Identity crisis – The case of Kenyan urban centers

Identity crisis – The case of Kenyan urban centers


By Arch. Steve Ted Gome

Identity Crisis
A view of Kisumu City from Lake Victoria

Major Kenyan urban centers trace their origins to pre-independence times. Specific factors can be attributed to development of individual urban centers.

Emergence of Nairobi for instance is linked to the development of the Kenya-Uganda railway; first beginning as a stopover for the rail workers and later developing as a commercial hub and administrative headquarter for the independent Kenya.

Other factors that earlier influenced development and growth of urban centers included commerce, tourism, education and industry.

However, today virtually all urban areas have diversified away from the original core functions. Open ended planning frameworks (Integrated planning), diversity of the urban population and just the sheer necessity of diversification must have been the driving force of this departure.

Could there be immense economic benefit for cities or urban centers to have a core theme around their development?

Well, I think so.

Most world renowned cities have capitalized in marketing their destinations around a particular theme, not just for marketing’s sake but through deliberate development.

London for Example stands out well as a university city besides its administrative function. Could this realization be the drive for the Kenyan government push to create the Konza and Isiolo city from a scratch and model them around a specific function?

Should such plans be encouraged or should we allow our urban areas to naturally develop and mutate to what they’ll be?

Sustaining urban growth and development along certain parameters and themes is an arduous task that must be supported by deliberate legislation and resolve.

Kisumu city became the administrative seat of the county after the 2013 General Election. The County has began with policy adjustments and preparation of an Integrated plan aimed at reconstructing the city to maximize on its potential and resources.

Today the city hosts over 5 universities with campuses at the city center and the peripheries bringing in a huge student population.

The city has for a long time been also described as “turning its back to the lake”. Is it time to reconfigure the city to face the lake and reap the tourism potential and the much touted 24hr economy?

Should it be an entertainment city given its rich music background? Should it be an industrial town or should we just fall back to its original function as an inland rail-port city? Such is the dilemma that not only faces the Lakeside city but could also be asked of other Kenyan Urban areas.


  1. “London for Example stands out well as a university city besides its administrative function” – London was a very busy port until the docks were destroyed in the 1960s. The education and banking industries attempted to fill the resulting employment void. As a born and bred Londoner – trustme, there a lot more to the city than education and administration !

Leave a Reply