State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Rockefeller Foundation Supports Urban Planning in Nairobi

New York, NY, July, 2009. The Rockefeller Foundation is aiding sustainable development in metropolitan Nairobi, Kenya with a $400,000 grant to Columbia University’s Earth Institute aimed at supporting broad-based grass roots participation in the urban-planning process. The Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) will use the support to continue ongoing work with the University of Nairobi’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning to help shape Metropolitan Nairobi’s spatial development plan. CSUD’s planning approach involves the active participation of a policy network including local universities, community-based organizations and government officials.

Example of Nairobi’s rapid unplanned growth
Example of Nairobi’s rapid unplanned growth

“Effective urban planning in rapidly urbanizing cities like Nairobi requires the participation of all stakeholders. Exclusionary, top-down processes create plans that invariably fail,” said Columbia urban-planning professor and CSUD director Elliott Sclar. “Support from the Rockefeller Foundation is vital to this effort.” Sclar said such participatory planning is needed in other rapidly expanding municipalities of sub-Saharan Africa in order to improve inhabitants’ well-being and to protect them from the health and safety risks of population growth without public services. ” CSUD’s network-based planning approach is urgent because the challenges of poverty, disease, high-cost energy, climate change and inadequate access to safe drinking water pose a serious and immediate threat to urban populations everywhere,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute. “The Rockefeller Foundation’s commitment to this work will allow us to demonstrate the benefits of more inclusive and participatory urban planning in Nairobi.”

It is estimated that by 2030 over 60% of the Kenyan population will live in urban places. Most of this growth will occur in the municipalities that surround the City of Nairobi. In 1999 the population of Metropolitan Nairobi was just under 5 million. By 2030, that population will potentially grow to 18.5 million. These statistics are already pushing the limits of metropolitan Nairobi’s already taxed public service systems.

The CSUD project began in 2004 with the goal of creating effective processes to plan for land use and transport in the Nairobi metropolitan area. The original support came from the Volvo Research and Education Foundations, to establish CSUD as one of Volvo’s seven global centers of excellence in future urban transport. The Rockefeller grant affords CSUD the opportunity to broaden and deepen its collaboration with the University of Nairobi’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning. Among the planned activities are efforts to expand the work to a range of local municipalities in the metropolitan region as well as in the City of Nairobi.

“Harnessing the opportunities of accelerating urbanization is at the center of our foundation’s mission”, said Robert Buckley, managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation. “For the first time in history, we are seeing more people living in urban communities than rural ones. The policy network the Earth Institute is helping build will have a positive impact on the urban planning process in Nairobi and will serve as a model for successful urban planning in other sub-Saharan African city-regions. CSUD is a driving force in this work and we are proud to support them.”

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