Nairobi is shaped by strong contrasts in wealth and quality of infrastructure. While some of the most affluent neighborhoods can be found in the west of the city, along with beautiful gardens and vast golf courses, Nairobi is home to one of the biggest slum of the continent, Kibera. But this simple opposition of affluence vs. poverty and its developmental logic, leaves out the very dependencies and overlaps, that tie the different parts of the city together. The binary view labels as problematic what does not conform to a western standard, unanimously declared as the goal to be achieved. Nairobi is not only a city that is grimly affected by the problems of informal housing, it is one of the global centers for research in the field of urban development and spatial studies. Being home to the two UN bodies, which directly deal with spatial planning and the quality of our environment, the UN Environmental Program UNEP, and UN Habitat, it develops programs of how to create sustainable urban environments and formulates policies of urban governance, amongst others, and applies them onto cities world wide. Thus Nairobi, hosting literally the biggest think tank on urbanism has the lever and influence to impact on urban development in cities across the globe.
It is these and other issues that the Studio Basel Nairobi Project will be engaged with. After Metrobasel, the Canary Islands, Napoli and Paris, though first and foremost with the publication and our studies on Switzerland as a thoroughly urbanized country, we continue this series of international urban portraits with the study of Nairobi. In our past research, Studio Basel has developed a set of tools as well as identified a number of themes and agendas that are central to its study of cities in transformation.
Instead of understanding the city as a system composed of binary opposites, such as formal and informal parts, the study attempts to unfold the very complex simultaneity and dependencies of these parameters, by carefully tracing the basic human activities and their spaces that they unfold in. Instead of an approach centered around the preconceived grand dichotomies, we would like to focus on the activities on the local scale. The research methods that have been developed in the past, such as precise observation and mapping tools, obtain an urgency and a (political) pivotal significance in an environment where facts are often non-transparent and space is the medium where debates, negotiations of power and conflict are played out.