In simple terms, cities are typically hubs of economic activity and hyperactivity. Kigali city is no different. If you stroll around for a couple of hours, you’ll encounter people and vehicles every few blocks. Some would argue, though, that the city has a bit of a laid-back buzz. Following World Cities Day on October 31, the need to reconsider the role and possibilities of cities is more pressing than ever. It’s important that we transform urban areas into places that are not only more pedestrian-friendly, inclusive, resilient, enjoyable, and livable but also greener. Cities should evolve into unique ecosystems that shield us from climate-related challenges while nurturing a vital and tangible connection to our well-being. An article from 2016, featured in the scientific journal PubMed, illustrates that the growing trend of car-free cities not only decreases greenhouse gas emissions but also has positive implications for public health. Kigali has been leveraging this scientific insight to enhance the well-being of its residents. ALSO READ: Kigali’s ambitious target to become a green, vibrant and affordable city Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, has about 893 kilometres (555 miles) of streets and roads. These roadways have primarily served the singular purpose of facilitating vehicular transportation from one location to another. But the notion of sustainable urbanisation advocates for a broader and more diverse utilisation of these streets. Starting with Umuganda in 2009, which detailed measures to promote infrastructure improvement, environmental clean-up and social cohesion, the city has embarked on a series of initiatives aimed at advancing sustainable urbanisation, preserving local culture, and creating a more health-conscious and environmentally friendly urban setting. In 2016, the city introduced Car-Free Day, a programme that temporarily diminishes air pollution and noise while promoting active modes of transportation, community involvement, and public well-being by encouraging residents to walk, jog, cycle, and partake in physical activities. So, on the first and third Sundays of each month, Kigali’s streets transform into a vibrant sports festival. They act as a bridge, not for vehicles, but for residents in densely populated neighbourhoods, offering an enticing preview of a future with car-free streets. At 7 a.m. on the designated days, metal barriers are erected to keep vehicles away. My gasp was audible when I saw the throngs of people filling the streets during my leisurely stroll to Kigali Heights on a recent Sunday, donning something quite unexpected, especially in the eyes of my friends: workout attire. Folks step out for a run and end up participating in complimentary sessions of yoga and traditional Rwandan dance. There’s a pop-up e-race cycling class for kids, and even dogs, dressed in eye-catching attire, parade alongside their owners. The sounds of local musicians like Bwiza resonate through the communal workout areas. The vitality, diversity, and richness of the people in this setting are truly unparalleled. Me, like hundreds of newcomers, scrambled to grasp how different the roads looked without the cars. But part of my surprise came from a different place than those who’d tuned into Kigali’s obviously cherished day — it was at seeing how far Rwandans’ hospitality extended. “So much is going on, who would’ve thought?,” the guy next to me told me, adding: “I like this version of Kigali better.” I like it better, too, I decided. ALSO READ: In honour of park benches and judging books by their covers The spirit of Rwandan hospitality permeated the entire city: As part of an initiative focused on raising awareness about cancer, Radisson Blu mobilised dozens of people to advocate for the early detection of breast cancer in young women, educating them about screening techniques such as self-exams. Simultaneously, Seeing Hands Rwanda ran programmes that offered massage therapy and ICT training, creating employment opportunities for visually impaired persons, and empowering them to lead more fulfilling lives. “A future Rwandan society in which youth are drivers of community health’s advancements and everyone has the best attainable health,” said an advertising campaign by Healthy People Rwanda. Jibu set up a tent where they provided water to the numerous participants seeking to quench their thirst after their jog. For about three hours, I delighted in this admiration and the unforeseen break from the incessant noise of needy cars that often accompanies life in Kigali. Few cities have undergone such a profound and rapid transformation as Kigali. After enduring decades of political instability, economic challenges, and violence instigated by extremists, a change in leadership in the 1990s marked a turning point in the city’s history. ALSO READ: Inside Rwanda's $175m green urbanisation project Kigali has improved sustainable urbanisation by investing in public transportation infrastructure, like a bus rapid transit system, to reduce traffic congestion and promote sustainable mobility. Even now, the city is making great strides to pedestrianise areas of the road from Nyarutarama to Kacyiru. For one thing, this means fewer cars. Effective waste management practices, including recycling and waste sorting, have been implemented to reduce the environmental impact of urban waste. Rwanda’s Vision 2050 outlines plans for sustainable urban development and the transformation of Kigali into a modern, eco-friendly city, indicating a long-term commitment to sustainable urbanisation. In various parts of the city, fresh green spaces and parks, funded by the Kigali Green Fund (FONERWA), have transformed neighbourhoods previously marred by violence into environments that significantly improve the quality of life for residents. In every urban area, there are vast stretches of intermediate space that, when properly maintained, have the potential to transform into lush pockets of nature, providing a sanctuary for insects, birds, and various other wildlife. “Increased green spaces in urban areas complement Rwanda’s diversity of habitats which include naturally occurring vegetation in the country’s national parks like Volcanoes, Akagera, Gishwati-Mukura, and Nyungwe,” explained Jean Luc Rukwaya, a specialist in the biodiversity sector at the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), during an interview with The New Times in August. If the city of Kigali can hack affordable housing, that would be a wrap. Or as close to a wrap as a city can get.