Accepted paper:

Precarious futures: Collapsed buildings and hollow promises in Nairobi


Constance Smith (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper juxtaposes two different, yet linked, construction booms currently reshaping Nairobi. While city authorities promise a 'world class' future founded on spectacular infrastructure, a more ad hoc property speculation is constructing substandard, precarious housing at risk of collapse.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on recent ethnographic research, this paper will juxtapose two forms of construction boom currently reshaping Nairobi. Under the Kenyan government development blueprint of 'Vision 2030', city authorities are re-envisioning Nairobi as a 'world class' city of spectacular infrastructure and gleaming highrises. At the same time, unregulated property speculation is constructing high density, poor-quality tower blocks at a rapid rate. These tenement blocks are architecturally precarious, and the city has recently suffered a spate of devastating building collapses in which many have tragically died. When tower blocks collapse, the disparity between global city dreams and the everyday lives of ordinary Nairobians is materialised. Though Vision 2030 promises an aspirational future of urban inclusion and economic security, very little has actually appeared on the ground. Its seductive imagery appears superficial, masking more exclusionary forms of speculative future-making. This paper reflects on Nairobi's drastic landscape of architectural failure, tracing the afterlives of collapses and how they are situated within larger processes of urban transformation. It explores what a focus on collapse might expose about construction booms in the city, as well as about urban precarity more broadly, and how this shapes the future of urban landscapes.

panel Econ09
Inside a construction boom: politics, responsibility and the temporalities of urban development