The Role of Urban Parks and Socio-Economic Development: Case Study of Kisumu Kenya

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Development of Urban parks dates back to the ancient times of the boulevard systems in Minneapolis and Kansas City. Beginning in 1859 when Frederick Law Olmsted, Calvert Vaux and more than 3,000 laborers created Central Park in United States of America, a wave of enthusiasm for urban pleasure grounds swept America and the world over (Harnik, 2003). Urban Parks in this study refers to specific piece of ground, excluding natural parks, within the City/town and set apart for use of the general public. It may be planted with trees, lawns and other shrubbery and include facilities for sport, entertainment and recreation. The term parks and urban parks are used interchangeably in this study.

According to Ondiege (1999), urban development and planning regulations in many developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America have failed to provide orderly and sustainable urban development. The result is that squatter settlements and informal sectors development have continued to predominate in spite of official approved urban development plans. Parks and other public protected area have suffered on the same note of failure to provide orderly and sustainable development by the governments. Modern town planning, as it is defined in specialized literature, provides the image of an art and science placed at inhabitants' disposal irrespective of the organization of places they live in (villages, towns or cities). It aims at stimulating the complex growth of locations according to their potential and inhabitants' expectations by accomplishing short-, medium- and long-term growth strategies (lordache and Cebuc 2009).

Urban planning is an instrument of town management. In the past, when it turned from an operational instrument into a legal duty, it became useless. Planning, as it has always been, is undergoing changes towards what they believe to be a more efficient working way. What looks a trend of the last decades is its market orientation, more precisely demand orientation, so that it can promptly meet it. Low et al, (2005) wrote that in this new century, we are facing a different kind of threat to urban parks not only one of disuse, but of patterns of design and management that exclude some people and reduce social and cultural diversity. Most parks in Kisumu Town were created in the 1940s and 50s. The English settlers had an interest for recreational gardens and parks as this was in line with the interests of their countries of origin.

During the early town planning in the 20th century when the basic layout of the town was done, provision was made for six urban parks which currently are, Market Park, Jamhuri Park, Uhuru Garden, Owen Park, Taifa Park, and Maendeleo Park, which are all located in Kisumu Township. Most of these parks acquired their current names after Kenya attained independence in 1963. The parks were created to provide relaxation for the white settlers at different strategic points of interest, which included, residential, administration, market and bus terminal. These parks were not only supposed to live up to the old glory of providing relaxation points for the current residents but were expected to transform with the new global trend to provide avenues for social, economic, cultural and environmental activities. This study therefore shows the social-economic benefits of parks to development of Kisumu Town. It indicates the levels of utilization of the urban parks and some of the factors affecting their optimal use and accessibility.

2. Conceptual Framework

The conceptual model used in this study integrates concepts by Hanley et al. (2003), and Harnick (2003) and portrays how urban parks usage is dependent on various alternative uses available as well as availability, accessibility and management of park facilities.

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It shows the interrelationships between social, economical and environmental factors in relation to urban parks development. …