According to the United Nations, half of humanity—3.5 billion people—live in cities today, pushing the pressure on urban energy consumption and pollution to worrisome levels. Although cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, they account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per 95% of carbon emissions. Moreover, many cities have become more vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters due to their high concentration of people yet, about 828 million live in slums.
Despite the many challenges associated with global urban growth, urban centres remain critical engines of any functional economy. Historically, no country has ever grown to either middle or high income levels without industrializing and developing vibrant cities. Moreover, cities are first attraction points for investors and usually the most structurally and technologically developed for accommodating vast economic activities and innovation. Hence, the growing urbanisation must be maximised to unlock economic potentials that can facilitate national and global development as well as social inclusion.
Notorious car honking, tyre screeches, industrial and transportation fumes, scores of street hawkers, and rows of shamble structures are usual daily scenes in the ever busy city of Lagos – Nigeria’s urban hub and Africa’s most populous city.
Prior to the 19th Century, most of world’s inhabitants lived in rural areas where agriculture was the major form of human activity until England’s industrial revolution produced urban societies. Historically, the discovery of the steam engine which brought about new inventions in coal and iron production, evolution of textile factories and the unveiling of modern transportation changed world’s dynamics such that when rural Europeans had a chance to leave the farms in hopes of a better life and better pay as factory workers or coal miners in the cities, they did not hesitate to jump at the opportunity.
A migration to urban areas symbolised an escape from poverty to better jobs and an introduction to modern and a less stressful living the world had never experienced. Urbanisation therefore comes along with industrialisation through the establishment of factories and the expansion of employment opportunities. By the end of the 1800s, over half of England’s population had moved to urban areas, howbeit creating fresh problems of overpopulation, jobs scarcity and limited resources to cater for the growing urban society.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria was predominantly an agrarian society with agriculture contributing about 70% of its GDP and 80.7% of the national population residing in rural areas (The 1963 Census). According to the Library of Congress Country Study; CIA World Fact Book, the proportion of Nigerians living in urban areas was estimated to have grown to more than 20% between 1970 and 1980 partly due to the discovery of oil. Just as the industrial evolution moved many of the Brits into the urban centres, the oil boom of the 1970s undoubtedly shifted Nigeria’s economic focus from agriculture to oil, giving room for modernisation, industrialisation, improvement of roads, better transportation and creation of more jobs in urban areas. Moreover, the creation of states between 1967 and 1996 occasioned fresh urbanisation as new state capitals continued to attract more rural dwellers. Besides, the continued neglect of rural communities has contributed to the persistent tilt towards urban areas.
Although Lagos, Kano, and Ibadan were the major urban areas after independence, the status of Lagos as the country’s capital between 1960 and 1991 positioned it for massive growth and development which attracted an influx of rural dwellers. Harbouring about 21million of the total Nigerian 182.2million population and the most social, environmental and economic development, Lagos has today become the most developed, most populated and equally the most ‘notorious’ of Nigeria’s cities. Other major cities in Nigeria include Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, and Ibadan, together with all the other state capitals.
How sustainable are Nigeria’s urban areas?
Based on UN projections, features of a sustainable city include investment in renewable energy sources, green infrastructure and areas, improved water and recycling systems, improved access to soundly constructed housing, water, sanitation, electricity, health, and education, reduced ecological footprint and financial fragility, and resilience against the adverse impact of natural disasters, to mention a few. The situation in Nigeria is currently not far from these. Nigerian cities face certain challenges that threaten their sustainability such as mass homelessness, poverty and hunger amongst over half of their populations, urban sprawl coupled with social exclusion, environmental and infrastructural crises, and unabated pressure on the limited economic and environmental resources.
It is forecasted that by 2050, more than 6billion people, about 70 percent of the global population will live in urban areas. The vast majority of this growth will be concentrated in developing countries, with nearly 90% of the increase occurring in Asian or African cities. Since urbanisation is obviously inevitable, intentional push towards sustainability is crucial not only to lessening its strain on social, economic and environmental well-being but also to fast-tracking national and global development.
Maximising urbanisation for global development and social inclusion
The New Urban Agenda issued by the Habitat III Conference in 2016 identified metropolitan planning and management as one of the most critical needs to ensure sustainable urbanisation. Moreover, the theme of this year’s World Cities Day, Innovative Governance: Open Cities (October 31, 2017), calls for the development of creative strategies to enable unrestricted but sustainable access and living in cities.
Evidently, Nigerian governments have begun commendable investments in enhancing the sustainability of major cities. The mega city project, project planet and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) transport system, as well as affordable housing projects, construction of new bridges and roads and dismantling of illegal and environmental-threatening structures, are a few of the strategies the Lagos state government has initiated to lessen the negative impacts associated with the influx of people into the city, together with strengthening it for sustainability. Furthermore, the intercity rail project recently initiated by the Federal Government is a move towards urban sustainability. Nevertheless, a more holistic approach to urban development is needed to further fast-track sustainable urbanisation across all Nigerian cities; especially in the areas of energy, environmental resilience, infrastructural development, and social inclusion. This is where the private sectors’ active participation is essential.
In Washington State, for example, Microsoft worked with Accenture and the City of Seattle to equip buildings with smart systems that helped improve energy conservation. It also worked with the City of Helsinki bus team in Finland, to develop a smarter transit system whist helping the city of Chicago design new ways to gather data and properly utilise predictive analytics in order to better address water, infrastructure, energy, and transportation challenges.
Just as have been done by several players in other countries, there is so much that can be done by the private sector in Nigeria to ensure that the population growth of its cities are maximised for national development. Investments in social and environmental pillars and the empowerment of the vast human resources are particular approaches to managing the country’s growing urbanisation for sustainable development.
In addition, continued support of international donor agencies is needed to further strengthen the sustainability efforts of Nigeria. Finally, urban sustainability can only be achieved when the civil society cultivates a sustainability orientation, which can be instilled by awareness led by Non-Governmental Organisations. It takes the efforts of every sector and indeed everyone for urban sustainability to be achieved.
The Case of Brazil
Curitiba, Brazil is an example of how governments and planners worked together to design low-emission, health-promoting communities, integrating urban planning, green spaces and waste management strategies. Despite a five-fold population increase in the past 50 years, air pollution in Curitiba is close to WHO guideline levels for PM and comparatively better than in many other rapidly growing cities
The success of Curitiba is due to a number of factors, including a long-term plan for development designed in 1966. Curitiba has become more than 4 times denser, expanded the amount of green space per resident, and created a comprehensive urban transport system that is used regularly by an estimated 72% of the population. More than 1.5 million trees have been planted, over 50% of paper, metal, glass and plastic is recycled, and there is an extensive network of pedestrian walkways. In terms of health, life expectancy in Curitiba at 76.3 years is two years longer than the national average, and the city also has relatively low infant mortality.
Part of Curitiba’s success is the result of initiatives directly aimed at low-income residents, which promote health, environment and equity simultaneously, such as:
- Provision of social housing in mixed-income neighbourhoods;
- A program where garbage can be exchanged for bus tickets and/or vegetables, improving both nutrition and sanitation;
- Ensuring broad access to public transport, anchored by a bus rapid transit system of exclusive bus ways;
- Preserving green spaces in areas vulnerable to flooding, also reducing human vulnerability;
- Free medical and dental care to low-income residents.
Curitiba owes part of its success to strong governance and institutions. A cogent long-term vision, sustained political commitment, and a politically insulated regional planning organisation to implement the vision have all been crucial steps in the city’s long-term sustainable urban pathway.