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Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Built Environment: Balance between profit, comfort and productivity

The importance of the built environment in relation to the natural environment and its occupants is keenly observed all over the world. That was the main reason a Swedish 15-year-old, Greta Thunberg, did not go to school on August 20, 2018, but began a three-week strike with other young activists at the Swedish parliament, demanding government action to reduce carbon emissions.

Gbenga Onabanjo
Gbenga Onabanjo

This invariably went global, and she started a movement called Fridays for Future that has spread to about 128 countries to demand climate change actions from governments.

Our environment typically affects us in several ways, particularly in the role it plays in our happiness, well-being, and mental health. It is therefore pertinent that the manner our urban spaces are regenerated should take cognisance of the greenness, layout, urban form, density, energy use, reminisces, and property value.

With the strategic plan to upgrade and regenerate Lagos State into a model city-state, several reclassifications and rezoning have been carried out all over the state. It would appear the intent is to obliterate the memories of the old decent and upscale neighbourhoods to give way to modern settlements without recourse to the character of the old settlements.

Many people will be shocked at the complete transformation of the areas they lived in not having any relics of the old to evoke fond memories. The hitherto wooded areas have lost the allure of the greens and are now completely paved. No more parks, no more gardens!

Gradually, all the low-density neighbourhoods are fast turning to high-density conurbations without corresponding improvements in infrastructure. This is the current trend in virtually all neighbourhoods in Lagos – from Surulere to Yaba, Ebute Metta, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Even Banana Island is not spared! Many properties are being redeveloped solely for profit without commensurate provisions for greens, air spaces and parking. Our new age developers are bent on maximizing their profits without due attention paid to the following:

  • Increased crime rates due to overpopulation.
  • Reduced child independence and positive play behaviour.
  • Reduction in street-level vitality and sociability.
  • Increased errant behaviour of children due to lack of green areas and its distance to the street level to unwind.
  • Inadequate open spaces to encourage equality and social inclusivity.
  • Inadequate car parking spaces for residents and visitors.
  • Overdevelopment of plots, thus depriving residents of privacy.
  • Lack of attention to global warming and climate change concerns.
  • Lack of recreational spaces for communal gatherings and bonding.

There is therefore an urgent need to balance economic gains (profit), social capital (comfort), and environmental triggers (emotional and physical well-being) that a neighbourhood presents.

Our leaders of thought, as well as the conscience and vanguards of the environment, should lend their strong voices to addressing the current anomalies ravaging our neighbourhoods, with acquiescence from the planning authorities. If care is not taken, our environment would become so uncomely that no sane mind would desire to esteem or have anything to do with it.

Today’s neighbourhoods can still be regenerated and made to comply to its density with provisions for adequate infrastructure as well as greens. The property value of such areas could even appreciate faster than areas that are overdeveloped. Such neighbourhoods would still maintain their allure, promoting equality and inclusiveness amongst residents.

The various master plans developed by the government should be revisited and implemented as planned. Our layouts should be subject to approvals and all necessary infrastructure, and statutory planning provisions must be put in place with a view to having a minimum level of comfort as seen in its walkability, liveability and ambience.

Judging by the desecration of the GRA in Ikeja, and the ongoing redevelopment in Surulere and other places of note, most of these old memorable neighbourhoods will become extinct and we may not have any legacy sites to bequeath to our children and grandchildren if the trend is left unchecked.

In civilised climes, neighbourhoods established over a hundred years ago are still thriving and looking exactly the same, albeit with improved infrastructure. Most of them have become tourist sites.

Our planners should therefore endeavour to reclassify certain legacy areas as heritage sites that should not be tampered with in any shape, form or manner, besides maintaining them in their original states. Let there be a good balance between profit, comfort, beauty and productivity.

By Gbenga Onabanjo

Mr Onabanjo is a Lagos-based architect, environmentalist, public commentator and the chief responsibility officer at Go-Forte Foundation

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