Sunday, August 25, 2019

Zombiescapes Africa's Mega-City Addiction

Sometime this year Kinshasa DRC will pass Paris as the largest Francophone city in the world.
And sometime in the 2020's Abidjan, Ivory Coast will do so as well.

We're talking big cities.

And though they don't speak French, the citizens of Lagos live in a city of 24 million people, as large as Kinshasa and Abidjan combined.
With room for Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Nice as well.

From The Republic, (Nigeria):

African cities need to focus less on skyscrapers and more on city halls.
In his 2012 book, Zombie Economics, Australian economist, John Quiggin, talks about ideas that have been disproven or ‘killed’ time and time again but continue to live on in the minds of public policymakers with disastrous results. Quiggin was thinking mainly of the assumptions that led to the 2008 financial crisis in the United States, but I can’t help but recall the concept whenever I hear of the ongoing ‘megacity’ project in Lagos, Eko Atlantic.

Eko Atlantic is a wildly ambitious plan to develop a new city off the coast of Victoria Island on 10 square kilometres of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. If the promotional material is to be believed, the new development will be free of all the urban challenges that plague Lagos, and become a modern, world-class megacity to rival Dubai or Singapore. Cynics will be forgiven for thinking this latest scheme will go the way of past attempts at building a New Lagos; Victoria Island, Ikoyi, and Banana Island were announced with similar fanfare after all.
The Flawed Promise of a New Lagos
Eko Atlantic has already experienced schedule and budget problems. Dredging for the new city started in 2009 and it is difficult to get a realistic account of just how much money has been spent on the project. Even the project’s press releases seem unsure of how much it will cost to build Eko Atlantic, citing unnamed ‘experts’ in setting the cost at $6 billion. Since this estimate, the Nigerian economy has been rocked by recession and declining oil prices. The Lagos State government now estimates the project will be finished in October 2019.
More fundamentally, however, the central promise of Eko Atlantic—that it is possible to ‘start over’ and build an exclusive city within a city—is flawed. The high property values clearly illustrate the class of urban resident the new city hopes to attract. But these urban elites require a huge number of service workers; drivers, cooks, street sweepers, recharge card sellers, barbers, construction workers, mechanics and more to sustain their lifestyles. In cities, everyone wants to live where the jobs are and where the economic buzz is greatest. Even if the urban poor of Lagos are priced out from the fancy new developments of Eko Atlantic, they will find their way to informal settlements and abandoned properties. Based on the share of Lagosians who can realistically afford to live in Eko Atlantic, many of the residential buildings are likely to be empty anyway. Even Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Banana Island already have vacancy rates as high as 30 per cent in their wealthier areas.

In fact, in trying to keep the urban poor at bay, Eko Atlantic will likely exacerbate the problems of Lagos life. If the working class of the city is prevented from living on the new development, they will have to commute in and out suffering even more traffic. For commuting workers, traffic bites twice: first in the opportunity cost of wasted time that could have been spent working, and secondly because of greater expenses on transport. The transportation plan on the Eko Atlantic website mentions buses and road networks, but is silent on trains, light rail or any novel transport ideas that would make commuting easier. If the only option in and out of Eko Atlantic is over a bridge in a car or danfo, traffic becomes inevitable. One need only look at Third Mainland Bridge to glimpse the future of transportation in this new city. In general, gridlocked roads and proliferating slums are recurring features of past attempts to carve elite enclaves out of Lagos.

Besides these typical troubles, there is real danger that Eko Atlantic will create an environmental catastrophe for surrounding parts of Lagos. To build Eko Atlantic, six square miles of land were dredged from the Atlantic Ocean. Lagos is already prone to severe flooding, and there are obvious hazards from building even further into the ocean. To cope with these hazards, developers are building a ‘Great Wall of Lagos’ to defend the city from flooding. Unfortunately, water has a troubling tendency to go around walls, meaning nearby parts of Lagos will pay the price for Eko Atlantic’s protection. This fact, combined with the displacement of communities in the area under the guise of their protection, has fueled criticisms that Eko Atlantic is creating a form of ‘climate apartheid’.
The African Fantasy of Urban Authoritarianism
Nigeria is hardly the only country lured by the promise of building gleaming new megacities to escape their urban problems. In Egypt, the government wants to build a new 700 square kilometre capital city called New Cairo from scratch at a cost of almost $40 billion. Senegal is spending $2 billion to build Diamniadio Lake City by 2035, a new city to alleviate congestion in Dakar. Kenya has Konza Technology City and Tatu City in Nairobi, while in 2016 South Africa was forced to drastically downsize plans to build a ‘new Manhattan’ in Modderfontein, Johannesburg. In every corner of the continent, governments are looking to utopian metropolises to solve their urban problems. These utopias unfailingly reference cities like Singapore, Dubai and, sometimes, New York City. They style themselves as ultramodern, luxurious and ‘green’; buzzwords that appeal to property developers, western donors and government officials alike....