The Unsustainability of Urban Habitat Transformation

A Case Study of Kileleshwa in Nairobi, Kenya

  • Collins Makunda University of Nairobi
Keywords: Apartment housing, climate change, densification, Kileleshwa, Nairobi, sustainability, unsustainability, urban transformation


This paper interrogates the issue of sustainability of the market-driven urban residential transformation of Nairobi through a case study of Kileleshwa, a residential neighbourhood located in the western suburbs of the city. The paper examines the impact of the ongoing transformation from low-density housing to higher density high-rise apartment housing on the sustainability of the urban habitat. This is predicated on an understanding of sustainability in which its components are hierarchically organized to privilege the environmental component over the social and economic ones. The investigation was undertaken qualitatively using the case study of high-rise apartment blocks. This entailed qualitative interviews with key actors implicated in the process of transformation including property developers, the local authority, and residents. Research methods also included visual documentation of the apartment blocks being developed as well as document review of public sector and private sector reports on the real estate sector. The results indicate that the current production of housing in Kileleshwa is unsustainable. This is demonstrated by the inadequacy of the neighbourhood´s infrastructure in supporting the current trajectory of the habitat´s densification. The infrastructural challenges are discussed in detail highlighting the extent to which they are leading to unsustainable transformation. A reframing of the approach to urban development that requires a paradigm shift in prioritizing the environmental component of sustainability and deliberate planning for densification in place of the current ad hoc approach to urban development is also discussed. The paper concludes that sustainable urban development requires both a foregrounding of environmental concerns and the adoption of a holistic approach in the satisfaction of urban needs such as housing with their commensurate physical and social infrastructure. The paper recommends the upgrading of the existing physical infrastructure to support densification, and the redirection of the ongoing urban development towards the more sustainable compact city structure.