• Great City Terrible Place: Future of Island Cities

Project Title: Great City Terrible Place: Future of Island Cities
Project Type: [Urban Design]
Location: [Mombasa, Kenya]

The first mention of Mombasa was by Al Idris between 1066 and 1100. Ibn Battuta in his travels described Mombasa as a large city with wooden mosques, with the large settlements being located in the Northern end of Old Town, which is the present site for the coast general hospital. Mombasa, just like many of the city states along the East African coast, was beginning to flourish between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. As reported by Dom Franscisco, the new Portuguese Viceroy of India, Mombasa was a flourishing city by 1505. The strategic planning is such that the town is centred on Mombasa island, which is separated from the mainland by two creeks– Port Reitz in the south and Tudor Creek in the north, but extends to the mainland. The island separates two major inland lagoons, which together with the associated channels form creek systems that provide natural harbours which have been exploited by shipping for many centuries. Mombasa old town which is located south-east of the island, adjacent to Tudor creek started growing from the northern end of the Old town, which is the present site for the coast general hospital. The northern end of the old town is protected from the strong sea breezes, which is presumed to be the reason settlement began here.

Mombasa’s urban planning and architecture is a product of the development of the town over centuries with each element reflecting directly on the historical events that took place along the East African coast. For instance, the Portuguese invasion saw the construction of Fort Jesus between 1593-1597, the Basheikh and Mandry mosques in the Old Town point to the presence of the Omani Arabs, the streets characterized with Indian architecture were established by Indian settlers following the commission to construct the Kenya-Uganda Railway by the British, while the infrastructure, public spaces and buildings were developed under the British Protectorate. With time, the focus on the Old Port area changed with the development of the Kilindini Harbour as the major outlet and supply line for the colony. As businesses moved towards the new port, Moi Avenue and Digo Road came to be, leading to the growth of Mombasa outside the Old Town and towards the mainland.

Today, Mombasa is the second-largest city in Kenya, with a population of about 1.2million. A regional cultural and economic hub, Mombasa has a large port and an international airport , and is an important regional tourism centre. Located on the east coast of Kenya, in Mombasa County and former Coast Province, Mombasa’s bordering the Indian Ocean made it a historical trading centre, and it has been controlled by many countries because of its strategic location. As is with the case of most African cities, and as is the predicted future of island cities, Mombasa is growing rapidly but also undergoing deep political, economic and social transformation. The growth and change that is in Mombasa compares directly to the Swahili dwelling, where a vernacular house becomes increasingly modernized, incorporating new materials, technologies and even changes in its spatial structure, to bring a new sense of permanence, conspicuous consumption and individual accomplishment.

A comparative analysis of the old town and the new town goes to show major planning and architectural differences between an Old town governed by Islamic desert architecture responding to the hot and humid climatic conditions, versus a modern breed of architecture in the New town, that barely even respects materialism and the concept of environmental sustainability. Modernity and change is a concept most island cities, which are governed by deep cultural dynamism grapple with. Like most island cities, Mombasa is a key platform for interaction with the wider world and mediates between global and national contexts. Shaped by varied historical trajectories, a deep-rooted local culture, increased population, cosmopolitanism and slow infrastructural developments, Mombasa represents major challenges as well as opportunities. Both need to be understood and addressed if a sustainable urban future is to be achieved...

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