Macro Forum: The Street View

Macro Article

Garden City: Building for the future

Kabir Chal

by Kabir Chal
Director, Real Estate
Nairobi

James Magor

by James Magor
Director, Responsible Investment
London

Garden City: Building for the future Image

Arc Skills students at Garden City, Nairobi

In 2011 Actis commenced construction of the Garden City mixed-use development, East Africa’s first integrated residential, retail, office and hospitality development. The aim was to establish a new commercial hub serving the north of Nairobi. In this article we discuss three key aspects of the Garden City development programme that are providing inclusive, equitable benefits to a broad demographic from across Nairobi.

Equitable and Inclusive Design

SDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Target 11.3: By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.

Actis’ first step was to define a masterplan for Garden City adhering to the principles of inclusive and sustainable design. Too often retail-led mixed use developments prioritise access for the wealthier car owners, while deprioritising or in some cases disregarding the access requirements of others.

By contrast, Garden City continues to ensure convenient, safe access for a broad demographic from across Nairobi. The Garden City site was selected because it is strategically located with easy access from the major residential areas of Nairobi, including public transport routes from the lower-income regions of Garden Estate, Ngara, Pangani and Parklands.

Public taxi stands are located adjacent to a pedestrian access gate, ensuring safe access for the non-car owning middle income groups and a pedestrian footbridge is under construction across the Thika highway, which separates the development from residential areas to the north.

To further encourage a diverse range of visitors, Garden City set aside three acres (10% of the retail and residential land parcel) for public open space, which houses an open park area, amphitheatre and children’s park and water-play area. Of course, these measures to ensure safe, easy access and equitable use of the facilities have the associated benefit of increased footfall in the shopping mall.

The breadth of demographic that visit Garden City mall in turn attracts a wide range of potential tenants, such as the affordable dining options available in the food court. A virtuous win-win for Actis, the 450,000 people that visit the mall each month and the 1,500 people whose livelihoods depend on the employment opportunities provided at the mall!

Vocational Skills Training Programme

SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Target 8.6: By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training

After the shopping mall, the next phases around the Garden City Precinct comprised residential and office developments

During the development and construction phases, Actis sought to contribute towards the growth and quality of the construction industry by partnering with Arc Skills to offer internationally accredited training to young people selected from different community based organizations in the informal settlements around Garden City. The training was practical and continues to take place on live construction sites at the Garden City Residences and Business Park developments. 

Kenya’s construction industry output has risen on average 13% year on year since 2014. There is an estimated gap of over 500,000 mid-level technicians, hampering the country’s economic growth prospects. 

Actis and the Garden City team are helping to bridge this skills-gap by partnering with Arc Skills to offer international, accredited construction training to previously unemployed individuals.

300 trainees enrolled for the programme at Garden City Residences and a further 150 have enrolled for the programme at the Business Park. The training focuses on construction-related trade – formwork, carpentry, masonry, plastering and plumbing – and with 35% female enrolment – the programmes are providing significant opportunities for women in the construction industry. 

With a pass rate to date of 93%, and 71% moving straight into employed work, the Garden City vocation skills training programme is making a meaningful difference to the lives of underprivileged young people living in the vicinity of the development. The programme not only provides a route to paid work for young men and women, as a construction worker with an internationally recognised qualification, the earning potential of the graduates is boosted. 

Importantly, the training programme has also delivered material benefits to the contractors and the development. Since the initial pilot phase, all subsequent phases have been funded from the development budget. The high quality of work and strict adherence to safety protocols demonstrated by the graduates, has meant that, in the words of our Project Manager “the programme pays for itself, many times over”.

Meeting Housing Needs

SDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Target 11.1: By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing.

Globally, the investment required to reduce the housing affordability gap has been estimated to be as high as US$650 billion per year, or 1% of global GDP. In rapidly urbanising economies, such as Kenya, there is an immense shortage of quality housing units that are affordable for middle-income households. Housing is a key area where investors can have a social and developmental impact in our markets. Housing is fundamental to achieving SDG 11, aimed at creating sustainable cities and communities, which targets adequate, safe and affordable housing for all by 2030.

With this in mind, the next phase in the Garden City development plan was launched in 2019. In partnership with Shapoorji Pallonji Real Estate (SPRE), Actis is seeking to address to address the shortage of middle-income housing that families can afford in Nairobi. At present, 600 affordable residential units are being developed at the Garden City site, built in three phases. 

Garden City has been designed to offer users a genuine ‘live-work-play’ lifestyle destination for a broad demographic across Nairobi, with the principles of inclusive and sustainable development embedded across the development. Whether that’s access to public open space, retail, dining and residential establishments catering to a broad demographic, or a business park providing office space as well as critical training opportunities to a gender-balanced group of young people, Garden City offers ‘the perfect example’ of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable urbanisation.