Plans for remaking the green city in the sun

Article & Cover Image: John Fox | Nation Media Group

In last week’s Going Places I was at the temporary home of the GoDown Arts Centre in Kilimani and talking with the Centre’s Executive Director Joy Mboya. She is determined that the new GoDown, which is going to be built in its old place of Dunga Road, will be open and welcoming to a wide public; she also believes that Nairobi – all of Kenya’s cities – should have open and welcoming public places where people can breathe fresh air, relax and meet. ‘It’s important that we make public spaces that work for all of us,’ she said.

Continue Reading: https://nation.africa/kenya/life-and-style/lifestyle/plans-for-remaking-the-green-city-in-the-sun-4094454


Call for Applications – UTA-Do  African Cities Workshop 2023

Calling all urbanists, early career scholars, activists, researchers and artists!  

Applications for the 2023 UTA-Do African Cities Workshop are now open and the deadline has been extended to 30th January 2023. The 2023 UTA-Do workshop will be held at the British Institute of Eastern Africa (BIEA), in Nairobi – KENYA, from 17th -21st April 2023. 

The GoDown Arts Centre, through its URBAN Division, is excited to be a supporting partner of the UTA-Do African Cities 2023 workshop. The GoDown is an advocate for community participation and multi-stakeholder engagement, as well as the role of culture as a vital ingredient in sustainable urban development and nation-making. This is grounded on the belief that communities are best placed to articulate their own challenges and identify their own solutions.  

Visit the UTA-Do website for more information and details on how to apply.  

Moving from Vision to Reality – The GoDown’s Her City Her Streets Project

A Partnership with Nairobi City County

As an emerging anchor institution in Nairobi City County, The GoDown is ready to forge a partnership with the City County Government for the coming five years, in areas that align with County needs and rising opportunities. While The GoDown has collaborated successfully with the County in the past, the two parties are yet to enter a substantive MOU. As the City formulates the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) for the period 2023 – 2027, this presents us with a solid opportunity to partner together.

At the end of September 2022, The GoDown with other partner organizations and residents’ associations held a first engagement with the County on the upcoming County Integrated Development Plan. Public participation in this process is most important as the CIDP is the Plan which steers the County’s activities over a medium term of 5 years. Its contents form the commitments of the County for the term, often with little room to work outside of the plan once adopted.

At a follow-on meeting with the Nairobi City County’s Director of Donor Coordination & Stakeholder Engagement, outputs from the September stakeholder meeting were presented, as well as activities planned by the Placemaking Nairobi Network for the annual Placemaking Week in the city.

Organizations, residents’ associations and the GoDown engage with Nairobi County officials on the next County Integrated Development Plan 2023-2027

The GoDown, present as a member of the Placemaking Nairobi Network, shared its calendar of Placemaking week activities, and invited the County Director, Dr. Kefa Omanga, to take part in one of the week’s activities – an urban dialogue coordinated by The GoDown. Under the topic, Working Together to Achieve Successful Urban Initiatives’, Dr. Omanga emphasized that the County was committed to a ‘new approach’, that of bettering Nairobi and making it work through partnerships with the private sector, civil society organizations and donor-partners.

From Left: Dr. Kefa Omanga MK Mbugua – GoDown Urban Division, during the Urban Dialogue. Photo: Nairobits

The question is, why are partnerships strategic for Nairobi City County at this time?

One primary reason is financial. Tacit in the commitment conveyed by Dr. Omanga is that partnerships should help advance the county integrated development plan. The county government currently has the onerous task to step up its revenue collection and its capacity to deliver on overdue services and incomplete projects to meet expectations and restore resident and investor confidence. Yet it’s fiscal strategy paper (2022-23) shows the County’s financial performance as below par. For the year 2020/2021, according to this paper, county total revenues were Ksh 29.6billion; total expenditure was Ksh 30.1billion; and cumulative debt at year-end sat at Ksh 79.0billion.

Roseline Asena from Mukuru during the Urban Dialogue. Photo: Nairobits

The reasons for such financial discrepancy must be openly declared in the quest for partnerships. What are the reasons for this poor performance? Inefficient county collection systems? Financial loopholes and mismanagement? Corrupt practices? Since a county government’s objects are for public good, partnerships which the county may seek to help in closing its financial gaps, must have a high public goods quotient. For this to happen, partnerships must also be about other essential wins, besides money.

Stakeholders like The GoDown bring many additional benefits to a partnership. While they can raise and bring financial resources into a partnership agreement, they also bring non-material benefits which strengthen the odds for successful outcomes.

