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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Greener Lagos initiative: Why LASPARK should restrategise

“Well done is better than well said…” ( Benjamin Franklin, Founding father of the United States of America, 1706-1790.)

Millennium Park Chicago
The Millennium Park in Illinois, Chicago, USA

In the 1950s to 1970, a timeframe of 20 years, the city of Lagos evokes nostalgia. It was then a city which Lewis Munford, the erudite historian who earned the moniker…city binocular for being a keen watcher/great city thinker of his era (1895-1990), would aptly describe as a “model of a perfect city.” Lagos was livable. A clean city full of greenery having trees lined up on both sides of the urban roads. The evergreen trees served as natural umbrellas from the scorching tropical sun of the climatic zone which Lagos is situated. There was a popular “botanic garden” affectionately called “love garden” by the locals. A stretch of tranquil/unpolluted water-front (marina) and a mandatory noiseless zone where the residential buildings of the colonial governor and other colonial top government officials lived was full of greenery and rainbow of garden flowers. The King George V stadium (as it was then known, now Onikan Stadium) occupied a conspicuous space surrounded by large species of evergreen and fruit trees.

Within a walking distance from the stadium was another sports ground for horse racing frequented by popular jockeys and horse racing enthusiasts. In the same precinct was Nigeria’s legislative building, the Parliament House; well-landscaped and overlooking at a distance was a federal government towering 25-storey skyscraper appropriately named “Independence Building” because it was built as a commemorative edifice to mark Nigeria’s attainment of independence from Britain in 1960.

A daylight thriving and night time glittering Central Business District (CBD) was created in central Lagos through which runs the city’s longest arterial road, “Broad Street” partially lined with trees in accordance with the tradition of urban development of that era.

A magnificent Lagos City Hall building and one of the pioneer secondary schools in Lagos, the “Kings College”, sandwiched between trees, can be found within the radius of the public space. The school environment was full of flowers constantly managed by a gardener. Other federal buildings such as the Supreme Court, Federal Surveys, and a neighbourhood Post Office are visible structures.

The Tafawa Balewa Bus Terminal was where government and non-government workers converge to board public transportation to any part of the city and to the border towns of Mushin, Oshodi, and Ikeja, which was then under the administrative control of the Western Region government.

The affluent residential hoods of Ikoyi and Victoria Island were virtually immersed in what could pass for a forest because of the extensive greenery common in the two strictly residential districts, contrary to the present incompatible/mixed land uses.

Over to the mainland section of the city lies a planned middle-class residential quarters where most property owners have front and backyard gardens.The roads were laid in grid-iron (pattern), very motorable and street connectivity was made simple and suitable for driving without a tremor on the surface of the coffee. Meaning that there was no bumpy roads for the few number of vehicle owners that plied the roadways.

In a nutshell, the narrative above paints a picture of the Lagos of yore as a community-made “garden city” of that era in history, when both the government and the residents were committed to greenery and did so in words and actions. The government and the governed are both true biophilia.

Singapore Garden by the Bay
A view of the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Paradise lost

The turn of event and the fall from grace to grass coupled with the attendant urban degeneration started shortly after the oil boom late in the 1970s. Lagos became the magnet and a “choice” destination city for many Nigerians in search of the Golden Fleece, especially job seekers – both skilled and unskilled applicants. There was spiral industrialisation. Lagos became the hub of so many manufacturing companies and heavy industries. Job oppourtunity was unlimited. And in tow was the torrential wave of internal migration of job seekers. It was a like a river cutting through a hard rock with its persistence. It was an unstoppable and controllable migration from all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria…east, west, north and south with Lagos as the “centripetal city”… a convergence zone for most people.

The city rapidly became cosmopolitan due to the additional influx of foreign immigrants from the ECOWAS sub-region. There was equally uncontrolled physical expansion at the city periphery and other hinterlands which were formerly agricultural farm lands. Most of these fringe settlements are grungy and poverty-ridden. Like a blown balloon, the Lagos population started to increase in number year after year to a certain extent the city was grossly overpopulated.


How the rot began

Suddenly, the link chain snapped.The government capacity to cater for the needs of the huge population in terms of housing, water, employment, health care services, transportation and other necessities of life required by the residents was Herculean and financially tasking. Proper city management was arduous. Urban planning was worse hit and not spared. Feeble attempts were made to guide development on the Lagos Island and Ebute Metta, but the rest of the outer fringes are spontaneous shanty settlements without any trace of urban planning.

Graving for expansion and, in the process of providing physical infrastructure such as road network on the Lagos Island, the government unconsciously and extensively bulldozed most of the trees, leading to tremendous loss of greenery. The marina was completely degreened in the course of construction of a major roadway, and the Tafawa Balewa Square partly became a commercial hub and partly public parade ground with a concrete base and a home to a social club: The Club Arcade.

The felling of trees in Ikoyi and Victoria Island was condoned under the guise of urban expansion. Land reclamation by both government and private sector developers was part of the destructive activities that eliminated some of the wetlands around the city and further pushed back the territory of the Lagos lagoon. An entire public park, the Ikoyi Park of fame, was converted to a high-end residential estate. Similarly, the quest for city expansion led to the gradual sand filling of the Lekki peninsula for housing development with very little consideration for the provision of drainage channels and concern for the surrounding fragile ecosystem.

