A Nairobi park’s transformation, Berlin honours its history and Compton’s living-wage experiment.
Not all positive urban transformations are permanent. Before Michuki Memorial Conservation Park was an oasis for Nairobians to enjoy nature, the site was a dump filled with the city’s rubbish. That changed in 2008 when John Michuki, Kenya’s former environment minister, decided to turn it into a green space. This mission was part of a wider programme to restore the Nairobi river and the city’s moniker, “the green city in the sun”.
But with Michuki’s passing in 2012, the park began to resemble its former self: blighted by crime and rubbish. It remained that way until Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, signed a directive for more green spaces to be created in urban areas during the country’s coronavirus lockdown in 2020. Between April and August, a transformation saw more than 1,200 tonnes of solid waste removed from the site, gabions placed on the riverbanks and the park refenced. It’s now home to a plant nursery, an amphitheatre for public events and a wide range of biodiversity, from mudfish to small crocodiles, says cabinet secretary of environment and forestry, Keriako Tobiko.
“Since the park reopened in August, we’ve had 500-plus visitors every day,” says Tobiko. “Kids who are not in school, families enjoying nature, even two graduation ceremonies. The importance of green spaces cannot be overemphasised.”
The park, which is located at the end of Nairobi’s Central Business District, is surrounded by buildings. Inside, the park’s infrastructure is locally sourced. Bamboo trees on the river’s edge provide a natural solution to soil erosion, while pedestrian paths and park benches are made from reclaimed wood.
Given the park’s previous relapse into disarray, Anne Kaari – a representative of Kenya Forest Service, the organisation that handles its maintenance – says a major lesson that has been learned from the success of Nairobi’s Karura Forest (another park that underwent a similar transformation) is the importance of involving the community when it comes to forest management. For example, the Michuki Memorial Park’s restoration was partially carried out by the former homeless who slept in the park. As Tobiko puts it, “This is the people’s park.”
How do you acknowledge a city’s imperial past without upsetting its present-day balance? After multiple delays, Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, a new cultural and scientific institution in the heart of the German capital, will attempt to walk that fine line when it opens (in a limited capacity) to the public in December.
The 40,000 sq m space sits on the site of the former Berlin Palace, completed in 1716 and torn down after the Second World War when it was then replaced by the Palace of the Republic, home of the East German parliament and a popular civic space for East Berliners. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the gdr parliament’s days were numbered (partly because it was riddled with asbestos) and it was torn down after much debate in 2008.
Now it’s up to the Humboldt Forum to carry on the site’s legacy; three sides of its façade are built in the original baroque style of the old Berlin Palace and the fourth side is contemporary. The forum’s director, Hartmut Dorgerloh, promises not to shy away from the site’s – and Germany’s – complex history. The focus “will be on current socio-political topics right from the outset,” he says.
The Californian city of Compton is set to become the first US city to roll out, at scale, an expansive living-wage programme. The Compton Pledge, which is being funded by private donations, will provide payments of up to $1,000 (€842) to about 800 of the city’s low-income residents, according to Compton mayor Aja Brown (pictured). The goal is to ease financial pressures and, in turn, play a part in rectifying economic and racial injustice.
Given how the pandemic has laid bare existing social and economic inequities – particularly in the US, within communities of colour – the pledge, which is slated to run for two years, could be transformative. The first payments are scheduled to be made in early December.
Illustrator: Vincent Kilbride. Image: Getty Images, Royan Ndegwa, courtesy of Kenya Forest Service