When I first moved to Kenya, in 2002, Kilimani was was an idyllic, leafy suburb, dotted with tall, green trees sourrounding the colonial-era bungalows with lush spacious 1-acre gardens. The area surrounds State House, so security was, and still is, far better than most other places in Nairobi. Roads were always in a fairly decent condition, as opposed to the barely motorable, potholed disasters in the rest of the city, ravaged by 23 years of neglect, incompetence and looting in the Moi era. Towards the ends of Denis Pritt Road and Lenana Road, was a wide, empty road reserve, planned as part of a major road in earlier days. The section between Kilimani and Kileleshwa had been turned into a small slum, visible once one approached the end of Denis Pritt Road.
Fast forward to 2018: The old houses with lush gardens, have become an endangered species, as the old bungalows are giving way to apartment highrises, and posh office towers. The growth of Kenya’s middle class has prompted a booming demand for upmarket residences in the “right” areas. Kilimani has definitely retained its status and reputation, despite the radical, and almost total transformation since the turn of the century.
The area, however, was never planned for this kind of an expansion. Water, sewage and electricity infrastructure, let alone road capacity, is still dimensioned for one residential unit per acre. As an inevitable result, problems with water and electricity are again becoming increasingly frequent, after having improved steadily for most of the past decade and a half. In regards to the traffic, well, Kilimani used be the exception from the rule of endless traffic jams in Nairobi. Used to..
Referring to Kilimani as a suburb hardly makes sense any more, in the context of the vastly expanded urban core of Nairobi. And it is certainly less leafy by the day. While urban densification may be an inevitable result of economic growth, the glaring lack of planning by the county, is having a destructive effect on Kilimani. As the last gardens give way to ever-taller towers, congestion keeps getting worse, as there is nowhere to expand the road. Power cuts keep getting more frequent due to inadequate infrastructure , and temporary water shortages are increasingly becoming a nuisance.
At this rate, Kilimani is becoming a victim of its own success. Eventually, with its main competitive advantages gone, it will turn into a heavily congested concrete jungle, lacking the allure of the past. When the upmarket residents then start moving towards more spacious, and less congested parts of the city, and office tenants follow suite, the devaluation of the area will become a matter of fact.
Kilimani may always be in demand because of its location, but with former leafy areas surrounding the CBD, densifying rapidly, the upmarket areas of the future are likely to be in the current outskirts of Nairobi, where city-scale, well-planned developments like Tatu City may be an indicator of what the future upmarket areas of Nairobi will look like.