Slums and informal settlements menace is a global phenomenon. The continent experienced its first slums soon after independence of the various countries. Settlements that may have begun as scattered establishments to provide temporary housing, over time instituted themselves as permanent accommodation for the incoming populations from the rural areas. Densities grew and sanitation situations continued to deteriorate resulting in some of the worst human living environments.
The slum problem has over time elicited various reactions ranging from slum elimination, slum upgrading and enabling policy frameworks. Slum upgrading efforts have been spearheaded by governments, international development agencies and community efforts.
The Kenyan government through the Ministry of Housing is spearheading a participatory stakeholders-led development of Slum Upgrading & Prevention Policy. The policy is coming at a time when devolved governments are being rolled out. This will guard the county governments against the pitfalls experienced and posed by slums in the existing urban areas.
One of the most important considerations of the policy will be the tenure question. Recognition of the presence of the slum dwellers and the right to be secure without fear of eviction is necessary for self initiated upgrading and for the confidence of service providers to extend basic amenities and services to the informal settlements. Intra-city and inter-city inequalities in planning have been identified as well to be a factor contributing to slums especially the formation of new ones. Planning capacity has been suggested to be enhanced through training and deployment of built environment staff to the smallest units of governments for implementation.
A relook into the planning standards will enable the slums to be evaluated and implemented as special development areas. Imposition of universal city planning standards has been identified as a factor contributing to haphazard development. Today, some housing developments and tenements can widely be considered “vertical” slums due to their densities and the general forms. Unrealistic planning standards and bureaucratic approval processes has resulted to such development despite the willingness of developers to conform to authorities requirements.
Prevention of further growth and development of new slums will be achieved through strict implementable planning. The county governments must endeavor to extend basic services and open up the undeveloped areas within their extended boundaries well before the expected population influx from the current urban centers. The sites and services and the reintroduction of employer-employee schemes will also ensure decent housing to the workforce in the new
Counties, hence prevention of new slums and development of the existing desperate living conditions.
The author is an architect and member of slum upgrading and prevention policy, development control and the environment