Model Street – making cities together

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Main actors

Local Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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2015 - 2018

A collaborative project supporting community-led design to improve public spaces.

Based on the community and co-creation approach “Making Cities Together”, the Model Street initiative was conceived to improve Nairobi’s public spaces. It has transformed the physical appearance of a street in Dandora’s ‘Phase 2’ neighbourhood with paving, painting, children’s play areas and the planting of trees. Clearing drains and new rubbish bins have improved sanitation while better lighting has increased safety for residents and business owners.
The planning stage of the project included innovative Minecraft workshops, during which residents used the gaming software to visualise and shape their new shared space. Weekend building parties helped to engage as many residents as possible during the three-year construction process before Model Street’s official launch in April 2018.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

World Habitat Awards

This project was shortlisted for the 'World Habitat Awards' in 2018 in the following category: Finalist.

Nairobi, Kenya

Size and population development
According to the most recent census in 2009, the population of Nairobi was 3,138,369. The city covers an area 696km2 with a population density of 4,859 people per km2. Nairobi is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Currently, the city is growing at a rate of over 4% annually, primarily because of high birth rates and immigrants that come to Nairobi searching for employment opportunities. It is estimated that the city will continue on its upward trajectory in terms of population.’ The world Population Review estimates the 2019 population of Nairobi at 4,556,381

Population composition
Nairobi is an ethnically diverse city and Kenya’s major ethnic groups all reside here, including Luo, Luhyia and Kamba. There are also many Asians, Europeans, and Somalis that call this city home. The primary languages of Nairobi are Swahili and English. The city is the location of one of the largest slums in the world, Kibera, and approximately 22% of the city’s residents live in poverty.

Main functions
Nairobi is the capital and largest city of Kenya, the second largest city by population in the African Great Lakes region and the 10th largest city in Africa. The city is situated in the south-central part of Kenya, in the highlands at an elevation of approximately 1,680 metres.

Main industries / business
Several of Africa's largest companies are headquartered in Nairobi - Safaricom, and Kenya Airways and more recently local fintech firms including Craft Silicon, Kangen Technologies and JamboPay who have been in the forefront of technology, and cloud-based computing services. Nairobi has a large tourism industry, being both a tourist destination and a transport hub and is home to the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), one of Africa's largest stock exchange. Goods manufactured in Nairobi include clothing, textiles, building materials, processed foods beverages, and cigarettes. The United Nations Office in Nairobi hosts UN Environment and UN-Habitat headquarters and the city is the regional headquarters of several international companies and organisations including General Electric, Coca-Cola, IBM, Google and Cisco Systems, General Motors, Goodyear and Toyota.

Political structure
The City of Nairobi enjoys the status of a full administrative County. The County Assembly consist of members elected by the registered voters of the wards; each ward constituting a single member constituency, on the same day as a general election of Members of Parliament, being the second Tuesday in August, in every fifth year; The number of special seat members necessary to ensure that no more than two-thirds of the membership of the Assembly are of the same gender; the number of members of marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities and the youth, prescribed by an Act of Parliament; and the Speaker, who is an ex-officio member. The County Assembly is the Legislative arm of the County Government responsible for the formulation of laws that regulate the conduct and activities within the County and provide oversight. Nairobi City County Assembly comprises of 85 elected and 38 nominated Members of the County Assembly (MCA’s) who sit on various committees of the Assembly.

Administrative structure
Nairobi is divided into seventeen constituencies and eighty-five wards.

Dandora is home to the largest informal dumpsite in East Africa. The neighbourhoods around it (including ‘Phase 2’, the focus of this project) have been largely unregulated for decades and have fallen into disrepair. Most of the waste produced by Nairobi’s 4 million residents ends up here. 
People living nearby have a much higher incidence of health problems (respiratory issues and other symptoms reflecting the high level of pollution and toxic materials in the environment). The dumpsite is also the source of an informal economy, with many people locally dependent on waste collection and recycling for their livelihood. Because the site is informal and unregulated, gangs and cartels operate ‘policing’ of the dumpsite. 
Through the Making Cities Together approach, the Model Street project aims to improve the living conditions of residents and change perceptions of the area by mobilising community action.
Outcomes were delivered through six stages: 

Field research - Students conducted initial in-depth socio-spatial research of public spaces in Nairobi, starting an inventory which eventually became the UNHabitat Public Space programme. 

Placemaking labs - The students presented their research outcomes during the placemaking lab. Sessions involved international and local experts as well as the Community Based Organisations (CBOs) chosen to lead community involvement. One of them, the ‘Must Seed’ project was selected for implementation after this stage. The Dandora Transformation League provided and facilitated representation for the community of Dandora. 

Minecraft workshop - A shared design session held with the support of UN-Habitat. This approach provided community representatives with Minecraft gaming software so they could reimagine public spaces together.  Dandora has a diverse demography consisting of a rich mix of different ages, gender and socioeconomic groups. The Dandora Transformation League selected 26 participants made up of equal parts men/women, different age groups, various courts (housing estates), those with disabilities, and different income levels. Each representative had to be available for four interactive sessions. The students were also part of the design teams.

Building Parties - Organised by the Dandora Transformation League with technical support and funding from a range of partners involved in the Making Cities Together initiative. Community leaders and resident volunteers got together at weekends to take action to improve the living environment. 

Technical Preparation Work - Works requiring additional technical support were taken forward by the Dandora Transformation League with technical support from Making Cities Together partners. 

Launch - The Model Street was officially launched by UN-Habitat and Dandora Transformation League on Saturday 14 April 2018.