An important example is how non-state stakeholders amplify the power of county partners and diverse allied parties to move together towards a common goal. The vision of a Nairobi that works is at the heart of Governor Sakaja’s manifesto. It is a desire shared by residents and special interest groups such as The GoDown, all determined to make real this goal that will galvanize and help forge successful alliances and agreements.

The County and The GoDown are no doubt on the same page in their common desire to see Nairobi flourish. And a city can flourish in many ways. For The GoDown the recognition and leveraging of culture as a vector for sustainable urban development is one of the ways that Nairobi City County may begin to flourish again. Over the years The GoDown has addressed itself to the questions of creative economy, cultural infrastructure, urban identities and cultures and people-centred approaches to urban design. In the process, it has gathered tremendous insight and experience in these areas. It is such invaluable wealth of knowledge that the GoDown would bring into a partnership with the County.

The Primary Stakeholder Group of HerCity#HerStreets analysing Dunga Rd, Nairobi. The initiative aims to improve the streets around the upcoming New GoDown Complex

The GoDown has leveraged culture towards better city futures for Nairobi in the following ways: firstly, through strategic community mobilization which includes co-creating frameworks, convening resident and interest group meetings, and social media activations; secondly, through people-centred approaches to assessing and ideating on local area and city plans; and thirdly, by not remaining peripheral to implementation, but rather identifying (digital) tools and methods that are appropriate for action. In short, The GoDown is willing to partner with the County, believing it can provide valuable input in the development of innovative and participatory approaches, especially in matters of cultural infrastructure, county cultural laws and policies and the revitalization of the county’s economy through the creative economy.

This partnership will be based on a broadened understanding of value as held in more than just money. Local government can emulate best practice elsewhere and offer endorsements, champion initiatives, even give waivers and grants against expected revenues or social cohesion impacts from a project. New York City, a major tourist draw has, for instance, a relationship with 34 of its key nonprofit cultural institutions – museums, arts centres, botanical gardens, etc – that have made it a ‘world -class cultural hub’. New York City subsidizes these cultural revenue-generators by supporting their utility and maintenance costs from the city’s own budgets. Nairobi City County may likewise view financial subsidies, concessions, and waivers it may be required to bring to a partnership more strategically, as an investment for long-term impactful dividends.

The GoDown is optimistic about the Nairobi City County’s move toward intentional partnerships and collaborations. It could be instrumental in bringing us all closer to achieving the goal of sustainable urban development and, indeed, to making Nairobi work.


Urban October: Embedding Culture into Sustainable Urban Development 

October is the month dedicated by UN-Habitat to centering and amplifying the challenges and opportunities created by the fast rate of change in our cities and towns. Dubbed Urban October, everyone interested in sustainable urbanization is encouraged to participate. This year’s themes centered on inclusivity: ‘Mind the Gap’ and ‘Act Local, Go Global’.  

The GoDown was present and active in this year’s Urban October celebrations. As an emerging anchor institution in Nairobi City County, the GoDown is passionate about the place of culture in sustainable urban development. These activities highlighted the value of culture in Nairobi’s urban fabric from different perspectives. 

Here’s a roundup of our contribution to Urban October. 

KUAT’s Landscape Architecture class—Social, Cultural and Psychological Factors in Design

Jomo Kenyatta University Architecture students viewing the model of the new GoDown

The GoDown was invited by Brenda Kamande, a lecturer at JKUAT’s Landscape Architecture Department where the GoDown Transformation Project was presented as a case study on sustainable urban practice. The aim was to create a link between academia and sustainable practice through an exhibition, panel discussion and workshop. The GoDown Transformation Project’s partners were also present to discuss their roles. Students were engaged and asked critical questions on wood and its value chain in East Africa, gender and inclusivity, client management and government policies.   

Studio Open Day at The GoDown 

Evans Yegon, a visual artist based at the GoDown, interacting with guests during the Open Studio Day

The GoDown hosted a Studio Open Day, inviting the public to its new location in Kilimani. This was a great opportunity for people to visit the GoDown’s temporary home while interacting with resident and guest visual artists. Residents and arts enthusiasts made the event a success. There were plenty of activities for all ages, including a painting booth for children to explore their creative expression. The showcase of the GoDown Transformation Project including the HerCity#HerStreet Initiative provided an opportunity for the public to interact with the design of the new GoDown. 

