A case for best urban planning practices in Kampala city
Posted Thursday, March 14 2013 at 02:00
Approved building plans are not enough. Densely populated slums like Wandegeya must not be allowed to evolve into compact and densely populated shopping malls and hostels without commensurate provisions of access roads and services.
In his book, Reassessment of Urban Planning and Development of Regulations in African Cities, Peter O. Ondiege states: “The broad objective of urban development and planning regulations is to ensure the orderly development of urban areas.” The orderly organisation of living and working spaces is vital for safety, accessibility, energy conservation and environmental protection.
Kampala’s slums and traffic congestion are some prominent symptoms of planning systems that failed after 1972. However, since 1994, strides have been made towards the restoration of order.
But there are voices quietly advocating for the movement of the capital city to a central and virgin district yet this, if it succeeded, would not solve Kampala’s problems. By virtue of its location, Kampala remains an influential commercial centre with a chronic need for radical organisation in order to position and sustain itself as the premier international business hub in the region.
Accounting for its success as a commercial hub is the layout of its residential areas. The priority here is safety and convenience of residents. It is not enough to make people feel safe but standard infrastructure like kerbs and pedestrian precincts are needed to protect them from motorised traffic as they go about their daily routines.
Everybody at one point walks or knows people who walk. The provision of secure pedestrian walkways is, in my opinion, a non negotiable component of road design. While in well-planned low density neighborhoods like Kololo, pedestrian walkways have been turned into flower gardens, none or totally inadequate walkways are provided in congested areas and slums where they are needed the most.
Secondly, the new road designs incorporating crush barriers with no pedestrian crossing points along their entire length is distressing. They may not completely restrict movement as people can jump over but they offer sufficient disturbance all the same. It is, however, argued that they are meant to discourage pedestrian movement in non-designated crossing points! If this is so, then what a burden to carry! And yet we shall still ask whether considerations were made for alternatives for decent crossing like underground passes and overhead bridges.
And finally, energy conservation and environmental protection have featured highly on the global agenda with calls for more efficient means of energy use and sustainable environmental management. The dynamics of energy conservation and land use design, whether natural or deliberate, are highly dependent on the economic status of the people.
It is also inconsistent with correct thinking to proceed with a discussion on good living environments while neglecting the incomes of inhabitants. The prevalence of street kids, crime and informal settlements are the express result of stranded urbanites struggling to deal with overwhelming circumstances using limited personal resources.
Therefore, in stating the case for best planning practices in Kampala city, we have to look at the individual’s economic situation. According to Action Aid International, over 1.5 million people out of Kampala’s 1.8 million people live in slums. That is 85 per cent of the population living in informal settlements. The challenge is to not only beautify these areas but also prepare detailed plans displaying comprehensive and ample transportation networks and social services. The designs must include fast and efficient public transportation systems with organised and spacious passenger pickup and drop off stages. In doing the above, we dare to recreate a good and memorable experience of this city, the heart of the Pearl of Africa.
What is needed in transforming Kampala city into a vibrant, attractive and sustainable city is a radical shift in thinking. Approved building plans are not enough. Densely populated slums like Wandegeya must not be allowed to evolve into compact and densely populated shopping malls and hostels without commensurate provisions of access roads and services. While land owners must be sensitised on the benefits of urban planning, effort must not be spared in attaining the goals we aspire to.
Mr Anguzu is a concerned citizen.