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Dr Mutegi Giti: Sustainable management of urban areas will make them engines of growth and development

The counties of Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Kitui and Machakos have many urban areas and centres that are rapidly growing and increasing in size and coverage, especially after the advent of devolution in 2013. 
A worker paints Makutano modern market. The modern market set to be launched on Wednesday March 15, 2023 by Governor Kawira Mwangaza will go a long way to boost economic activities in Meru town./ The County Government of Meru-012

According to the Kenya Population and Housing Census (KPHC) 2019, Nairobi county was 100 percent urbanized while Machakos was at 29.1 percent, Embu, 12.5 percent, Meru at 9.0 percent, Tharaka Nithi at 8.3 percent and the least urbanized of these counties was Kitui at 4.8 percent, and the overall national urban population constituted 31.2 percent. 

Globally, 56 per cent of the population (4.4 billion out of the 8 billion) lives in urban areas and by 2050, this will almost double such that 7 in every 10 persons will be living in urban areas globally, including in our own counties and urban areas.

Urban areas throughout the world contribute to almost 80 percent of their country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the same can be true for our urban areas locally. If they are managed well and sustainably, urban areas become engines of growth and development.

Urban areas provide several functions. 
First, they provide commercial functions that includes wholesale and retail business. This includes selling goods and services. This means that they are principally market centres and provide market opportunities for people within. They can exchange their goods and services for money through which productivity and development is witnessed. 

Counties must therefore provide ample and enabling environment through which trade and exchange of goods and services can be carried out in these urban areas.

More market and shopping centres should be constructed and facilitated to be developed to make sure residents continue to have access to the market for their goods and services. 

Secondly, urban areas provide jobs in industry or services. The conglomeration of activities in urban areas means that many of the residents have easy access to skilled and non-skilled jobs, hence the pull factors to the urban areas. 

Thirdly, urban areas act as administration centres for the areas around them. Think of the county headquarters, sub counties, locations and divisions. 

Fourthly, urban areas provide avenues through which residents can access entertainment services ranging from sporting facilities, shopping areas and restaurants which is an essential component for self-rejuvenation and renewal for continued national building duties.

This function of urban areas should be incentivized so than our youths are fully engaged therein to ensure they don’t fall to drugs and substance abuse.

Good stadia and sporting facilities and environment should be provided by counties. The function can provide a good source of income for the practitioners.

Fifth, urban areas are cultural and religious centres. The first urban areas in the world were sites for worship of gods and religious practices that grew with time and brought in the aspect of government and trade.

Sixth, they are transport hubs since they are always connected to other urban areas in and outside the county and hence provide various modes and intermodal splits on transport and communication. 

Seventh, they provide residential areas for the growing populations and hence most of the housing agenda is being carried out in the urban areas providing more employment opportunities and creating jobs.

Going forward, our urban areas must be guided by several lessons and key agenda points. One, there is need to undertake comprehensive planning and regulation of how the urban areas grow and expand. Land banking should be key so that future expansions can be accommodated so that future housing and other infrastructure can be provided.

Secondly, dormant urban areas that have stagnated in growth should be revitalized including through urban renewal programmes and projects within the purview of counties. Urban authorities can for example order for repainting of houses, repair and maintenance of houses and other properties, revival of closed markets and shopping centres, which increases economic activities and hence awakens sleeping urban areas.

Thirdly, each urban area should find its key activity and specialization to sustain itself (let urban areas through adequate urban management find a niche and excel in it). We should have education, health, administrative, commercial, energy, Information Communication Technology (ICT), agricultural, manufacturing/industrial and transport centres such that each can thrive on its comparative advantage and keep going. 

Fourth, urban management and governance must embrace other players and sectors like the private sector who comes in to invest and create jobs and employment opportunities. The county government and national governments should only create an enabling environment for enhanced private sector investments. 

The Kenyan private sector contributes 97 percent of the GDP and 80 percent of the formal employment opportunities in the country. The sector’s main challenges to realizing its full potential include: infrastructural deficits, corruption, inadequate enabling environment and inadequately trained labour force which is being addressed through Technical and Vocational Training (TVETs) and higher education.


 He is an Urban Management, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) & Environment Specialist., 
Twitter: @DanielGiti.

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