Placemaking Week 

Every year during the last week of October, a community of Kenyan urban enthusiasts come together to carry out different activities around Nairobi city with the aim of demonstrating the value of designing public spaces to strengthen the connections between people and these places. This year’s theme was ‘Nairobi Streets of the Future’. The GoDown, as a member of the Nairobi Placemaking Network, engaged and participated in several activities:  

  • Hosted an Urban Dialogue that discussed ‘Working Together to Achieve Successful Co-implementation of Urban Initiatives Between Stakeholders and Nairobi County’. The panelists included Patrick Njoroge of Akiba Mashinani Trust and Dr. Kefa Omanga, Director of Donor Coordination and Stakeholder Engagement at the Nairobi City County Government.

  • Hosted the Excavation / Elevation exhibition and discussion, an initiative by James Muriuki, a Nairobi-based arts practitioner and Constance Smith, a social and visual anthropologist from Manchester University, UK. It was a practice-led collaboration into cultures of construction where film, photography and sculptural installations were juxtaposed to ask how far stone and earth can be bent to human desires before they begin to resist.  

  • Analyzed the newly developed Aga Khan Walk in Nairobi CBD with members of the Primary Stakeholder Group of the HerCity#HerStreets using the HerCity toolkit and the KOBO Toolbox. The aim of this activity was to examine the functionality of a newly improved public space that is similar to the designs the group ideated along Dunga and Dundori Roads in Industrial Area.  
The Primary Stakeholder Group of the HerCity#HerStreets analyzing a section of Aga Khan Walk in Nairobi CBD

  • Participated in the Placemaking Week Nairobi street parade, the last event of the week.  

The GoDown URBAN team also joined other partners in their Urban October activities: Drum Circle by TICAH DreamKona and International Day of the Girl Child Community of Practice event by UN-Habitat.     

Space to Learn New Skills - Artists Give Printmaking a Try at The GoDown

Space to Learn New Skills – Artists Give Printmaking a Try at The GoDown

A group of ten artists from the Mukuru Art Club was at the heart of a day-long print workshop at The GoDown Arts Centre last Thursday.

 The event, facilitated by visual artist Peterson Kamwathi, was an introduction to the printmaking artform for most of the artists. In what the veteran artist says is a credit to the Mukuru Arts Club, the novice printmakers approached the artform with curiosity and confidence, moving from sketching to block-cutting, inking and printing with excitement and ease.

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“This adds to their arsenal of skills and gives them new opportunities for exploration of a new form of self-expression. Learning a new skill and technique brings about a moment of joy for the artist. My job was to make an introduction. Now the artists can pursue the form further and work towards building mastery.”

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The workshop was an invaluable opportunity for intergenerational conversation and learning. The occasion saw the participation of a wide range of artists – there were those who started their practice as recently as 2018; and then there was a doyen of Kenyan sculpture, Elkanah Ong’esa. The nearly 80-year-old artist who has worked with stone and wood throughout his career, and comes from a lineage of soapstone sculptors, took to the new medium with the same thrill and energy as the other artists. It was in this setting that the teacher became the student when a 19-year-old workshop assistant was the one offering the master tips in working in the new form.

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 Kamwathi points out that this is the value of what he describes as ‘generational connectors’ – spaces of learning where the young and the elderly can come together to exchange skill and knowledge. Asked why he invests time and energy into mentoring and working with young artists, he says that he pours into other artists, young and old, just as others have poured into him over the years. “If I come across a hitch in creating an artwork, for example, I can call on a fellow artist like (Gakunju) Kaigwa and he offers his thoughts on how to resolve it.” Cultural centres like The GoDown, Mukuru Art Club and others across Nairobi play an important role as spaces of gathering and knowledge- sharing among artists.

Visual and Dance artist, James Mweu, who offered Kamwathi training support during the workshop, described the event as a ‘melting pot of curious people,’ eager to learn, hungry for the skill and the opportunities it holds.

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Kamwathi adds that the workshop offered the artists value not simply in form of the joy and satisfaction of learning, but also as a new avenue for income generation, emphasizing the ripple effect of training opportunities on the entire community.

The workshop participants were drawn from The Mukuru Art Club located in Nairobi’s South B area and coordinated by visual artist Adam Masava.

The workshop was followed by an exhibition of the work of a selection of print artists curated by Thom Ogong’a. This follow-on event was an opportunity for the students to take in the work of seasoned print artists even as they showcased their own work. The artists participating in the exhibition were: Marie Endo; Peterson Kamwathi; Wanjohi Maina; James Mweu; Patrick Karanja; Dennis Muraguri; Becky Kapten; Akware Elena; and Thom Ogong’a, who recently curated another exhibition featuring different work from these same artists.

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The workshop and print exhibition were part of the ArtXchange activities coordinated by The GoDown and supported by the AU-EU Youth Hub through our partner CISP Kenya.

