Editor_Arch. Caleb Mutali

From the Editor’s Desk_The Ointment in the Fly

By Caleb Mutali

So- what is in a name? In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, while arguing that the names of things do not matter, only what the things “are”, Juliet quips “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!” Fortunately, in this much acclaimed play, she lived in an era of nobility where the quintessence of substances mattered, but not so in this age. Fast forward to the 21st Century and reflect for a moment on the names of some of the much sought after residential neighbourhoods in Kenya- I name but a few: Runda, Muthaiga and Karen in Nairobi, Nyali and Tudor (yes, christened after that royal Welsh dynasty ruled the United Kingdom) in Mombasa, the Milimanis of Kisumu, Kitale and Nakuru, the Elgon View and Kapsoya of Eldoret. Do not all these romanticised names elicit a longing of “when I grow up, I wanna…”

It is the pride of every architect when one is commissioned to design a residential or commercial unit in these areas, for these for with such names, how can one not summon all their creative juices as they sketch and plan for the new development, even invoking that divine intervention will infuse that “wow!” factor into the project?  But that is about all they turn out to be, interesting and embellished works of art limited within the perimeter of the boundaries that define the property. Should one seek ‘zoom out’ to pan over the context in which they sit, one quickly picks out the ointment in the fly (sic) and exposes the ‘Grand-theft houses’ heist ; one is confronted by run down and not-up-to-scratch support infrastructure which consists of poor urban design elements. Take a peek and the heading of the scam bare before your very eyes: piped comes only twice a week so you need a borehole and an underground water reservoir. The streets leading up to these hyped ‘gems’ have dumpsters teeming with garbage at the nodes; roads extremely narrow, sometimes, with no sidewalks for pedestrians to amble without having to worry about safety with fast vehicular traffic alongside.

In Nairobi, in the so called ‘posh’ areas of Hurlingham and Parklands, most narrow lanes do not have bollards and other appropriate street furniture and it is not uncommon to find pedestrians having to make a choice between scampering for safety towards open storm-water drains that flank these roads and risking or risk their lives at the mercy of furiously-driven cars. The same neighbourhoods, their big names notwithstanding, do not have easy access to convenience stores, street lighting, bus lays, never mind that they are not served by decent means of public transport. Should you, being part of the nouveau-riche finally grow up and save enough to buy into neighbourhoods, you will be scandalised to learn that newer available plots areas are defined by untarmacked access roads and largely incomplete civil works. Police stations are permanently on your list and because you pay more tax, you must pay for private security as well. After tricking you to buy and the cheque safely pocketed, the developer, pointing at the zonal masterplan, has the cheek to add with that now familiar saintly look that “there are plans for a dual carriageway to pass here and it will just border your lot, so the value of your property will soon triple. In fact, it has just been approved by Cabinet and it will be endorsed in the next County Council meeting…” Huh! Tell it to the birds!

Meanwhile, as you pay top-dollar for land rates and struggle to service your mortgage, your children, who are the real victims, have no playing fields and must remain indoors since, the community’s security chief warns, the estate has now become a haunt of  malefactors.

So, what is the catch here? What did one buy? Privacy? – my foot!

So, what’s in a name? Is this an camouflaged ‘Mukuru’?