Nairobi, also known as the Green City in the Sun is the urban context of the Jeevanjee Gardens site. Its colourful history spans back into colonial times when in 1904 Alibhai Jeevanjee created the park and donated it to the Colonial Administration to be used by the people of Nairobi. Following independence in 1963 and fast forwarded to the 1990’s up to today, the Bunge La Mwanainchi (the peoples parliament) use the park actively to meet and hold debates in. While the park was given to all people of Nairobi, the park is still relatively unknown and unused among most Nairobians, despite being one of the few public green spaces within Nairobi's CBD. Team Jeevanjee's proposal consisted of a responsive urban strategy to unlock the existing qualities of Jeevanjee Gardens while maintaining its current intimacy and by tapping into the DNA and the history of Jeevanjee park.
The park has been contested various times such as in 1991 where the park was under threat given rise to a new multi story car park “need”. The Jeevanjee family together with environmentalist activist Wangari Maathai rallied the public to oppose this development and maintain the vision of Alibhai Jeevanjee. In 1998 Friends of Jeevanjee was formed to 'keep an eye' on it given such threats.
The family is still very much involved in the way the park is used and changed. In 2014 they helped made plans to upgrade the park which was agreed upon by Nairobi City Council NCC, United Nation and Friends of Jeevanjee. These plans focus more on the physical upgrade of the space giving room for programming changes yet to be made for the upgrades.
Bunge La Mwanainchi and the ubiquitous site of people congregating around key speakers, preaches, comics among others, has been highlighted as a unique urban phenomena known as “The Griot” which in African and in fact human history was the way knowledge and information was passed down orally from generation to generation. It exists within the streets, public squares and corners of Nairobi. Research into this phenomenon by local experts has Identified Jeevanjee Gardens as the epicentre of this unique use of public space. It has the potential to redefine the way public space is perceived and used within the city of Nairobi among other urban centres in the continent.
In the midst of the current plans to improve the park, The Making Cities Lab: Team Jeevanjee, through a process of “Undesigning” created a tactical tool kit to make the park more responsive to the public needs and natures within the immediate context. This is was done while embracing the existing plans to improve the landscaping that features the insertion of multipurpose performance spaces, kids playground area, art in the park, free wifi, notice boards, fixed and moveable seating, drinking fountains, indigenous tree planting, raised pedestrian crossing among other plans.
To Undesign the park in our interpretation means to free the space from its formal definition and allow for new activities to emerge.
This tactical urban tool kit is executed in phases, spanning from the simple act of opening the park fence boundary to attract pedestrians that use the adjacent shops around the park; to eventually looking beyond the confines of the site by mapping the Griot phenomena across parts of the city where it frequently happens. These in turn by proxy are sites that also need revaluation and improvement to reignite commercial activity within the struggling Central Business District of Nairobi, working closely with key stakeholders such as the municipality, local real estate owners and businesses.
By demonstrating the potential tactics for the Undesigning we are suggesting new opportunities and openings for development and preservation of the informal and unexpected activities, gatherings or economic opportunities. At the heart of this project is a manifesto of responsiveness to the city’s human nature, unravelled to generate a unique modus operandi to create prosperous city.