Vertical slums: How new crop of apartments in Kilimani, Kileleshwa is affecting Nairobis infrastructure

The Kilimani and Kileleshwa neighbourhoods of Nairobi County used to be prestigious addresses with bungalows and maisonettes dotting the landscape.

But the one-time leafy suburbs are now slowly transforming into concrete jungles of high-rise apartment blocks.

Initially categorized as Zone Four by the Nairobi City Council, no building permits here were granted beyond the four-floor limit.

This is however no longer the case with some apartments now scaling up to 15 floors, towering over those who had initially complied with the city by-laws.

“As property owners and residents of this area, we have seen that unless we raise our voices on this issue, in the long term, this is going to have some very serious repercussions. Trends are changing, we do not have to be rigid with our by-laws but what is coming up must go parallel with the existing infrastructure network,” says Kiaraho, a property owner.

Along Kindaruma Road, for instance, a developer has packed an entire block comprising 900 bedsitters, studio and one-bedroom apartments onto a one-acre piece of land.

“This means that in terms of density, the sewer, which was designed over 50 years ago, and the pipes erected then cannot support the upcoming population. The situation also puts a strain on the existing road network for example this Kindaruma Road is destined for expansion and anyone coming up with development in this area is supposed to surrender some six-metre building line but that is not being observed,” Kiaraho says.

In December 2021, the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) withdrew an approval that had been granted to the developer and stopped the firm from making further variations to the property after the local residents’ association complained.

In this letter to the developer, the NMS Director of Planning and Urban Development said its officers visited the site and established that the building plans were not properly drawn.

“870 units on a 0.463ha are not acceptable since they exceed the ratios provided. Setback on a basement is not observed and no traffic management report was provided,” it reads in part.

But the developer allegedly disregarded the warning and construction continued. The developer through their project architect however claims to have revised the earlier plan.

In response to our queries, the architect says the initial plan of 807 units in the piece of land was amended to 531 units, adding that there are no studio apartments.

This letter, part of correspondence the developer has had with Nairobi County, issued new approvals which superseded the disapproved levels following complaints by residents.

The developer further says there is no functional policy for Nairobi, adding that in the last 10 years, none of the projects approved adhered to the policy set by the now defunct Nairobi city council.

This trend is now putting pressure on available infrastructure causing among other problems a serious shortage of water.

“For the last year, we have been buying water in bowsers consistently whose quality is not good. Where I live, we have a development coming up with over 400 houses and the question we are asking is; if right now we have about 100 houses on our streets, where are we going to get additional water to service the extra houses at once?” Nyagah, a resident, says.

Though some of the new developers are able to sink their own boreholes, the residents said they still tap from the existing water infrastructure and further inconvenience earlier settlers who may not be able to sink boreholes for their single units.

“I’m also a resident of Kilimani and where I live there is an apartment block that came up and I have no privacy,” Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja says.

Sakaja says the county government is battling some of the developers in court.

“We have around 735 cases pending in our courts, you find there are those who get an approval but once you get into the implementation stage the architect is knocked off and the actual structure is different from what was approved,” says the county boss.

He says his county government has already started implementing the 10% greenery policy.

“We must have some cover for trees and where children can play, if not that they have to adhere to setbacks where the county will build pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes where people can have a walk or a jog.”

The six-meter setback means the distance between the actual development and the road left for purposes of road expansion.

“Those who are completely irredeemable, we will have to do the tough thing because we are looking in the future, those roads have to be expanded if we don’t sort this out now five years from now we will be in anarchy we will have to do the tough thing,” says Sakaja.

The governor says plans are underway to ensure that the supporting infrastructure goes hand in hand with development above the ground.

“Are we growing with the infrastructure, we have set aside 22billio for the expansion of the sewer system, it will be expanded in the very near future, we are also looking into increasing the water supply in the city Karemanu dam and the Murang’a northern water collector tunnel,” he notes.

Even as time runs out for the implementation of the projects that will see the underground infrastructure at par with what is above the ground, experts are of the view that the developers be allowed to chip in.

Experts opine that it is unrealistic to expect these areas to remain as they were; with Kilelelshwa and Kilimani expected to follow global trends where buildings continue to rise vertically to accommodate the growing human population. 


Citizen TV Nairobi Kilimani Citizen Digital Kileleshwa

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