The lead agency for the project is KUWA (a consulting firm based in Nairobi) with a network of 40 partners including Nairobi County Assembly and the following organisations: 
Key partners & facilitators: 
Placemakers, International New Town Institute (INTI). 
Stitchting DOEN, (NL), UN-Habitat (also provided technical expertise and access to Minecraft App), East African Institute (AKU), Embassy of the Netherlands in Kenya, Rendeavour - Tatu City, International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP). 
Community engagement, project management & technical support: 
Dandora Transformation League (DTL) - led on community engagement, project management and implementation. 
Technical University of Kenya/University of Nairobi - provided student volunteers for community research. 
Dutch Alliance for Sustainable Urban Development in Africa (DASUDA) - provided feedback during the lab. 
Nairobi County Assembly - signed-off on building permits and waived implementation fees. 
Avanti Architecture Ltd. - created mock design of Model Street. 
Cave Ltd. - lead consultants on construction, created gateway design to Model Street. 
Hormingon – contractors. 
Village Market - sponsored paint. 
Urban Bites - sponsored refreshments. 
The International New Town Institute and International Federation for Housing and Planning provided around USD$2,000 to fund initial research and discussion via the ‘placemaking lab’. 
Other costs were funded between the DOEN Foundation, UN-Habitat and Placemakers as follows: 
  • Workshop Minecraft Designs: USD$2,820 (DOEN Foundation, UN-Habitat and Placemakers). 
  • Construction of Minecraft Designs: USD$76,400 (DOEN Foundation and UN-Habitat). 
  • Elaboration of the Minecraft Design: USD$4,930 (DOEN Foundation and UN-Habitat). 
  • Equipment hire for cleaning the street: USD$7,540 (UN-Habitat). 
  • Building Party to support community mobilisation: USD$11,770 (DOEN Foundation and UN-Habitat). 
  • Launch of Court Yard Competition & Entrances on Model Street: USD$6,178 (UN-Habitat). 
  • Public Event on Public Spaces: USD$5,500 (DOEN Foundation). 
  • Community Maintenance Planning: USD$1,420 (UN-Habitat). 
Financial sustainability
Project Documentation and Reporting/Local Capacity Building/Financial and Administrative Costs: USD$24,950 (DOEN Foundation and UN-Habitat).
Dandora Transformation League and the Public Space Network secured further funding in 2018 from UN-Habitat to build on current work. The money will be used to help implement the strategy formed through the Making Cities Together collaboration. 
The maintenance of the Model Street can be sustained without external funding. The Dandora Transformation League has facilitated a programme where business owners pay for young people to clean the street every week, providing employment for ten or more young people. 
The Making Cities Together partnership is (in 2018) considering what it will do next following the success of the Model Street initiative.
The success of the initiative and the positive impact it has had on the safety and wellbeing of residents is now influencing projects and policy across Nairobi. 
Social Impact
The ‘Making Cities Together’ process has a real focus on inclusion. 
  • All stages incorporated a participatory process, guided by the Community Based Organisation (the Dandora Transformation League) which identified and recruited people from across the neighbourhood. 
  • For some women who were not active in the process the team introduced flag making (as they had noticed the women sitting on the streets doing beadwork). The flags were then used to section off the streets during building parties. 
  • Teenage artists were brought in to paint, and Minecraft enabled the inclusion of disabled people, children and elderly people. Others were attracted through social events like lunches and the building parties. 
  • Overall the process has motivated and involved young people in particular, and others across the neighbourhood. The improvements have had a positive impact on the health and safety of residents. This has led to an increased sense of empowerment and stronger connections and influence for the community.

Legal impact

Auditing public open space helped Making Cities Together partners engage in regional policy-making. This work led to a commitment by Nairobi City County to develop a Public Open Spaces Bill. Over 1,000 public spaces were identified in the city. The bill seeks to protect and improve these spaces for public use and promote shared responsibility in the maintenance of them. 

Urban impact
  • The project has improved public space in Phase 2 of the Dandora community, which houses over 5,000 low income people. Impacts include: 
  • Increased safety (reduced crime through better lighting and community policing). 
  • Improved neighbourhood maintenance and management. 
  • Local shops have seen increased business (according to a survey of owners there are more customers and they are able to stay open later as the street feels safer). 
  • New businesses have opened (one in particular rents out skates and bikes to children so they can play on the newly paved street). Greater community involvement increased land values, which has encouraged more residents to upgrade (paint and fix up) their houses.
Environmental Impact
The project has achieved an environmental impact by improving sanitation, drainage and general cleanliness. It also involved tree planting and elements of upcycling (making tyre swings and rubbish bins out of recycled metal). The architects working on the gateways into the model street selected building materials according to their resilience and local availability. The Dandora Transformation League approach results in a cleaner living environment while simultaneously creating sustainable employment for young people. Unblocking drains has prevented flooding, reducing the risk of water-borne diseases.

Using mixed finance to fund the project was a challenge for the partners, which required clear management and diligence. Power struggles and relationship tensions were overcome through dialogue. A controversial election result occurred during project implementation which required ongoing communication and patience between partners.

Key success factors include:

  • the high level of collaboration achieved between partners and the community;
  • the ‘big changes through small actions’ approach: build in adequate time for unexpected delays, to reduce the strain on relationships. Starting an initiative like this where people are not used to it requires a high level of commitment and perseverance, but acceptance becomes quicker once the process can be shown to succeed;
  • the use of Minecraft to facilitate public participation and creative thinking;
  • the approach employed by the Dandora Transformation League to encourage community and youth engagement with the project.

A report ‘Minecraft Workshop in Dandora: Process and outcomes’ was published in 2015. The report found that using Minecraft to engage the community was highly effective both in people being able to express and visualise their needs, and in decision-makers understanding what they were being told. Some improvements were suggested in relation to inclusion - for example changing the times of workshops to avoid busy times for women and children, and directly involving local schools.

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