The North-South Divide in Urban Patterns and the Contradictions of Using Homogeneous Instruments of Planning

Lessons from Kenya

  • Jeremiah Ayonga University of Nairobi
Keywords: Homogeneity, ineffective planning, Kenya, North-South, planning instruments


Three development pathways characterize all urban societies in the world and, this, by necessity, result in different spatial patterns. The first pathway can be viewed as laissez faire, which produces informal or organic urban patterns while the second pathway is the preplanned development trajectory which results in the ideal urban patterns. The third pattern can be viewed as urban decay, which occurs when preplanned patterns reach optimum thresholds. Countries in the ‘North’ have since minimized or eliminated informal development processes in favor of the preplanned pathway. Thus, planning theories and instruments in countries in the ‘North’ have a bias and tend to reflect the preplanned model. However, countries in the ‘South’, Kenya included, are trapped in a dual development pathway, where informal patterns dominate the urban fabric and, therefore, preplanned instruments would be ineffective in regulating such patterns. To validate this postulate, the investigation reviewed the historical evolution of the planning instruments both in the North and in the South, using Kenya as a case study. The review established that Planning theories and instruments were developed in the North to respond to challenges in their urban development scenarios and such instruments were exported to Kenya during colonial rule. However, the instruments have never been modified to respond to the specific development challenges in Kenya especially those related to organic urban patterns and this was found to be the main factor in ineffective urban planning.