World Cities Day is observed on 31st October of every year. This year’s global observance is co-hosted by UN Habitat and the County Government of Nakuru.

The aim is to promote the international community's interest in global urbanization, enhance cooperation among countries and cities in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contribute to sustainable urban development. The theme for this year’s celebration is valuing communities and cities.

The focus on the need to value communities is quite timely coming on the backdrop of COVID 19 experiences that brought to the fore the critical role communities can play in responding to various society challenges. The pandemic has shown the value of communities in building urban resilience as various community formations such as Resident Associations stepped forward to initiate and support mitigation measures that greatly complemented actions by government, private sector and other actors.

Communities were at the forefront of creating awareness on safety measures for COVID 19; mobilizing the public to participate in mass testing exercises; installing hand washing stations at the neighborhoods to enhance hygiene; sharing experiences and educational materials through social media platforms; disinfecting high traffic places within the neighborhoods; establishing community welfare funds to assist less fortunate; distributing personal protective equipments in their neighbourhoods among other initiatives. The Government also found the communities useful in facilitating implementation of Home Based Isolation and Care.  

Besides the great role played by communities in response to the pandemic, communities have over the years proven to be extremely valuable especially in regard to sustainable urban development. Many community groups are actively involved in enhancing collective action on critical issues affecting the society; holding the government accountable; promoting compliance to norms; generating expectations of reciprocity; fostering mutual trust necessary for driving community agenda among other key issues.

The value of communities in responding to society needs and contributing to realization of sustainable cities can therefore not be overemphasized. Current urbanization trends indicate that an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in urban areas by 2050, increasing the urban share of the world’s population to two-thirds. In the Kenyan context according to available data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, by 2050 about 50 per cent the population will be living in the cities and in 2030 Nairobi alone will have a population of about 6 million people. Such exponential growth will certainly lead to more society challenges such as poverty, lack of proper housing, inadequate basic services and infrastructure if proper planning is not put in place. Addressing such challenges will require structured and effective involvement of communities in co-creating sustainable solutions.

As we mark the Word Cities Day, due attention must be given to streamlining and mainstreaming community initiatives and engagement in finding solutions to society challenges. Governments across the world must take up the challenge of putting in place adequate enabling frameworks and mechanisms for recognizing, supporting and mainstreaming community driven initiatives in the sustainable development agenda.

In addition, the current digital transformation is assuming an increasingly decisive role in the sustainable development agenda. Cities intending to experience rapid sustainable development must embrace digitization and innovation towards achieving successful community engagement, social inclusion and management of their resources.

Henry Ochieng
Chief Executive Officer
The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA)