Is Konza city really sustainable ?

Is Konza city really sustainable ?

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In 2009, the Konza Techno City project was initiated with the procurement of a 5,000 acre parcel of land at Malili Ranch, 60km south east of Nairobi along Mombasa-Nairobi Highway in Kenya. It was conceived to capture the growing global Business, Processing, Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services (BPO/ITES) sectors in Kenya. According to government estimates, BPO/ITES business produced US$110 billion in revenues in 2010. Revenues from this industry were expected to increase three-fold to US$300 billion by 2015. Africa attracts about 1% of the total revenues accruing from this growing industry. Only a few African countries, including South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana and Mauritius, have developed their BPO/ITES industries. In 2009, the Government of Kenya hired the International Finance Corporation to advise on the development and implementation of a technology city, which would grow the BPO/ITES and other technology industries in Kenya.

Konza technocity concept

There are plans for an electronic manufacturing plant, an international financial centre and a convention centre. The targeted sectors which will drive the growth of the city include BPO, Software Development, Data Centres, Disaster Recovery Centres and Light Assembly Manufacturing Industries. The proposed Government Data Centre will complement the existing facility, which currently links government ministries, departments and agencies.

Service provision is being addressed in various ways. State-owned Kenya Railways has already put up the the km/h (110 mph) rail network between Mombasa and Malaba through Konza, famously referred to as the SGR. Meeting the city’s estimated water demand of 100 million litres per day will not be easy. The in-progress Thwake water and sanitation projects has been redesigned to accommodate Konza city, which will require 60 KM (37 miles) of water pipeline, a section of which will require pumping over the Kilungu Hills. Around two million litres per day will be provided by local boreholes, the drilling of which is presently underway. In terms of electricity, the city is projected to have a peak electoral demand of 675 MVA (so at least 675 MW). It is suggested that the city can be supplied via the planned high voltage between Mombasa and Nairobi.

Sustainable City or Green Wash?

The idea of Eco-City has been around for a long time, focusing more on ecological, environmental and economic sustainability. According to Register (2006), an Eco-City is “an urban environmental system in which input (of resources) and output (of waste) are minimized”. Joss et al, (2013) defines the Eco-City on the basis of reduction of carbon emissions, global climate change and urbanization processes. Although sustainable urban development is much debated, it is generally understood to have the four aspects economic, socio-cultural, ecological and institutional.

Economic sustainability refers to both green jobs and green economics driven by enterprise that have great environmental benefits. It further refers to initiatives that improve the economic well being of the local populace. At a very general level, it makes reference to sustained economic development or growth.

Socio-cultural sustainability refers development initiatives that promote, protect and advance socio-cultural aspects of people’s well being. These include traditional cultural practices, e.g. religion, ethnic rituals, etc. They also include contemporary social aspects of people’s lives that contribute to their well being, in terms of development of their identities.

Ecological sustainability refers to protection of the ecosystem and the environment. It includes physical aspects of sustainability, including: reduction of the green house gas emissions in a development, clean environment, greening, sustainable use of water, clean energy, clean sanitation and waste management, energy efficiency and renewable energy, natural ventilation systems, protection of fauna and flora and so on.

Institutional sustainability refers to adequate and appropriate structural and institutional systems that support and enable cities to achieve all aspects of sustainable urban development. It includes appropriate policy, legal and legislative frameworks, appropriate governance and management systems, and appropriate institutionalized structures and operations.

The Government of Kenya commissioned a Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment, Legal and Regulatory Due Diligence, and a Demand Assessment. The initial feasibility and concept master plan was prepared by Deloitte and Pell Frischmann, a United Kingdom based consultancy, which proposed the establishment of Konza, a technology park with infrastructure that will be “sustainable” and have inclusive growth as key drivers.

Initial radial layout

Sustainability was considered in the land use. Konza was planned as a mixed-use, high-density walkable city that accommodates a diversity of programs and districts. By avoiding superblocks and auto-orientated roadways, Konza is intended to be a liveable urban environment that encourages high-value development and discourages sprawl. Planning was intended to take cues from successful global urban centres, yet be specific to the needs of Kenya and the region. The master plan was intended to set the framework for a city that function globally and locally, today and in the future. These concepts of liveability, density, and walkability were incorporated in the Local Physical Development Plan approved by the Ministry of Lands on February 2013.

