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Would we have a better city, country and world for everyone, if women were in charge of planning and also controlled the capital? Would they have cared a little more?
One of the more famous songs by the American rock band, Counting Crows, is Big Yellow Taxi. You might know it from a more popular tune sampled by Janet Jackson, called Got till Its Gone. For all its melodic sweetness, the song raises environmental concerns in ways you don’t always hear.
For example, it makes an allusion to how “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot; they took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum; and they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them”. In some way, it is a song that references Kampala City.
Not so long ago, a friend who used to live in a rented apartment in Namugongo, said that they were looking for a house with large enough compound space so that their son could have enough playroom. They eventually found a lovely home which serves the purpose – even if it likely costs close to double the amount.
There was a time when this would not have been a major concern. Those who grew up in any city suburb will tell you that when they needed to play football, there was always a football pitch or empty tract of land in the neighbourhood. The price we have paid for a sustained period of peace, a growing economy and war booty from our neighbours – to the West and North – have wiped all those away in the last decade.
That might also explain the recent boom in artificial turf sports (football really) complexes in many neighbourhoods. Those that can’t get into football have resorted to running in their neighbourhoods. Others who are interested in the bigger picture have made the connection between disappearing green spaces and our numerous problems, and gone into climate activism.
That is how I ended up as part of a Twitter Spaces panel hosted by Tree Adoption Uganda, to discuss running in the city and the relationship with climate change and the environment. You might already know that Kampala is one of the most polluted cities in the world, which makes conversations like this even more important.
Kampala’s nasty air is – in my opinion - down to three major factors. The absence of proper competent urban planning, a nonexistent public transport system and a severe lack of citizen agency. There is enough literature about the first two contributory factors so let us focus on the third variable.
It was always going to be difficult to have a clean – environmentally and aesthetically – Kampala, considering how small and compact it is. This, especially if there is no regulation and demarcations for what constitutes a residential area, a commercial space or industrial area. It is not uncommon to find bars next to churches which are next to apartments that share a complex with a factory and office suites.
When property in and around the city became unaffordable for most – especially millennials – the next best thing was to go a little farther. But as things stand, the same sense and logic that was missing at the centre is also missing from wherever new money is choosing to settle. Your typical supposed upscale neighbourhood like Buziga, Muyenga, Mutungo, etc is an unplanned chaotic concrete jungle with narrow roads, unregulated noise, no childrens’ parks, no tree cover or running trails for its residents.
It will not be different for any of the new money neighbourhoods where the city is expanding to. Whichever direction you take, there are homes coming up with little thought put into co-existence – with others and nature. Nobody is planting trees, nobody is giving away an inch to any communal green spaces – for adults and children, nobody is calling the council authorities to order. Which takes us back to all those football pitches and green spaces that have since been eaten up. Where were the girls when the boys went out to play football and lounge in the parks? The famous Belgian sociologist, Adolphe Quetelet once said that “Society prepares the crime and the guilty are only the instrument by which it is executed.”
It gets you wondering if the environmental problems we are reaping – and will continue to – are a result of seeds sown years ago, when we created spaces that excluded girls. Would we have a better city, country and world for everyone, if women were in charge of planning, but also controlled the capital? Would they have cared a little more?
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye