On Sunday, 1st of July, 2018, the i-CMiiST team in Nairobi led by Placemakers organised a “photography hangout” dubbed #LuthuliHangout, bringing together over 20 photographers – both professional and amateur to document public life, challenges and opportunities in Luthuli avenue. This group included students from TU-K’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Industries (CCCI) and Hope Raisers Trust.
The hangout took creative photography a notch higher, and looked to explore how creative photography could help to highlight the issues and challenges facing the street; inspire unlikely alliances; and explore potentials for exchanges – of information, ideas and experiences.
The first in a series, the main idea behind the hangout is to mobilise local voices around critical issues including Road Safety, Urban Safety and Security, Social Inclusion, Walkability, Bikeability, Environmental Degradation, Air Quality and Congestion among others, and explore how photography as a creative and innovative approach can support Sustainable Street Design, as well as Sustainable Transport Planning.
Being in a street largely regarded as chaotic and congested brought a different feel, and inspired the photographers to think about the power of photography in bringing about change. “The experience was interesting and scary all at the same time but I have realised that there is beauty everywhere.” said Zachari, one of the photographers.
“The experience was interesting and scary all at the same time but I have realised that there is beauty everywhere.”
Some of the images of Luthuli Avenue captured by the photographers.
A beautiful mess
Being in Luthuli is both interesting and scary. It typifies the streets of downtown Nairobi. On one hand, it is Congested, Polluted and Contested between pedestrians, vendors, matatus, trolley pushers and motorbike riders. One has to literally dodge matatus, motorbikes and muggers alike. The pedestrian space covers just about 20% of the whole street space. The rest of the space is shared between stationary vehicles and mataus, which dominate the street. The intersections and pedestrian crossings in the street are both wanting. It takes real courage to cross the street. Reflecting on her experience, Melania Warwick, one of the creatives from the UK said, “I did not know where everything was coming from. Everything was moving in every direction.” One has to literally be alert otherwise there is a chance you couldbe knocked down by either a motorbike, a matatu or a trolley.
“I did not know where everything was coming from. Everything was moving in every direction.”
A major feature that defines Luthuli’s character – both positively and negatively are the bill boards that line the street on either side. They are conspicuous, colourful and closely distributed, becoming the dominant visual feature that defines the street. Moreover, their role amounts to visual clutter as, overshadowing everything else that is considered beautiful and worthy to behold.
Beauty in chaos
Away from all the chaos, the street is vibrant, full of life, colour and people. Everything just happens on this street! It is famous for the electronic shops and links the National Archives area to the famous River Road, where everything is available. Yhe same things that make it messy and chaotic also make it beautiful. “I never thought of such areas for photography. I now realise that there’s beauty everywhere”, noted David, one of the photographers.
“I never thought of such areas for photography. I now realise that there’s beauty everywhere.”
Daniel Onyango (@onyangodaniels), one of the creatives who came up with the idea of the hangout, recounted that the hangout served to push artists out of their comfort zones. He said, “This is important because for us as photographers we need to explore how we can use our photography skills to highlight some of the social challenges our city is facing.”
“This is important because for us as photographers we need to explore how we can use our photography skills to highlight some of the social challenges our city is facing.”
Luthuli Avenue Revitalisation Project seeks to demonstrate the benefits and potential for walkability and bikeability in Nairobi, the relevance of creative methods in understanding the most pressing mobility challenges and the role of intentional design in getting people to walk and linger in downtown Nairobi.
The project seeks to transform Luthuli Avenue into a pedestrian-oriented street, encouraging lingering and stay and connecting popular destinations while optimizing revenue for the city county. It is conceptualized to be both a baseline and an active (pilot) project. It is part of the larger I-CMiiST project which is funded by the British Academy’s Cities & Infrastructure programme and explores whether more creative co-design methods can reveal alternative more inclusive streetscape options that facilitate safer urban mobility. It is collaboration between creative experts in the UK and East Africa with transport planners and policy makers. It is also part of the Nairobi City County-led Walkability and Bikeability project which is supported by C40, and seeks to measure the Health, Economic and wider benefits of Walkability and Bikeability.
Written by Mark Ojal (@kuyokuyo1)