Tracing Vulnerabilities: An Assessment of the Impact of Interventions in Housing and Road Infrastructures in Nairobi, Kenya


African cities are constructed as collections of double-sided images constituted by a more formal global image and a more contextual everyday image of experiences. On one hand settlement, linkages and order in these cities are represented as the subjects of formal discourse driven by existing adverse urban conditions and an aspiration towards modern ideals but, in fact, often removed from the imperatives of the everyday life of the urban majorities. Simultaneously, and on the other hand, everyday conditions on city streets, informal markets, squares and overlain networks defy utopian conceptions and reshape the city as a container of quotidian life. It is this schizophrenic complexity of African cities that fundamentally grounds our enquiries about and approach to vulnerabilities: Given the complexities of the African city how can vulnerabilities be understood? How are current interventions impacting vulnerabilities inherent in Africa’s cities? How can a consideration of vulnerabilities in Africa’s settlements, linkages and order, then, be harnessed to create a resilient urbanism? In this paper we trace vulnerability by discussing the conception of the African city as a double-sided image: the global image and the image of the city as lived experience. We unravel this image by systematically analyse case studies of ongoing formal and informal development in housing and road infrastructure in Nairobi. We compare planning policy and government intentions as provided in official documents and promotional project material to the life pulses and patterns of activities in urban space as well as the opinions of city dwellers. We then discuss how Nairobi’s dual-image urbanism affects our definition of vulnerabilities both as a way of considering the city and as a springboard for intervention. We conclude that existing formal interventions, contrary to their own expected planning outcomes, make Nairobi more vulnerable. We recommend that interventions whether formal or informal, with respect to the vulnerabilities approach, should match with the resources, aspirations and everyday life experiences of city dwellers rather than to a global image. We also recommend increased involvement of formal agencies in the provision of communal amenities for poor urban majorities.

Key words: African, Nairobi, Image, Housing, Roads.