Nairobi, Africa – Smart public practice moves artists, not artwork. When a friend in New York moved to Nairobi for the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), I was intrigued. With support from Art Matters Inc., United States Artists, and my friend David, I went to Africa in October 2011 to research and develop an understanding of soils and community health in the Great Rift Valley, the first of two extended trips.

Before leaving, I established connections with the World Agroforestry Centre and Kounkuey Design Initiative. KDI, a nonprofit, international urban planning practice now led by American Chelina Odbert, recruits and works with local planners, architects, and artisans to create civic spaces with impoverished communities. In Kenya, KDI works in Nairobi’s Kibera area, purportedly the largest slum in the world and home to accomplished artists and artisans, carpenters and sign painters.

KDI, building its third Kibera project, is stabilizing streambeds with gabions to secure the hilly land for a level play area, community garden, and produce stalls. I visited the community, built relationships, and developed a proposal for residents to consider. With community help I designed a set of permanent plaques reflecting local agricultural practice that were fabricated by local sign painters and installed in spring 2012.

In addition to working in Kibera, I had the opportunity to explore Nairobi and beyond.