a brand new vehicle- especially a souped-up “Manyanga”. Of late we have seen very many new minibuses hitting the road; it is a mix of business and pleasure for those lucky drivers. Passengers love new vehicles and are willing to pay more and it is easy to meet the target and earn a good commission.

NPI: In your view, what are the three or four most important things we can do to fix congestion?

First we need to find a way of improving public transport services. We can do this if we make transport sustainable and dependable and build roads that will accommodate public service vehicle needs like bus stops, separate lanes/special lines and easy access to bus stations. The other thing would be to build enough parking spaces. Compare the cost of these interventions to the amount of time and fuel we waste every rush hour stuck in traffic The county governments can sure save taxpayers millions of shillings if they can afford to transform some of the spaces and buildings into parking. For instance, Kenya Railways occupies all the Land from Muthurwa all the way to Nairobi Railways Club on Ngong Road. The land extends to Mombasa Road near Nyayo stadium round about. On the Jogoo road side, there is Muthurwa bus park- but the access roads are poorly designed. If somehow the railways land would provide link roads for PSVs to get to the city and to bus stations, we can absorb all matatus coming from Mombasa road- Langata Road- Ngong Road- Enterprise Road and Jogoo Road. Come up with new training programs for drivers to educate them on driving skills and traffic regulations. Failure to observe traffic laws – over lapping- blocking exits/ entrances contribute to the congestion.

NPI: How about to improve safety?

Build infrastructures for all road users- bicycle lanes- pedestrians walks- secure bus stops-crossing bridges. At the current limited speed, we have seen fewer accidents injuries in matatu passengers but the number increased for non motorized road users. The way drivers are trained and how licenses are obtained is also a major contributor to road accidents. Seal all loopholes in the licensing departments and let every driver qualify for his/ her license.

NPI: You are a father-what do your children think of your work?

My kids’ think it’s the best job in the world;  They know that dad gets money everyday. They have known me doing what I do for all their lives. They don’t see me as a driver bimages-1ut rather a businessman, an actor and a writer. They have never had another lifestyle to compare with. They tell me to buy more matatus and employ drivers so that we can make more money.

NPI: How easy is it in your view for children to take a matatu by themselves? Do your children use a matatu regularly?

Matatus are probably the only affordable means/option for majority of people in Kenya to travel long and short distances. For the school going children who need to board matatus to and fro school, it’s not an easy task. Drivers ignore them because they rarely pay or pay little. Very small children forget their bus stops and end up lost or the crew taking them to police stations. Many matatu touts avoid carrying them and they end up spending hours at bus stops. My firstborn son is in a boarding school. He is dropped home whenever there is a reason to come home and we always escort him to school. I let him use matatus for short distance to supermarkets within Rongai when he is on holiday. My other kids go to a neighboring school and don’t need transport. They have an adult to drop and pick them from school.

NPI: How can we make the matatu system friendlier to children?

By having fixed cost for a certain distance and charging fares per head/per seat. If the operators saw them as customers they would be treated better. The way it stands today, they are considered as non fare paying passengers. Parents and guardians must be willing to pay the same way we pay taxi/ cabs the full amount regardless of the passenger’s age. As long as they are forced to give seats and stand between seats and on strangers’ laps, they will continue to be ignored.

NPI: Some cyclists would like to see racks on matatus so they can transport their bikes. Do you think the matatu sector would be open to the idea?

It can be brought about by demand; i.e, if there were more cyclists requiring transport and it makes business sense to install the racks. We have very large baggage space in buses. I don’t think it would be a problem if the cyclists paid for their bikes space.

NPI: I think you saw the map created by Digital Matatus? Do you think it is helpful in any way to the matatu industry? If so, how?

To passengers we can assume it is very helpful in knowing your position, and the route to use to get to the next destination. For matatu operators, the TLB regulations do not allow matatus to ply different routes. Most drivers operate like a tethered animal only going as far as the rope permits. They get used to the same roads every day.

A Look at the Social impacts of the Outer Ring Road Project

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Artist’s depiction of the Outer Ring Road Improvement Project

By Simon Kokoyo

If you ever want to get a quick overview of what Nairobi looks like, take a drive along the 13 km stretch of Outer Ring Road.

The road runs along the highest number of concentrated commercial banks in Nairobi as well as densely populated poorer neighbourhoods of the city. It gives direct access to the busy Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kariobangi Light Industries and Industrial Area; and acts as link (Thika Highway and Eastern by pass) between two major superhighways coupled with poor road surface. The upgrading of this road is thus likely to have a great number of impacts on its surroundings.

