The response to many of the questions that have been asked since I came back to Kenya concerning my Queen Elizabeth Scholarship (QES) experience has been “Yes”. Was it a good experience? Yes. Was it helpful to my studies? Yes. Did it have plenty of learning? Yes. Would I recommend this internship to others? Yes. And in these moments when I look back at the three months I spent at the University of the Fraser Valley, I am glad I said yes to QES!
Besides good scenery and wonderful people, I have been blessed to benefit from this partnership since I am now better able to decipher Kenya’s situation, in more aspects than one. The world’s priorities are changing and with a brand new emerging order, it is almost difficult to define the place of nations. However, food remains at the center of it all as the most basic human need for each and every citizen. Food security is critical to Kenya’s national agenda, as well as an important issue in the global charts. This is a conversation that we must endeavor to pursue, especially with drastically changing climate, landscapes, increasing malnutrition, insufficiency of safe drinking water, and an ever increasing population with dynamic demographics.
My QES experience was important in showcasing how different cities may be more sustainable, and positive ways in which they may be able to seek opportunities in their challenges. Further to this, the experience exposed me to a brand new concept: “Tactical Urbanism” which involves disturbing the order of things, and developing responses and processes that can work in large cities and small towns. It relates to small term actions and the setting up of low-cost and temporal ideas that envision long term change. (Lydon M. and Garcia A. 2015)
While there have been arguments that tactical urbanism may not work in Africa, I believe there is potential for this concept because Kenya’s urban population is swelling, just like any other developing country. With urban sprawl comes a number of challenges especially at a local level. It breeds inequalities, and informality. In Kenya, informality encompasses various factors such as employment, markets, business, settlements, environmental, spatial, and neighbourhoods. The 2009 Global report on human settlements planning sustainable cities identifies informality as one of the factors shaping 21st century cities. Urban informality is defined “as a system of regulations and norms that governs the use of space and makes possible new forms of social and political power” (Roy, A 2003). This is not a problem for Kenya alone. In the recent past, students have proposed specific design interventions for South Sacramento, which could only referred to as a ghetto, (Rios, M. 2014) and the result was a project that was referred to as “A citizen’s guide to South Sacramento” (Walker J. 2011). It no doubt provides a guideline which planners may use to significantly change the face of South Sacramento. In view of this, I believe that tactical urbanism could make livable the lives of the 2.5 million residents living in Nairobi’s informal settlements.
All over the world, cities are changing fast due to climate change, and Kenya’s cities are not exempt. Nations need to build more resilient cities, and citizens need to be informed and involved too in re-imagining their cities in response to their evolving needs and aspirations. And this is very much the essence of tactical urbanism.
Working examples from British Columbia can be bench marks for solutions to the active debates that are currently ongoing in Kenya’s planning space for instance, the need to incorporate good design to public roads by including cyclists’ lanes. In matters food systems; agritourism is a concept that is just starting to take root in Kenyan farms whereas in Canada, farm festivals are a significant segment of local culture. Agritourism has much to offer both the farmers and visitors. It has boosted rural communities and encouraged the farm to table experience. Canada also has a history of community gardening, a concept that may be useful in light of dense population, and high costs of land and living. The Day 1 Urban Farm located in Downtown Abbotsford area, repeatably challenged me since it presented a replicable solution for access to locally grown food for low income consumers.
In both Kenya and Canada, farmers markets are of special significance in the marketing of agricultural produce, and one of the outcomes of the class projects I was privileged to participate in was the hosting of a successful market night preview of the Valley Food and Farm collective’s Rail District Market. I realized that more goals may be met by actively improving the farmers’ market scene. These include consumer education for the public about local food, children engagement activities, and promoting business incubation initiatives.
In conclusion, the entirety of my QES experience was a fantastic adventure of learning that no four walls could ever provide.
Ananya Roy et al. (2003). Urban Informality: Transnational Perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia. Lexington Books.
Jeanne Walker. (2011). California Health Report: A citizen’s guide to South Sacramento. https://www.calhealthreport.org/2011/08/11/a-citizens-guide-to-south-sacramento/
Lydon, Mike, Anthony Garcia, and Andres Duany. (2015) Tactical urbanism: short-term action for long-term change. Washington, DC: Island Press.