It's time to stop killing our urban forests
- These trees collectively benefit the city by cleaning the air we breathe, providing cooling and shading as well as absorbing carbon dioxide emissions.
- It will require our participation as engaged citizens so that the city’s growth does not come at the expense of its urban forest.
It’s been three decades since the late Professor Wangari Maathai-led efforts to protect Nairobi’s iconic Uhuru Park from the rapacious reach of the Moi regime.
The government of the day had set aside a portion of the park for the construction of a 60-storey complex.
Only fierce campaigns by Professor Maathai and allied activists saved the park from the planned behemoth.
Part of the space that had been allocated for the tower’s construction is now Freedom Corner, with a tree grove commemorating our historical struggle for democracy.
I am happy to see that plans to have the Nairobi Expressway cut into the park have been shelved.
Urban green spaces like this park have immense recreational and welfare benefits for city residents.
They are also some of the few spaces where urban forests can take root.
We typically think of forests as vast landscapes with continuous tree cover. But the urban forest is more than these large wooded areas.
They also consist of the smaller clumps of trees found in spaces such as public parks and schools as well as those trees that line our city streets and dot our residential areas.
These trees collectively benefit the city by cleaning the air we breathe, providing cooling and shading as well as absorbing carbon dioxide emissions.
Efforts to protect Nairobi’s urban forest cannot be limited to those areas designated as forests such as Karura and Oloolua.
Remember, Nairobi’s urban forest is the entire assemblage formed by the individual trees, small stands and larger wooded parcels found within the city.
Viewed from this perspective, it’s clear that the urban forest needs protection from developers who want to replace green spaces with grey, as seen in neighbourhoods like Kileleshwa and Kilimani, with their mushrooming apartment complexes.
If it’s not developers attacking our city’s trees, it is the billboard operators who hack at them so that people can have unobstructed views of more stuff to buy.
Beyond protection, Nairobi’s urban forest also needs to be expanded. This calls for more trees to be planted in the available spaces within our city such as schools and parks, roadsides and riparian areas.
You too can make a difference by planting a tree near your residence, your place of worship, the local shopping centre or even Freedom Corner.
Some 30 years after Professor Maathai and the alliance of activists fought to preserve Uhuru Park, it’s time to rekindle the struggle to protect our urban green spaces and expand Nairobi’s urban forest.
Like then, it will require our participation as engaged citizens so that the city’s growth does not come at the expense of its urban forest.
What better way to honour Professor Maathai’s legacy than to ensure that Nairobi lives up to its moniker as ‘the green city in the sun’ for generations to come.
The writer is a director at Metro Trees, an organisation dedicated to expanding East Africa’s urban forests.