It is more than a year since Prof Wangari Maathai left us. It was not in vain, she was a legend, a noble Kenyan. She fought fiercely and fearlessly against vicious State elements to preserve open public spaces from land grabbers.
She was keen that we maintain the environment for future generations – a fact that many leaders must have ignored driven by greed at the expense of the greater common good.
‘Urban open space’ can describe many types of open areas. One definition holds that “Open space is land and water area with its surface open to the sky, consciously acquired or publicly regulated to serve conservation and urban shaping function, in addition to providing recreational opportunities.”
In most instances, the term in fact refers to green space. However, there are examples of green space in urban areas which, though not publicly owned, are still considered urban open space. Such are at times privately owned, with examples being university and college compounds, and institutional grounds like the lash lawns at UNEP. Jeevanjee Gardens is also a privately owned open space donated for public use. Others such as City Park, Uhuru Park, Arboretum and Karura Forest are public property.
These areas provide ‘aesthetic and psychological relief’ from urban development, which seems to be an obsession countrywide in its narrowest sense. It is obsession that led to the annexing of the formerly beautiful Jamhuri Park in Kisumu and space alongside Mama Ngina Drive in Mombasa.
Urban open spaces benefit citizens in three basic forms: recreation, ecology and aesthetic value. They are ‘the lungs of our cities’.
Considering the increasing concentration of human activities emitting all types of exhausts into the atmosphere, the need for sufficient fresh air is imperative. Such is nature’s design of a well balanced economic growth and ecological equilibrium. This harmony is disturbed when a developer ‘grabs’ public space for private development.
While land banks are set aside for future use such as expansion of cities, many of such resources have been grabbed, sub-divided and sold – all with the help of surveyors!
Though environmental conservation is well articulated in the 2010 Constitution, we need to migrate this from the statute books and policies to the ground and practise it with a sense of urgency and importance, because our lives depend on this!!
There are hordes of architects, surveyors, planners and engineers who ought to donate some of their professional time to see to the needs of public open spaces across the country. Who will stand up to be counted? I am ready and willing to join hands – public spaces cannot take care of themselves!