Nairobi: The fastest city on the planet?
Nairobi’s only been a city since 1954, but it’s been making up for lost time ever since.
The capital of Kenya is now a thriving metropolis that continues to grow rapidly in a country that covers 582,650 square kilometers (around twice the size of Nevada). Nairobi is always on the move, always changing.
While its name comes from a Maasai phrase meaning “the place of cool waters,” Nairobi is more commonly referred to as the “Green City in the Sun.”
Positioned between Somalia and Tanzania in Eastern Africa, it’s a place where residents and wild beasts live in close proximity — and might be the only city with a safari park on its doorstep.
Now one of Africa’s most influential cities, Nairobi is a vital commercial and financial regional hub, home to the regional headquarters of various major international companies and organizations.
It’s also got the highest number of malls in Kenya.
Despite its youth, Nairobi’s growth rate has been one of the highest of any African city, with major real estate projects and skyscrapers regularly popping up on its burgeoning skyline.
“There’s a lot of entrepreneurship going on in Nairobi. Everybody is busy creating a life,” says Najib Balala, Kenya’s minister of tourism.
“Also, the vibrancy of the city, wharf and business and tourism and hospitality, every part of Nairobi is fast.
“I come from Mombasa. When I come to Nairobi, I find myself in a different landscape. Here people are moving fast, and people want to get things done.”
The city’s population has also risen, doubling in size since 1986.
In fact the only thing that moves slowly in Nairobi is the traffic, a bone of contention for travelers and locals alike.
Its growth can largely be traced back to the arrival of the railway system, without which the city as we know it would not exist.
The two have been intertwined since 1895, when the British were busy connecting parts of its empire by building a railroad from Mombasa on Kenya’s coast to the neighboring colony — Uganda.
With an elevation of 5,889 feet above sea level, the area was chosen as a stopover point due to its cool temperature and the availability of food and water. In 1899 Nairobi was founded by the colonial authorities as a rail depot on the Uganda Railway.
“It’s the railway that created Nairobi … as the city,” explains Nairobi Railway Museum curator Randiga Aron Elias.
“The first buildings began when the railway reached Nairobi. Otherwise it was just a vast land where the only possibility was raising animals.”
The Uganda Railway was constructed by Indian slaves brought over to work in terrible conditions. Some were even eaten by lions as they worked on the railroad.
But despite the horrendous circumstances behind it, Kenya recognizes that legacy and is preserving it at the museum.
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