Nairobi Functional Zones

In 1899  a railway was built between Mombasa, on the coast, and Lake Victoria in Kenya, reaching a river which the Massai called enairobi. The surrounding land was swampy, uninhabited and infested with malaria. Despite these seemingly unfavourable conditions, a railway station was built and, less than a century later, the settlement at Nairobi had grown to 1.5 million people. The current functional zones reflect Nairobi’s legacy.

  • Immediately North West of the CBD are several large areas of open space. This includes several parks, a sports ground and a golf course. The Nairobi National Park is in the South and the Karura forest is in the North.
  • The main industries are formal engineering, chemicals, clothing and food processing. A modern industrial area extends along the airport road and contains many TNCs. The industrial zone grew up bordering the railway line.
  • Wealthy European colonists and later Asian immigrants lived in the ridges of the higher land to the North and West above the malarial swamps. The Westlands forms a secondary core. Many large properties have security guards.
  • The middle-income houses to the South are mostly occupied by those locals in full time employ.
  • Shanty settlements have grown up away from the CBD on otherwise unused land, which means, in Nairobi, along the Ngong river and Mathare river. The largest are along the Mathare and Kibera; it’s estimated 100,000 people live in each.
  • Low income residential borders the shanty settlements; much of it is former shanty settlements to which the council ha added water, sewers and an electricity supply.
  • Self help housing is found in the North East of the city. The council provides basic amenities and cheap building materials. In Dandora, which has 120,000 residents, relatively wealthy people bought plots of land and build houses around courtyards. A tap and toilet is installed in each courtyard and the wealthy owners can sell or rent the unneeded properties.

(Image sources:


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