The capital city of Nairobi, Kenya is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. Rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation in recent years has forced limited public open spaces (originally intended to serve a population of 250,000) to serve more than 3 million people. Public open spaces in Nairobi suffer from degradation, overcrowding and insecurity, thus denying city residents access to much-needed recreation and leisure facilities. Furthermore, citizens do not feel a sense of collective ownership or a ‘right’ to existing public spaces. Corruption and violence is used to control these spaces and crime is rampant.

“Making Cities Together: Planners becoming Placemakers”
Partners: Placemakers Nairobi, INTI and IFHP Urbego
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Date: November 2014 – January 2016

For this reason, we see a clear need to provide a positive alternative. Jointly initiated and organized by Placemakers, the International New Town Institute and the International Federation of Housing and Planning, the "Making Cities Together" project brings together international urban planners to brainstorm, together with local experts and stakeholders, and design a placemaking project in Nairobi that will meet an urgent and specific need, provide a renewed sense of shared ownership and act as a replicable model for future projects that desire to reclaim public space as a useful, beautiful aspect of the city.

Placemaking, is a community-based co-creation approach to revitalise public space with local knowledge, ideas and assets. In Nairobi, participation in development of successful public spaces is already taking place (in an ad-hoc manner) through organisations like UN-Habitat, Nairobi City Planning Department, local initiatives, etc. However, those placemaking movements face serious challenges. Citizens are not used to being involved or active in their urban environment and trust between all parties has to be built up over time.

The "Making Cities Together" project is a year-long, international professional knowledge exchange and capacity-building project in concert with INTI’s longer-term “New New Towns: Africa” project. We will research local placemaking initiatives, connect them and develop strategies to improve them through co-creation. We will actively implement one of the scenarios that results from an international design workshop to experiment and show an innovative strategy to improve an existing placemaking initiative. This process will then become a working model for future placemaking initiatives in Nairobi—giving locals a clear way forward to implement bottom-up, participatory projects and thus creating a ripple effect.

The intended results are ambitious, but not unrealistic. The committed partners behind the "Making Cities Together" project hope to achieve real change on the ground in Nairobi. By collaboratively building a concrete architectural solution to a local challenge and thereby reinvigorating a public space, this project will provide a real model for other urban pioneers who may wish to make changes but not know where to start. By publishing our process and project details online, we will provide a platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing and interaction that does not yet exist in this city.

INTI organized a week-long Student Workshop from March 29 - April 7 in Nairobi, Kenya as part of the New New Towns: Africa program. This workshop brought together students from several Dutch and Kenyan universities, including Human Geography students from the University of Amsterdam, Architecture students from NHTV Breda, Architectural History students from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Urban Planning students from the Technical University of Kenya as well as Tax Law and Real Estate students from the University of Nairobi. All of the students are working on research related to new, master-planned towns and cities around Nairobi. The diversity of the students’ backgrounds has proved complimentary and provides a good forum for constructive feedback.

Experts from a variety of fields were also invited to present and react to the students’ research proposals. These included Robert van Kats and Stephen Lewis from DASUDA; Naomi Hoogervorst from Placemakers; Local art historian and lecturer at TUK, Lydia Muthuma; Connie Smith, an anthropologist from University College London; Bernard Mugwima, Director of the Center for Urban Studies at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, as well as our host, Dr. Lawrence Esho, Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the Technical University of Kenya.

Later in the week, the students and supervisors met with a diverse group of stakeholders, including a Resident’s Association meeting at Kaloleni (a perfectly-reserved post-war garden city within Nairobi), a series of presentations at UN Habitat, a meeting with members of the Kounkuey Design Initiative and tour of their participatory projects in Kibera, and an interview with Brian Emmanuel Inganga, founder of Change Mtaani.

The event was organized and moderated by Rachel Keeton (Researcher and Program Manager) and Simone Rots (Managing Director) as a way to kick-start the Dutch students’ six weeks of fieldwork in Nairobi. There are plans to host the Kenyan students in the Netherlands later this year as a continuation of this exchange.