Monday, May 19, 2008

Kibera Public Space Project

Laying out a future pedestrian bridge

A future reclaimed public space

Composting barrels turning food scraps into income

One of the projects I was able to team up with is the Kounkouey Design Initiative (KDI) working in a large slum called Kibera, one of the largest in East Africa. The particular project is called Kibera Public Space Project and is a joint initiative started through some graduate students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the University of Nairobi, in conjunction with the community of Soweto in Kibera. Here in Nairobi, the project is supported on the ground by Eco-Build Africa, a great little office doing housing, research, and projects focused on sustainability. The first step of the project is to develop a public space at the lower end of the settlement. As part of this project, they are developing some composting bins, with hopes soon that they will be able to sell the resulting mix as fertilizer as a starting point that will generate independent income for the community. This is very viable considering how expensive the cost of fertilizer has become as a result of post election violence.

While it is just a public space project, the goals and potential extend far beyond any particular space. There is a creek that runs through this particular part of Kibera. And it is the repository for massive amounts of trash, sewage, and everything in between. It all empties out at the bottom into something called Nairobi Lake. Unfortunately, there is not a lake there anymore. It has filled up with both sediment and trash. An extraordinary amount of trash, in fact, 50% of the ground is trash in this area. While the ultimate goals of the KDI are very promising and necessary, linking in many larger systematic issues, especially from an economically sustainable point of view, the on the ground reality poses many challenges. As with anything generating change, challenging people’s perceptions and ways of doing things is never easy. Each time we walked pass the creek, someone else was throwing in all kinds of food scraps or trash. If done effectively, all of that food scrap could eventually be turned into money. Right now, the main challenge is getting the project started again after the post election crisis.

As with such projects, even small changes in cost can have big impacts. There has been much in the news in the recent weeks about the global food crisis. It is no joke and it is not just food. And here in Kenya, it is exacerbated by post election crisis. The plastic barrels that they were using for compost 6 months ago have quadrupled in price. Rice alone has increased 200-300%. And it is not just rice, it is just about every good here. And for Kenyans who don’t make much money, this is tough. I will leave solving this problem to the experts. Seems like the World Bank has a plan. There seems to be a lot of talk about how this could be an opportunity for Africa to increase its crop yields, etc. We’ll see.

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