Ontulili’s Market Upgrade Stirs Emotions

A visit to the neglected market area in Ontulili, Meru County, serves as a reminder that inclusive urban planning is not easy. Changes to people’s physical environment stirs emotions and in any town, a diversity of perspectives and opinions must get along.

It is about 4 PM on August 1 2018, and three SymbioCity Kenya officers, accompanied by a resident of Makutano, make their way towards the heart of a ghostly looking market that seemingly never took off as intended. In the periphery of the market wooden stalls, 10 m x 10 m wide, stand side-by-side, most of them dilapidated and falling apart from disuse. A few contain businesses while others are residential quarters.

A brand new floodlight stands alone at the centre, towering and tall, dwarfing everything around it. The SymbioCity officers, now at its base, shaking the glistering steel lightly. Engineer Lintari of Meru County nods with satisfaction. He approves of the workmanship. His companions, SCK Project Officer, Maureen Njoga, and Meru Pilot Coordinator, Jefferson Musyoka, look happy.

Brand new floodlight at the heart of Ontulili Market.

Meanwhile, a small crowd of young men in work clothes, and in a disagreeable mood, is gathering around. “We want to meet the person in charge of this project to pay our dues,” one of them says loudly. Apparently the youth helped to erect the floodlight. Paul Kinoti, the project area chairman, holds a brief meeting with them, and they walk away smiling.

Light up the market and lighten community tensions
A new crowd of young men in a similar mood have now gathered. The young traders have heard about the upcoming market improvements and are fuming that they were not involved in the project. In addition, they are not satisfied with the height of the floodlight. They want it taller, to light beyond the upcoming storey buildings behind the market stalls. They know someone who can elongate it at a “small fees” of Kshs.50,000.

Engineer Lintari explains that the type of floodlight installed in the market area has to be of a standard height of 12 metres (30ft). But he assures them that with a 500 m lighting reach, daylight quality and four-directional focus, the market will be well lit.

Similarly, Mr. Kinoti assures the youth that they are welcome to join the all-inclusive market project. “This project is for all of us, especially young people. Attend our public meetings to know how you can get involved,” he states. This batch of youth also walk away satisfied.

Ontulili Market Stalls turned into residences.

It is not surprising that the floodlight is a great crowd puller. It stands as proof that the SymbioCity Kenya project in Ontulili has taken off. Kinoti explains that while the SCK project has had overwhelming support from the community, it also had antagonists. “I am glad they have finally realised that there is something great coming up, and are ready to work with us,” he states.