Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Lagos: Megacity or Crisis City?

“Lagos is a state of mind” - a message fervently echoed by Friday’s panel at the School of Oriental and African studies in London. An evening discussion with Jaasper Moelker of Urban Detectives, Simon Gusah, a Planning Consultant in Nigeria and Kunle Adeyemi for the Office of Metropolitan Architecture stirred a lively response from the auditorium composed predominantly of well informed Nigerians with a personal concern for the future of Nigeria’s nerve centre – Lagos.
The explosive growth of Lagos – by 2020, it will be the third largest city in the world, with 24 million inhabitants – has brought near-paralysis to the city’s ring of highways. Lagos’s infrastructure is being pushed to its limit, resulting in severe traffic congestion. This contrasted with the city’s impressive estimated 3.6 trillion Naira (£16 billion) annual turnover begs the question, Megacity or crisis city?

Although chaos filters through all parts of Lagos life, it is arguably stable and organised chaos. Where there is a place, people will occupy it, reflected in the bustling marketplace and booming informal economy. Gusah, an advocate for this standpoint, was clear in his thoughts: there is no problem in Lagos. The government and the private sector create the problem they believe they are trying to solve. They have not learned what makes Lagos tick and it certainly does tick. The crisis lies within the structure of government; their inability to carry out infrastructure programmes and policies that last beyond two years is shutting down development. Improvement takes five, ten, maybe twenty years which requires relentless commitment. At present their priority is to award new contracts when it should be to concentrate on the current.
Adeyemi’s fascinating presentation introduced what the Office of Metropolitan Architecture envisages as the saving operation, the 4th mainland bridge. The 1.5km long bridge will be the missing link completing a transport ring around the city, connecting Ikorudu with the community of Aja/Lekki, and facilitating the rapid expansion of the eastern corridor of the city. While vehicle traffic flows on the bridge’s upper deck (which includes lanes for BRT buses), the lower deck facilitates the inevitable hustle and bustle of Lagos in a more conducive environment. Markets, kiosks, shops, bars, and restaurants will generate a new area of pedestrian convergence, fostering economic growth, social life, culture and interaction. An image included in Adeyemi’s presentation featured a Prada store alongside the fruit ladies on the lower deck – an interesting vision!
So, it seems that this potential megacity could be just that – the work of Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, was considered by the panel as positive progress. Gusah commented, "In Africa, you are praised for doing your job and Fashola seems to be doing his...I am as happy with his work as I am with the work of my local council. Fundamentally there is nothing outstanding about this but we must think of it relative to other African leaders and politicians.”

Lagos is not a city in crisis, but its rapid growth poses serious questions that need intelligent answers and responsive, responsible and flexible governing. This is the problem with great opportunities and Lagos undoubtedly presents a great opportunity.

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