Coastweek -- Continuing
on the theme of unintended consequences, there are some that
happen in the course of trying to improve our public lives,
writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.
We have infrastructure projects that end up creating more misery
Others create nuisances that we could better do without.
My biggest beef is when town planners and avid “greens” get
together in the pursuit of making towns greener.
We had such a case in Nairobi when the former City Council was
keen on restoring Nairobi to its former tag of “Green City in
The green bit was always a full opportunity the Town Fathers
The “in the Sun” bit was out of their control but they could
exert a positive influence through some affirmative action.
However, the green bit first.
One of the simplest responses by any county, town, municipal or
city government to a greening imitative is to do so in the areas
that they control.
This would be the parks, the schools, markets, playfields and
the road verges.
They could also go on a campaign to get residents to plant trees
in their compounds or on the boundaries of their compounds.
All have been tried to varying degrees of success.
Nairobi’s big effort was to plant trees on the verges of the
roads in the Central Business District and other adjacent
This was done with gusto with the pavements being dug up and
tree boxes created.
Trees were planted almost every ten metres along the pavements
and the city resident applauded the effort.
The same was done in our town of Mombasa over time and I have
seen similar efforts in Nakuru, Nyeri, Kisumu, Eldoret and
Even the smaller towns such as Siaya and Kericho instituted
similar efforts to green through planting trees along the
Fast forward ten years later and the unintended consequences
have kicked in.
Whether by omission or otherwise, every single town has the same
problem – the uncontrolled action by the tree roots.
The choice of trees and shrubs to be planted was, I believe,
based on how the planted items would present themselves on the
above ground but without little consideration on what would
happen below ground.
The above ground intent has been realised.
There is a lot more green in the central parts of the urban
areas mentioned above.
Wananchi who frequent the central parts appreciate the greenery
both for the shade it provides and also the aesthetics that it
The pictures taken along the streets look better and also the
air one breathes is better due to the amount of carbon dioxide
that the foliage absorbs thus reducing the impact of the
increasing number of motor vehicles on the roads.
However, the plants do not remove the sulphur and nitrogen based
gases that are a lot more toxic and can cause illnesses to
pedestrians as well as inner city workers.
The below ground impact is the unintended consequence.
A lot of utility infrastructure is also laid underneath the
pedestrian paved areas as well as along the verges of the roads.
The most common is drainage and sewerage infrastructure.
Both of these contain water and this is an attraction to the
Depending on the root systems, the attack by the plant roots
could be quite damaging to eth infrastructure.
The presence of the infrastructure close to the surface or
sometimes on the surface causes the root systems to spread
This causes the pedestrian area paving to bulge upwards as the
root systems grow in size leading to unevenness and a safety
hazard or eventually a break in the paving or displacement of
the paving blocks depending on the construction style.
The damage could also extend to the breaking up of the road
surface as the root systems spread in their incessant search for
water and nutrients.
This is happening in almost all the urban centres in Kenya and
it is not only here.
The city authorities in many countries have made and continue to
make the same mistakes.
The knowledge about what to plant or not plant is getting more
common but somehow, within the bureaucracy of urban management
the selection of the right foliage does not receive the amount
of attention it should.
It requires very little to carry out a check on what the plants
that are to be introduced could do to the adjacent
This small pause will result in the reduction of the unintended
impacts of greening of cities.
It would stop the flooding of cities due to the restrictions
created in drainage that is caused by inundation by root
It will cause a reduction in the amount of sewage that is
released to open drainage systems as a result of the sewer pipes
being blocked and then broken by the roots that invade the
infrastructure and then thrive on eth nutrients that the sewage
provides so they grow almost exponentially in size and coverage.
The simple thing that our county governments can do at this
point in time is to create a small team that will go round the
cities, towns, municipalities and whatever urban centres exist
to map out locations of the infrastructure and whatever was
added to beautify the urban areas.
This will allow then to quickly assess what threats there are to
the infrastructure and take very simple remedial action.
This will reduce the flooding that we saw during the recent
rains and also reduce the amount of raw sewage that is flowing
in open systems and along roads that now create health hazards
in our towns.
As Kachumbari says, a stitch in time saves nine!
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