Proposed Location: Next to Freedom Corner, Uhuru Park, Nairobi, Kenya
Although it is not permitted to build in Uhuru park, I am approaching the idea with a more conceptual mindset. The whole concept and philosophy of the park is ideal for the whole concept of my project and thus I find compliments it very well.
Uhuru means freedom in Kiswahili, one of Kenya's native languages. Stretching over 12.9 hectares next to Nairobi's CBD, The park was opened on the 19th of May 1969 by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president. The park has been the site of many political protests/events, with many notably lead by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.
Freedom Corner is currently home to 147 crosses in memory of the 147 students killed in the terrorist attack in Garissa.
"Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. She authored four books: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth. As well as having been featured in a number of books, she and the Green Belt Movement were the subject of a documentary film, Taking Root: the Vision of Wangari Maathai (Marlboro Productions, 2008).
Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya (Africa), in 1940. She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region."
The Ecology of Public Space: from Uhuru to Taksim
by Mia MacDonald and Wanjira Mathai
Almost a quarter century ago, Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist, Nobel Peace Laureate, and founder of the Green Belt Movement, campaigned to save a similar public park in the city of Nairobi. Like the current struggle in Istanbul, Turkey, Maathai's efforts morphed from an effort to preserve an urban green space to a citizen-led demand for transparency and accountability from those who, in the name of the people, held the wealth of the commons in trust.
Of course, there are important differences between Turkey now and Kenya then. Turkey is a democracy and the world's media-perhaps with their awareness raised following the global "Occupy" movement-are paying attention in a way that wasn't the case in Kenya, which 25 years ago was a one-party state. Online social networks also now enable protestors like those in Taksim Square to organize and broadcast their demands to the world.
Nonetheless, certain commonalities apply.
In 1989, Maathai learned that the government, under the autocratic leadership of president Daniel arap Moi, intended to excise a portion of Uhuru ("Freedom") Park in downtown Nairobi to build a 62-story skyscraper complex to house the headquarters for KANU, his ruling political party, along with offices, a shopping mall, parking for 2,000 vehicles, and a large statue of Moi himself. The original size of the park had already been reduced by development: a hotel, a road, a members-only golf course, and a football stadium had all been built on parkland during previous years.
Maathai recognized-as the Taksim Square protestors proclaim today-that the park's importance to Nairobi was akin to that of Hyde Park to London or Central Park to New York City and she resolved to try to stop the project.
Unlike in Turkey today, dissent wasn't tolerated; she risked imprisonment and worse if she called people out to protest. So Maathai fought through letters-to government officials, those backing the development (among them the late British tycoon Robert Maxwell), and international agencies and consulates. She also shared these with the media.
Although largely under the thumb of the regime, a handful of editors were seeking greater press freedom, and covered the story. They also printed numerous letters from Kenyans who supported Maathai's campaign. "A green belt in the city creates a meaningful contrast to the concrete jungle," one wrote; another, a child, wrote: "Uhuru Park is where my parents take me over the weekend."
For her efforts, Maathai was publicly denounced by the president, who called her a "wayward woman" and accused the complex's opponents of having "insects in their heads." Parliament interrupted its proceedings to pillory her, and the Green Belt Movement was summarily evicted from its offices in a government-owned building (Maathai's staff of 80 had to move to her modest home).
Emboldened by Maathai's stand, however, opposition continued to grow until in early 1992, under the cover of darkness, the fence in Uhuru Park that demarcated the construction site was quietly removed, and the project abandoned. At a meeting the next morning of women leaders, Maathai declared victory, announcing the complex to be dead: "as dead as a dodo". The slaying of the "park monster" is acknowledged as a milestone in Kenya's journey toward multi-party democracy.
Maathai understood that for young and old, rich and poor, Uhuru Park offered a respite from the sprawling housing estates and commercial buildings that had chewed up former grassland and forest. It continues to be an invaluable haven in the heart of downtown Nairobi.
