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Gated cities of tomorrow? New cities planned from scratch

The long history of cities has it that they have been centres of prosperity and social integration. From the pre historic, all through history to the modern times, cities have continued to exist playing critical roles in human development. Cities have been known to be the centres of urbanism formed by numerous interwoven elements.

Ancient cities were formed where communities settled in a location, their population grew and with increased social integration and innovations turned the location more productive while engaging dominantly in non-primary production activities.The ancient cities evolved from simple settlements to more complex systems as the population and activities increased. These organic cities were faced with numerous challenges as they adapted to suit the changing needs, from these challenges the communities learned and improved new settlements to better suit their environment to activities they carried out. As time passes and technology improves, cities have evolved from the small simple settlements surrounded by walls

and heavy gates to large megalopolis with millions of people and mile high buildings. The function of cities has evolved from simply places of refuge for the king and bishops to engines of economic development. 

Planners, architects and city managers have played huge roles in the changing form and function of cities. City planners have developed numerous models to guide the growth of cities while making them more efficient, productive and healthy entities. The planners envision for and with the people what their cities are to be and how such can be achieved. The planning of cities has come to be more oriented to the dwellers than the professional’s opinions.

Though the cities have immensely changed in structure, size and functions, some fundamentals still remain intact. Cities it has to be noted are human entities; cities exist for the people and without the people the cities are no cities. What comes first, the city or its inhabitants? Urbanists will tell you that cities were built after people decided to settle there. In other words, people came first, cities followed. Most cities began as small settlements and grew over time. Coastal and riverside cities such as London, Lagos, Mumbai, New York, Mombasa and Beijing served, and continue to serve, an important trade function. But they were not built from scratch; they evolved over centuries. As these cities grew, urban planners designed them so they could accommodate the expanding needs of present and future generations. Those that had visionary leadership were managed better.

There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule that cities are built after inhabitants have settled on the site. China, for instance, has in recent years being building several cities from scratch, and quite successfully including cities such as Shenzhen. The failed attempts to establish such cities is however overwhelming. The general assumption in setting up of the new planned cities is that with the provision of infrastructure, the people will settle and the city will thrive. This utopian state presents a very lovable situation in which the people would have necessary infrastructure provided in the city when they settle, however the assumption has failed time and again in application to large cities. The situation in Putrajaya exemplifies this where though the city has all infrastructure provided, the people only show up during working hours leaving a ghost town at night and during weekends.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 team is pegging the growth of the country to establishment of several specialized cities throughout the country. Projects such as Konza and Tatu city projects that the government is promoting are based on the assumption that once a city’s infrastructure is built, people will automatically flock to it, especially if it offers economic opportunities. These cities are to be setup and governed privately and autonomously, much like a giant apartment complex. The Board involved in the development of Konza city has even asked for the exemption of the expected city from the control by the Urban Areas and Cities Act (2012) and the Physical Planning Act and instead be managed according to regulations set out in a special Act for the city.

Cities should form the space where all citizens have the right to the city and regardless of their social standing feel welcome in the city. With the creation of the new cities planned for specific classes of people, the developers are blowing the gated communities to whole cities that could create members only cities. In this sense the creators of these cities disregard the very aspect that is the life of the cities- diversity.   Development of these cities at the fridge of already established cities present paradoxical urban growth patterns whereby well-planned new cities are established around dilapidated, poverty-stricken cores. Would it not be better to restructure the existing cities and provide sufficient infrastructure in such areas that have already demonstrated successful human settlement than start new cities?

Such cities are also seen as an escalation of the existing booming real estate market. These cities are seen as driven by hyper speculation in the real estate market creating speculative urbanism. This explains why the land values in areas speculated to host the new cities have sky rocketed. The desire of the government to establish Silicon Valley cities should be reevaluated with the understanding that cities are human entities and that speculative urbanism is not sustainable. The city should also be understood as an entity composed of more than the infrastructure and buildings. Time will prove whether the prefabricated cities will get to the level of the cities that have evolved over time.

By Kevin Ritho an Urban and Regional Planning Student at the University of Nairobi-Kenya


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