For example, for the last five years at Kairobangi Market, a group of approximately 200 open air traders, mostly women, have been selling vegetables and second clothes close to the road. It is interesting to note that traders operating from Kiamaiko and Kariobangi sides of the road talk to each other easily as the road is very narrow. Weekly Chamas or ‘roundtable banking’ sessions are common since traders get money on a daily basis. Many such traders are scattered along the 13 km stretch that will be upgraded.

In the morning and evening pedestrians will be seen crossing haphazardly and walking close to the road, while matatus stop at undesignated areas and cyclists compete for space with motorists. Accidents are a common occurrence along the road as people rush, in pursuit of reaching work on time.

Communities from both side of the road share many resources such as schools, churches, colleges, markets and even family ties. Observing children and adults crossing at the road junctions can be chilling experience since most motorists drive at high speed, and the city has not put any effort to controlling speeds and designing safe crossings and street design. Currently, there are no footbridges, zebra crossings, bumps or road signs to warn pedestrians and motorists. Workers from Mathare North Area 1 crossing to access Baba Dogo Industries, for example, are left at the mercy of kind motorists who allow them to cross when there should be a proper crossing for these large numbers of people.

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Women traders will be affected by the Outer Ring Road Project

Now added to this mix is an African Development Bank financed Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project overseen by the Kenyan Urban Roads Authority (KURA). A notice was issued to businesses operating along the Outer Ring Road corridor to move to pave way for the Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project. Issues immediately started emerging among open air and informal traders. The key questions of “where shall we go”. This project has created anxiety and uncertainty.

Along Kagundo Road off Outer Ring Road, new businesses areas are slowly emerging as a result of voluntary relocation by traders who have opted to give way for the Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project. Kariobangi North, Kariobangi South, Umoja Nairobi County markets have always been full. It is expected that these markets will absorb some of the traders. Pressure for business rental spaces has increase in Pipeline Estate, Donholm, Umoja and Kariobangi locations, and prices are likely to go up, making the costs of business more expensive and the traders and residents will also have to make longer trips to access footbridges.

The Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project promises to make huge changes. The existing road will be transformed into a wide dual carriage with footbridges, road signs, more trees, underpass, flyovers and improved drainage system. The improved road will see current road crossing patterns disrupted, as pedestrians will be expected to use footbridges and designated places for either for walking and cycling.

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The Outer Ring Road Improvement Project Area (KURA website)

The new road will have ten footbridges. This will either limit or increase interaction between different communities and access to resources depending with how strategically they will be positioned. Building of footbridges does not necessarily motivate people to use them, Thika Highway being a clear example where poor design and inadequate positioning have hindered their utility and attractiveness to pedestrians.

New development or technology like an upgraded road makes sense when it saves lives and brings about efficiency but poor design can cause many adverse impacts. Involving affected communities in the design and identification of appropriate locations will thus be essential to avoid the problems of Thika Highway. The Outer Ring Road cuts across areas known for high levels of crime is certain locations which the design should also try to address.

Appropriate safety features such as low speeds in high-density neighborhoods and near schools (in line with the proposed Traffic (Amendment) Act of 2014) as well as massive safety awareness campaigns targeting motorists and the community located along the road will help reduce accidents and save lives. Regular road users have been used to crossing the road at any point and with no access to footbridges. Making the design process participatory and safety awareness continuous while construction is going on will help bring about desired behavior change.

As the for the cyclists, Nairobi County Government needs to create bike lanes and free and safe parking zones in Central Business District and elsewhere to promote the culture cycling in Nairobi while also ensuring small scale traders have enough space and do not invade bicycle and walking paths. (The Outer Ring Road project includes bike lanes).

Informal and small-scale traders play an important role given the limited number of job opportunities available in Kenya. It is well known that these businesses in the so-called ‘informal sector” produce the bulk of new employment in the city. The Nairobi City County Council should have addressed their worries earlier before the road project, through prior investment in expanding existing markets while also constructing new ones in strategic locations. Currently, anxiety remains among the Project Affected Persons (PAPs) of the Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project.

Simon Kokoyo grew up in Mathare. He currently works for the Spatial Collective and is a board member of the Reality Tested Youth Programme, a community organization that serves the youth in Huruma, Kaimaiko and Mathare areas. He has a blog about Mathare http://matharevalley.wordpress.com/