Accepted paper:

The politics of decay: materiality and regeneration in a Nairobi council estate


Constance Smith (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Taking decay as a political as well as material process, this paper interrogates the affective properties of decaying architecture in a Nairobi council estate. Threatened with demolition, its materiality generates practices of history-making which provoke alternative visions of urban regeneration.

Paper long abstract:

Urban decay is regarded as anathema to the modern city, a material and social failure undermining the linear upward trajectory of human progress.Yet this simple narrative of decline belies the powerful affect of decaying architecture for generating not only practices of relating to the past but ways of imagining and constructing the future. This paper explores the politics of decay in Kaloleni, a colonial-era council estate in Nairobi. Designed as a model suburb for elite Africans, it was subsequently an important site of nationalist politics. But the estate has gradually been neglected: successful inhabitants have moved elsewhere, the municipal council no longer fulfils its maintenance duties. Neat paths have crumbled to dust, tiled roofs have fallen in, families are getting poorer. In the minds of today's residents, this material and economic decay is far from natural or inevitable. Amid an official rhetoric of 'Vision 2030' and the reinvention of Nairobi as a 'world-class metropolis', Kaloleni is awash with rumours of demolition and redevelopment.Tenants suspect the council of deliberate neglect in order to condemn the estate and evict them. Though threatened with the estate's material and social obliteration, residents do not reject redevelopment outright. Instead of forcing the developers out, they hope to force their way into the process: to be participants not bystanders, disrupting official visions of urban decay and regeneration. Etched with personal and political histories, the deteriorating architecture itself generates new practices of historymaking, provoking alternative narratives of tenancy rights and national heritage.

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panel P55
Ruined bodies and aging buildings: architecture, oblivion, decay