Maathai also recognized that green space reduces ambient heat in cities, mitigates the effects of pollution and absorbs greenhouse gases. Urban parks act as simple but socially vital safety valves for ordinary men and women to release some of the pressures of daily life in the city-especially for those who've left rural areas for the promise of more and better paid work in the city and find themselves living in treeless informal settlements or featureless tower blocks.
This is why in the late 1990s, Maathai and the Green Belt Movement rallied to prevent the government from selling off parts of Karura Forest in northern Nairobi to political cronies to build luxury housing. The threat wasn't only to the Karura ecosystem, known as Nairobi's lungs, but to the curtailing of Kenyans' liberties. Although this fight was a bloody one, with violent attacks by security forces, Karura Forest is now protected and has become a popular recreation spot.
As public space has become increasingly privatized and commercialized, such green space reminds people that they're citizens and rights-bearers, and not merely consumers and logo-wearers. This truth is also not lost on governments or corporations. They understand that where people are free to gather, soon enough they will gather to be free. They will gather to express their need for what Maathai called "democratic space."
This is why Maathai's vision of the ecology of public space-that green space is democratic space-has never been more necessary. In Taksim Square or anywhere people are attempting to create healthier neighborhoods, or seeking as a planetary community to foster sustainable societies, and to engage the support of their fellow citizens to do so.
Uhuru Park, located in the central business district, is one of the capital city’s many green zones. Nairobi City’s very own “central park” features many stone-curved benches, a man-made lake, historical monuments and a generally clean environment. The park is popular on weekends with families and couples with activities such as face-painting and boat rides available.
Not known to many, however, is the historical significance that the park holds and the fact that it is the largest memorial park in the country.
In December 12, 1963 when the British ceded power to Kenyans, a major rally was held at Uhuru Park which saw The Union Jack (Britain’s flag) brought down and, for the first time, Kenya’s flag hoisted. On this very spot where the British flag once stood, a mugumo tree was planted to signify the transfer of power and leadership from the colonialists to Kenyans.
The first president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta was inaugurated at the park making it an important heritage site and resulting in it being declared a national monument in 1966.
To mark and maintain its significance, a 24-metre high monument was erected at the park to commemorate Kenya’s struggle for independence. There is also a statue of freedom fighters raising the Kenyan flag and another monument with a fountain standing 100 metres away.
Due to its historical attachment, many public holidays and national events have been held at the park including the handover of power by Kenya’s second President Daniel Moi to former President Mwai Kibaki, the promulgation of the new Constitution in 2010, Labour Day celebrations, and several political rallies.
Next time you sit at Uhuru Park on a hot sunny day enjoying the cool breeze along the lake, take a look at the beautiful greenery that unfolds before you and imagine it is still December 12, 1963 – for a moment."
"The gardens were officially declared a National Monument in 1966 because of their historical importance.
Of importance to note is that it is Kenya's birthplace. This is where the first Kenyan flag was first raised and thus marking the very first year of independence on the 12th December 1963.
Within the garden are two monuments commemorating Kenya's independence, and a Mugumo (fig) tree.
The Mugumo tree is symbolic as it was planted on the spot where the Union Jack (British flag) was brought down and Kenya's national flag was first hoisted. The site was a diversity of native flora and fauna of savannah woodland.
In addition to the historical significance, Uhuru Gardens continues to attract various events as a recreational park. It is popular as a rest area for families and friends, a must visit for schools and in recent times has gained popularity as an events venue for corporate launches, concerts, weddings, film location just to name a few.
For those who are looking for a secure jogging spot, this is the perfect location for keeping fit.
Future plans will include improving the park to have a wider variety of leisure activities for all. The Mashujaa/ heroes Corner will also be adjacent to this beautiful park which will mark as a reminder to celebrate our Kenyan heroes.
So next time you pass by Langata Road, walk or drive in to enjoy our rich heritage that lives on through this park."