The revised layout of the Technocity

The master plan follows a “stitch” framework, composed of a mixed use “bar” that runs east- west off Mombasa Highway and is intersected by a series of program “bands” that run north- south. These bands include a university, residential, science and tech, and an office band. The intersection of the bars and the bands create vivid connections, where special programs and higher density developments occur. These intersections become points of interest that seed neighbourhoods of distinct character. The stitch master plan also contains a series of neighbourhood parks, located throughout the city with varied orientations. Most parks are connected to the green boulevard, a 60-meter parkscape and public transit corridor.

Konza city will cause loss of habitat and grazing area and the displacement and disturbance of wildlife currently located onsite, especially the migratory wildebeest, antelope and zebra. A 2km buffer zone and 6.2 sq km wildlife corridor are intended to minimize the negative effects. The adequacy of these measures have not been verified scientifically. Other impacts on the wildlife ecosystem have not been convincingly dealt with.

The growth of the city will result in the creation of large amounts of construction, commercial and house hold waste, if this is not disposed off appropriately then it could result in a moderate negative impact on the environment inform of air, ground and water pollution. Konza Technology city therefore should include the provision of waste transfer, sorting and recycling centres and measurers for the promotion and education of workers and residents in the means of reuse, and reduction of waste. This calls for the need to explore alternatives means of waste disposal other than conventional landfill in quite good time.

Smart City Concept

Konza city is intended to be a smart city. Smart cities concept has been attributed to the need for future cities to be able to provide quality of life drawing from environmentally sustainable and efficient practices. Oberti and Pavesi (2013) define smart cities as those cities that integrate environment, people and technologies efficiently. Smart cities have also been loosely used to refer to cities that incorporate digital technologies as is intended in Konza City.

As an ICT city, Konza is intended to have an integrated urban information and communication technology (ICT) network that supports delivery of connected urban services and allows for efficient management of those services on a large scale. Specifically, a smart city framework will integrate the following four key city services:

  • Infrastructure services (transportation, utilities, public safety, environment)
  • Citizen services (access and participation)
  • City services (city information, planning and development)
  • Business services (supportive services for local commerce)

As a smart city, Konza is intended to gather data from smart devices and sensors embedded in the urban environment, such as roadways, buildings, and other assets. Collected data is intended to be shared via a smart communications system and analysed by software that delivers valuable information and digitally enhanced services to Konza’s population. For example, roadway sensors will be able to monitor pedestrian and automobile traffic, and adjust traffic light timing accordingly to optimize traffic flows.

Commercial district of Konza Technocity

Konza’s population is meant to have direct access to collected data, which may include traffic maps, emergency warnings, and detailed information describing energy and water consumption. The availability of data is intended to enable Konza’s population to participate directly in the operations of the city, practice more sustainable living patterns, and enhance overall inclusiveness. It is hoped that by leveraging the smart city framework, Konza will be able to optimize its city services, creating a sustainable city that responds directly to the needs of its residents, workers, and visitors.

Konza planners believe that smart city framework should start with development of a comprehensive ICT infrastructure. Konza plans to learn from other cities in various parts of the world that have successfully incorporated smart city frameworks, including Santander and Barcelona, Spain; Singapore; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Konza city claim to sustainability is tenuous. It definitely does not meet the requirements of economic sustainability, ecological sustainability, socio-cultural sustainability or even institutional sustainability. This was not expected in the first instance because the city was not conceived as a sustainable city.

Konza mainly emphasizes the technological aspects of smart cities. The people referred to in Konza about are not Kenyans – they are caricatures of human beings from the West. It is questionable whether Konza will even be able to attract the specialised human resource that would be needed to run such a specialised ICT programme in the city.

Will Konza be sustainable, while ignoring Kenya’s socio-economic and political context of the interventions? Definitely not! It will take an army to protect Konza from the daily socio-cultural, and political practices predominant in the Kenyan society in generally, and Kenya’s urban context, in particular.

References

Makau A. M. (2013) Parameters for a Successful Technology Park – A Comparative Analysis of Konza ICT City and International Best Practices, pg 37-40. University of Nairobi, Nairobi.

Rapoport, E. & Vernay, A. (2011) Defining the Eco-City: A Discursive Approach. Published Conference Proceedings. CIB, Working Commissions W55,W65,W89, W112; ENHR and AESP.

Register Richard (2006) EcoCities – Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley Hills Press.

Oberti, I. & Pavesi, A. S. (2013) The triumph of the Smart City. TECHNE-Journal of Technology for Architecture and Environment , Volume 5, pp. 117-122.

Konza TechnoCity Website: http://www.konzacity.go.ke/

The Author , Prof. Alfred Omenya , is an architect and can be reached at aomenya2002@yahoo.com

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