Fernando Granados Franco, MUP 2016
Organization: UN-Habitat, Nairobi, Kenya
Sponsor: International Travel Community Service Fellowship
“This time I want to write about life in Nairobi. This is a complex and sometimes chaotic city; yet it is incredibly interesting and once you know the way around it (which I am still in the process of), it can become quite enjoyable. With a population of more than three million, Nairobi is one of the largest cities in East Africa and it may be considered the center of international cooperation in the African continent. It is home to individuals from all around the world with all sorts of backgrounds and interests, working on an immense variety of issues, from planning to agriculture, or medicine to finance, which makes it culturally and intellectually stimulating.
As an urban planning student, I believe Nairobi is a place to experience some of the challenges planners are seeking to better comprehend in order to ideate more grounded and efficient solutions, such as informality and urban transport. The latter has been, perhaps, what I have found most fascinating about Nairobi. Understanding how public transport operates in this city has been a tremendous challenge. As in many other cities worldwide, a large share of the population rely on public transit. However, since the government has failed to provide planned and efficient means of transport, the result is the crazy and unregulated ‘Matatu’. Matatus are small vans or buses that can carry between 15 and 20 people, and are operated by a driver and a “tout”, who is responsible for collecting fares. With thousands of Matatus operating independently and under no apparent law, competition for passengers is fierce, and so is the pressure to maximize revenue. Thus Matatu drivers will do anything to avoid traffic and move as many passengers as possible in the shortest amount of time. Moreover in the absence of an integrated transport plan, Matatu operators are free to determine their own routes and fares. Nevertheless, despite the sometimes-chaotic commutes, Matatus serve thousands of passengers everyday, and once you know the way around them, they may even be quite functional.”