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The GoDown's #HerCityHerStreets Project at AAK Convention 2022

The GoDown’s #HerCityHerStreets Project at AAK Convention 2022

GoDown Project Management Trainee, Rehema Kabare, during the Architectural Association of Kenya Convention 2022, held at The Whitesands Hotel in Mombasa last week, under the theme ‘‘A Holistic Approach to Urban Governance.’ 

Rehema, a trained construction manager, had the opportunity to present her experiences as a participant of The GoDown’s #HerCityHerStreets Project geared towards inclusive urban design, specifically calling up the voices of young women and girls.

“The #HerCityHerStreets Project opened my eyes to the way in which we plan our urban spaces. We have a lot to do as a city! (At one point when working on a residential development project) I remember looking around and realizing that there was no play area for children or pedestrian walkways factored into the design. #HerCityHerStreets gave me a new perspective in my work where I have started seeing the gaps and the need to move away from the status quo.” 

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[Rehema on right with her sister, Amani photographed during The GoDown’s #HerCityHerStreets Project]

 Of the convention, Rehema says, “It was a great opportunity to meet a range of professionals and to forge relationships and networks. The participants were warm and receptive, and the feedback they gave was constructive.” She attended the event representing Women in Real Estate.  

The GoDown has been running the #HerCityHerStreets project since mid-2021 in partnership with UN Habitat’s Her City Project. The Her City Toolbox is a digital survey tool which focuses on development from girls’ and young women’s needs and perspectives in urban development.  

The toolbox contains nine building blocks as a digital guideline on how to co-plan cities from a girl’s perspective.  

Moving from Vision to Reality – The GoDown’s Her City Her Streets Project

Moving from Vision to Reality – The GoDown’s Her City Her Streets Project

Samverka” – A Swedish term meaning to collaborate or cooperate. Somewhat akin to our Kiswahili ‘harambee’ or ‘Pamoja’. Even the most daunting initiative becomes manageable when heads and hands come together in cooperation. It is an acknowledgement that we, together, create an ecosystem in which real, lasting change can be made.  

 Samverka was the spirit in which a diverse group of government officials, policy makers, members of the diplomatic corps and urbanists gathered at a cocktail event held by The GoDown and in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden last Thursday. 

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Graciously hosted by the Ambassador of Sweden to Kenya, H.E Caroline Vicini, the objective of the occasion was to hear from The GoDown and our partners regarding the Her City Her Streets Project which seeks to transform Dunga and Dundori Roads, the streets abutting our property in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. The project, part of our wider GoDown Transformation, aims to redevelop the streets into a vibrant and inclusive public space in which commercial activity, transport and mobility, and cultural activity can take place together.  

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The ambitious and exciting project, which could effectively serve as an example for urban design in other parts of the city, the country and the region, is a result of a partnership between The GoDown and UN Habitat’s Her City Project. The partnership has seen The GoDown using the Her City Toolbox to facilitate the inclusion of the voices of girls and young women in the redesign of the streets since July 2021. The project has involved a wide range of stakeholders in gathering data, envisioning what the streets could be, the generation of conceptual designs of the inclusive, multi-use streets, and development of 3D models of the same.  

This occasion served as a launch of the 3D model of the redesigned streets around the new GoDown, and gave the attendees a more tangible feel of the character of multi-use streets as proposed by the young women.  

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 H.E. Vicini opened her residence to a group of high-level decision makers including representatives from the Nairobi County, Nairobi Metropolitan Services, Kenya Urban Roads Authority, Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Authority, the diplomatic corps, the Architectural Association of Kenya, Placemaking Network, designers, urban planners and, importantly, representatives of the group of young women engaged in the project.  

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(Her City Her Streets’ Caroline Gitonga and Kizza-Marie Oganga with H.E. Vicini; Rehema Kabare presenting)

The group heard from the young women, through a representative, regarding their experience participating in the project, and UN Habitat regarding the use of the Her City toolkit around the globe.

One of our key architectural partners, PLANNING Systems Services, offered detailed insights of the utility of the redesigned streets which featured space for pedestrians, non-motorized transport, commercial activity and leisure, prominently featuring the ideas and proposals of the young project participants.  

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(Henry Musangi of PLANNING Systems Services)

The Swedish ambassador closed the evening by joining The GoDown with a call to action, appealing to the leadership of the bodies and organizations present to come together and make the vision and ready plans for the redesigned streets a reality.  

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In her closing remarks, The GoDown’s Executive Director, Joy Mboya, emphasized the importance of building sustainable cities through participatory approaches to urban design, and by making tangible investments to strengthen the social and cultural confidence of Nairobi residents through initiatives such as The GoDown Transformation and other investments in cultural infrastructure.

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