“Competing Urban Visions: Who is Lagos?” A thought piece by Baba Oladeji

This insightful article by Design Party’s Baba Oladeji looks into the need for Africa’s most populous city to discover its own identity.

Mr.Oladeji cites the eclectic nature of the city’s urban fabric brought on by the proverbial “1%” who have both the means and exposure to ‘import’ foreign ideas and solutions with a more ‘cut & paste’ approach as opposed to one that speaks to critical thought as well as an understanding of culture. Here’s the article.


[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he biggest danger to Lagos is a man who is well travelled and has capital or power. He will look at London and want to re-create London, another will love the lure of Dubai and wish to re-create Dubai. Another will discover Gangnam, that smart city in Seoul and shove the images of his sojourn down the throat of his ‘poor’ architect to reproduce. Oh! and when they bandy this homogenising ‘Resilient Cities’ thing around, he will also rush to be a part of it. These people want Lagos to be everything it is not. These people are the problem of Lagos!

Because of these people, Lagos is being tuned to a variety of frequencies. Once tuned to the West, we are gradually being tuned to the East: the Chinese behemoth CCECC (China Civil Engineering Construction Corp) is building our rail + LFTZ and importing swathes of labour to follow suit, mandarin is being taught in some Lagos schools, China town and Chinese restaurants continue to thrive and a portion of our foreign reserves is backed up in the Chinese Yuan.

Lagos light rail project by CCECC

The 50’s aspiration of the LEDB (Lagos Executive Development Board)for Lagos to be ultimately a small London has given way to the 2014 ‘Fashola aspiration’ for Eko Atlantic  to be the Dubai of Africa. We have entrusted the growth of a city to politicians who famously switched from the British parliamentary system of government of 1960 – 66 to the American presidential system in 1979. They woo the electorate with change even when the agenda of change is ostensibly for Lagos to look like London.

Eko Atlantic City, Lagos

As they continue to switch to the East, Governor Ambode – a man with a voracious love for “world-class” and who hasn’t had a look at some of the excellent student work in his backyard Unilag School of Architecture – travels to Dubai to inspect some 3D models to explore partnerships in the hope of importing Dubai here. Infact, Oba Saheed Elegushi has concluded plans with his foreign partners to build the $300 million Imperial smart city  on reclaimed land in Lekki. It makes me ask: what does Lagos want to be? Does it want to be London, New York, Beijing, Dubai or a combination of all? When will Lagos stop following fads blindly and when will Lagos discover Lagos?

The Proposed Imperial Smart City

Governor Ambode forgets that the “world-class” he is seeking is already within the city. So they abandon Lagos Island to move to Victoria Island, from Victoria Island to Lekki, from Lekki to Banana Island, from Banana Island to Eko Atlantic and from Eko Atlantic to Imperial Smart City.

Now I am not arguing for a total resistance of West or East, I am only arguing for criticality of thought. I am arguing for a bit more intellectual rigour in “taking the things we need from London” and “rejecting the things that don’t sit with our cultural core”. For urban form to work, it must follow culture. I can talk about the complexity of that term called culture, and how unstable it is to design from this premise especially if we look at hybridity as explained by Homi Bhabha but I am more interested in how we can begin to test things: like how we can create Owambe Housing by lifting Lagos Island houses by one floor to enjoy free unhindered ground level space for our Owambes and parking, or how we could have had a unique kinetic market that contracts and expands once trains approach the railtrack along Tejuosho in Yaba.

As we continue to copy London, we will – in vain – continue to police and force out the proletariat. As we refuse to design with our cultural peculiarities, we sure will continue to fail in maintaining Lagos.

I am more interested in how Kunle Adeyemi’s Makoko Floating School allows “collective, psychological archetypes” such as the view to the third mainland bridge, the perpetuating of an amphibious life for a community already based on water and the use of familiar timber and a familiar skillset – “to remain constant in the flux of urban change”.

Kunle Adeyemi (Right) on the Makoko Floating School

There is also James George’s 8 Bridge with layers of occupancy for living, commerce and energy production, then Nkiru Mokwe’s MTA Market where she weaves hawking with vehicular traffic. It is these little possibilities, these little tests that will make Lagos Lagos and like no other city in the world.

Isn’t it a shame that it took Rem Koolhaas to hand us a theory of optimism: of how Lagos works despite the absence of systems that make the Western cities work?

Nkiru Mokwe’s MTA Market

So if we keep looking to London, we will arrive at that day where our London dreams come true, where all our roads are on fleek but littered with hawkers who may break your windscreen, where we now have fresh red buses yet they are stuck in traffic, where behind our five-star hotels will be dotting shacks, where for every neat Ikoyi street another untidy one for the congregation of mai-guards springs up. As we continue to copy London, we will – in vain – continue to police and force out the proletariat. As we refuse to design with our cultural peculiarities, we sure will continue to fail in maintaining Lagos.

The ‘8 Bridge’ by James Inedu George

So, Politicians, future politicians and architects, Lagos does not need to be London or Dubai, Ibadan does not need to be Cambridge of Africa and Yaba does not need to be the Silicon Valley of Lagos. Yaba should be Yaba, Ibadan should find Ibadan and Lagos should discover Lagos.

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