Why Lagos Shouldn’t Be The Next Dubai

Why Lagos Shouldn’t Be The Next Dubai

By Babajide Oluwase

Why play second fiddle when you can be the best version of you?

Lagos is arguably one of the best representations of what people can accomplish when a government does not have the resources to manage its growing population.

For the average Lagosian, life is hard and a round-the-clock hustle to meet basic needs such as food, electricity and housing. Despite these challenges, Lagosians keep the city alive by creating a pathway with processes that may be opaque to outsiders but serve the needs of its residents.

On the other hand, Dubai is a perfect example of a scenic view. Think Dubai and you picture the Burj Khalifa, world tallest building; spectacular coastline; jaw-dropping malls with indoor ski slopes, all connected by a monorail stretched across the city. To achieve liftoff of this global metropolis, according to Daniel Brook’s History of Future Cities, “Dubai just needed a spark. That spark would be the most devastating hijacking of them all: 9/11.”

Brook argued that “The anti-money laundering provisions of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, made investing in the United States less appealing to wealthy Gulf Arabs. And the subsequent American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq helped raise the price of oil.” Thus, 9/11 both showered oil profits on the Gulf and ensured that those profits would be invested close to home. As the regional financial center, Dubai was the logical place to invest locally.

But what kind of city is developing in its increasingly segregated environment?

The focus of this piece is not particularly on the Dubai project, rather to establish why Lagos should look more inwardly for its development blueprint.

Touted as the emerging “Dubai of Africa”, Lagos is striving to build a city dotted with eye catching architectural edifices – record-setting skyscrapers, ski slopes and a stunningly urban furniture. While it’s economically sound that Lagos deserves its dream El Dorado, there is no shortage of critics of the project which is seen as an exercise in blockbusting voyage by a country that cannot even ensure five days of continuous power supply to its citizens. The problem is that the plans are in fact not radical enough. In an attempt to wrench a lagging region into the modern world, we have for so long modelled our development on others, without really understudying the underlying philosophies.

Lagos Island (source: Guardian)

Local cultural heritage represents a vital aspect of urban life, and it is the cities’ role to make sure that it remains attractive to diverse audiences. Cultural heritage is a powerful tool that contributes to building cities’ identities and increasing their attractiveness, and, when well-managed, cultural heritage can drive economic activities and become enabler for creativity and innovation, community interaction, and social integration.

Lagos: A Dystopia in the Making?

The EU Global Trends 2030: Citizens in an Interconnected Polycentric World notes that segregation and preserving humane living conditions will be a major challenge facing new mega cities, noting “Rapid urbanization will aggravate social exclusion and put intense pressure on public services” Lagos as we know is a megacity choking on heavy traffic, slums expansion, and residents barricaded in fear in their gated communities. With these unpleasant realities, what do we plan to do differently to deal with it in ways that fit into our socio-cultural fabric?

The Spirit of Lagos

Lagos is a city that shouldn’t work, with a population of over 20 million, infrastructure services for less than half of its residents, formal job creation at 5 per cent of all new jobs. But, it does. Kudos to the people’s resilience, “can-do” spirit, and the ability to adapt to whatever life jabs thrown around. For the continent to succeed as we embark on an urbanising century, there is a need to further distil how it manages to do so. Of the few modern cities in Africa that can best relay the struggle and triumph of the black race to the world, Lagos provides the most stateliness of such identity. Lagos should leverage this identity to build a city deep-rooted in its heritage.

Lagos 2.0: Beyond Real Estate

Lagos needs to look beyond iconic building developments by focusing more on sustainable and economically viable land use policies – a development plan to genuinely cater for the city’s burgeoning population – expected to triple by 2050.

As the fastest growing city in Africa, Lagos occupies a sweet spot to define how cities can create systems of self-governance in the absence of formal structures, as well as a cautionary tale of informal governance structures that provide more legitimacy than due process. It encapsulates the continent’s challenges in urban development, and presents templates on what drives change.

In conclusion, Lagos should strive to be the “Next Lagos”. Unlike Dubai that is developing in an increasingly segregated environment, Lagos needs to redefine its thinking construct to create more radical development approaches that hinge on the peculiarities of the City as well as respond to the yearnings of the increasing population. Cheers to Lagos 2.0.

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5 thoughts on “Why Lagos Shouldn’t Be The Next Dubai

  1. Beautiful piece. Succinctly written and it covers the salient areas of the discussion.

    It’s been established over the years that we are a “copy and paste” nation when it comes to development in all its forms. the problem however is most of the copied policies are not critically analysed to ascertain that the variables present in our situation allows for a seamless pasting experience. We need to learn from the so called saner climes quite alright, not so we can mindlessly lift their policies but so they can guide our fashioning solutions bespoke to our peculiar needs.

  2. I am pleased to learn a thing or two about Lagos. While I agree this is one of the problems of African cities, there are other factors that need addressing as well. While traffic congestion in nearly all of the cities is very, very bad. It is probably ten times worse or even more, compared to to cities in Europe or United States.And so far, no one dare mention it. It is treated like a sacred Cow never to be mentioned..

    China could perhaps help to invest money in these projects because it knows it would get its money back , after money been wasted on these traffic jams is calculated. I would very much like to hear some comments from the people who live or come from African States. Other commentators who know Africa are welcome as well.

  3. Very insightful piece. It gives a better understanding about how development should be in a mega city like Lagos, and by extension, Nigeria.

  4. A popular English proverb says “Necessity is the mother of invention”. This seems to be at the center of this piece. The unique challenges and situation of Lagos state in this present moment make it prime for the development of strategies and innovation that can make it into a mega-city the like of which has never been seen before (perhaps).
    This will follow in any case, the sort of “spark” mentioned above which initiated Dubai’s transition to what we see today. Business as usual definitely won’t do it!


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