Lagos is planning to build West Africa's answer to Dubai. It's not thinking big enough

Nigeria’s plans for a new modern city need to be boosted so that they deliver a metropolis like the Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi. Image: Shutterstock.

The government of the state of Lagos – Nigeria’s former capital – has proudly proclaimed it is building a new city that will become the new financial centre of Nigeria, and perhaps West Africa. The scale of the Eko Atlantic project is immense, and progress is being achieved through a team effort between investors, planners, engineers and contractors.

Pitched as Africa’s answer to Dubai, Eko Atlantic is a multibillion dollar residential and business development that is located as an appendage to Victoria Island, and along the renowned Bar Beach shoreline in Lagos. The plan is that it will consist of 10 square kilometres (3.86 square miles) of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. It'll be home to quarter of a million people, and employ a further 150,000 people who will commute on daily basis. The new district will be billed as a 24-hour, green-conscious, world-class city, which can attract and retain top multinational corporations.

There is no shortage of doubters and critics of the initiative, which is seen as an exercise in runaway neoliberalism by a country that cannot even ensure 30 days of continuous power supply to its citizens. The truth, however, is that Lagos deserves its dream Eldorado and the economic case for Eko Atlantic is sound.

The plans for the marina. Image: Eko Atlantic.

The only problem is that the plans are in fact not radical enough. Our argument is that this project is under-imagined and should be shored up urgently to match other international projects in the fast-developing countries. In particular, we believe a city should be created along the lines of Paul Romer’s charter city. These are cities in which the governing system is defined by the city rather than by state, provincial, regional or national laws.

This would mean that Eko Atlantic city would operate under high standards of transparency and good governance. Its security would be handled by independent policing standards – a move which could extend to other aspects of its civil and criminal justice systems. Its sanitary, health, energy supplies, environment and other regulatory rules should be pegged with comparable standards in cities like London, New York, Paris, Dubai and Shanghai.

All this would ensure that the laws under which the territory operates are, in essence, free of stifling national regulation which has stood in the way of most African cities operating at optimal levels.

A model for good governance

At the moment, all aspects of the planning and building of the Eko Atlantic city are squarely in the hands of the private sector involving both local and foreign venture capitalists. Those already on board include local and international banks – First Bank, FCMB, Access Bank Plc. and GT Bank in Nigeria, BNP Paribas Fortis and KBC Bank – as well as a growing number of private investors.

The recent inauguration of a new governor for Lagos, West Africa’s mega-city with close to 18m residents, presents a further opportunity to rejig plans and boldly move towards chartered city status.

Rather than just becoming a financial venture, the Eko Atlantic experiment can be carried further at no extra cost to become the hub to transform good governance in Nigeria and West Africa. Already Lagos is the gold standard for other parts of the Nigerian federation. In 2012, it generated annual revenue of about $1bn, dwarfing that of the rest of Nigeria.

If Eko Atlantic city is competently handled by world experts in the legal economic and industrial fields, the returns to the Lagos economy can easily double.

Victoria Island as it was in 2008. Image: Public domain/Wikimedia Commons.

Bad systems are the reason most African cities do not attract much-needed international investment at appropriate levels. Bad rules have tied down the development of Lagos, along with 1,000 other African cities, since their independence from colonialism. The problems include corruption, mismanagement, political interference, unresponsiveness, overbearing religiosity, nepotism, human rights abuses and incompetent presence of the state.

Presently, the judiciary, health and administrative systems of most Nigerian cities have severe problems. Lagos is no different even though it is still far ahead of the other 34 states and federal capital territories. Eko Atlantic ought, therefore, to provide a petri dish to run a very new kind of African city.

It can be done

Lagos will have to work with the federal government to be able to create a special zone of reform. The arrangements will require further delegation of control to Lagos state, which will in turn give up powers to the regulatory authorities of the chartered Eko Atlantic city.

Such arrangements and concessions should be easier now as the constellations have aligned for the first time in Nigerian history. The Lagos state is now run by the same government and party that rule the country. This arrangement will allow Lagos to make more credible promises to investors across the world.

There will be a mutual benefit of exchange in favour of investors, employers, residents, the state and the country. In a depressed international economy, such a city would attract the qualified, the brave and the adventurous from the entire globe.

The city, by night. Image: Eko Atlantic.

African countries sorely need a skilled workforce from the developed world to fill hi-tech employment and service industries that will fuel growth in the 21st century.

There are successful comparable projects across the developing world. The Chinese government, seeing the tremendous success that different rules made of Hong Kong, wisely created special zones offering tax and tariff incentives.

There is the phenomenon of medical cities that are scattered in many regions of Saudi Arabia. Dubai is a beacon of success, and Abu Dhabi is already closely following these examples with its bold creation of the Abu Dhabi Global Market established on Al Maryah Island. Honduras is also currently involved in the creation of such high-quality, liveable cities.

It is certain that the proposed changes will generate controversy. Nationalist feelings against this proposal may run high. But this problem is not insurmountable.

Former US President Ronald Reagan allowed himself the luxury of only one decorative plaque on his desk in the Oval Office as president. It read: "It can be done."

The current governor of Lagos, Akinwunmi Ambode, will do himself and nearly everyone a great deal of good if he gets himself a similar plaque to remind him of the golden opportunity the Eko Atlantic City represents.The Conversation

Gbenga Oduntan is senior lecturer in international commercial law at University of Kent.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.

Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.

But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.

A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.