Many residential estates developed by both the Lagos State Government (LASG) and Private Real Estate developers dotted the landscape of Lekki and Ajah axis of Lagos metropolis. The gale wind of uncontrolled urban development and a frenetic wave of construction activities has not subsided till date, a fact Dr. Babatunde Adejare, the incumbent Lagos State Commissioner for Environment, alluded to during the recent flag-off of the 2017 Tree Planting campaign when he said that, “Lagos lost its biodiversity (and greenery) to development activities and unrelenting urbanisation.”

In trying to describe Lagos greenery in a recent publication, Abimbola Adelakun, a columnist with The Punch newspaper, lamented, “You can fly over large swathes of Lagos without encountering greenery whereas there is a park in the heart of Manhattan in New York City, USA, one of the most urbanised spaces in the world.” (The Punch, Thursday, July 27, 2017.)

Given consideration to all these short-comings and city management problems expatiated above, it is, therefore, fair to truly infer that Lagos was formerly the perfect model of a city, but, currently, it is no more the model of a perfect city in terms of greenery.


The environmental crisis is real

The alarm raised by the Commissioner quoted in this piece is justified. Globally, all humanity is neck-deep in an environmental crisis of immense dimension triggered by human developmental and detrimental activities, extraordinarily consumptive and technology-driven lifestyle resulting in the humongous generation of degradable and non-degradable waste materials, some of which are toxic/harmful to human and the purlieu. The footprint of the environmental crisis is in all villages, towns, cities, regions, and countries of the world, (Lagos and Nigeria inclusive). Indicative of the global environmental crisis, we now have commonly used terminologies such as “global warming”, “climate change”, “rising sea level”, “ocean surge”, “Coemission”, “sustainability”, “greenhouse gas emission”, “renewable energy”, and a host of other environmentally conscious jargons.

Seen as a threat to human survival and city sustainability worldwide, national governments unanimously endorsed the “Paris Agreement on Climate Change” to aggressively combat climate change through mitigation measures such as tree planting, waste recycling, manufacturing of energy efficient automobiles, smart growth to cap urban sprawl, renewable energy sources that are far less polluting than coal or oil, conservation/preservation and sundry Environmental Action Plans to save the future of world cities and humanity in general.


Staging a comeback to greenery

To heed the warnings of global warming and climate change, the LASG has commenced efforts to re-green the Lagos City-State and bring back its legacy and glory of a state that put people and nature at its centre of development. A new agency, the Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency (LASPARK), was specifically set up in 2012 by the government for the purpose of greening Lagos through the development parks, gardens and urban beautification in all ramifications. A green-related programme, “Greener Lagos Initiative”, is already on course and in action. The government started a mandatory tree planting yearly campaign to create public awareness about the importance of trees in the living environment. The programme, now in its 10th year, has some 6.8 million trees planted (Lagos State Parks and Gardens, LASPARK).

During the flag-off of the 2017 Tree Planting Day, the present Administration pledged to plant 500,000 additional trees statewide in addition to the creation of more green areas in the form of parks, parklets, and recreational open space. Well said. But there is palpable apprehension that LASPARK is yet to look outside the box and is less proactive. The Agency is unconsciously committing some mistakes in its line of duty; same observation about the LASG which is inadvertently not following the provisions of its Environmental Sustainability Policy.

We note and suggest as follows.


There must an increased tempo in tree planting

The output of tree planting in Lagos State to-date is 6.8 million 10 years after the first Tree Planting Day was launched in 2007. This on the average is 680,000 trees being planted per annum, whereas a figure of 500,000 was proposed for 2017 creating a shortfall of 180,000. For a state in a speedy race to become carbon-free, greener, cleaner, and healthier in order to raise the quality of living standard, tree planting out-put per year desirably should be on a higher increase. It should not be on a downward trend.  A concerted effort must be made in ensuring that at least a minimum threshold of one million trees per year is set as an achievable goal. It may seem impossible until it is done. Tree planting ought to be a continuous function for LASPARK, not just a symbolic one-day exercise after which there is a weakling spirit in tree planting activity.


The re-greening of Lagos must be invigorated and redirected

LASPARK should focus more on recovering the loss of greenery within the CBD, Broad Street/Marina axis and along all primary arterial roads in the mega city. By design, the Agency should create a linear island or vest pocket space along roads which are currently bereft of greenery. Such areas are ubiquitous in Lagos. The road sidewalk/median, for example, in some areas of the mega city, can still conveniently accommodate tree planting. This is a common practice in most American cities especially around the central business districts (CBDs), where different species of trees galore. It gives the visual impression that one is in a park or forest because of the lush and luxuriant foliage of the trees.

Chicago’s iconic 24.5 acres public park, the Millennium Park, is located in the middle of downtown Chicago “atop of a commuter rail station and a parking garage”. The park “is considered the world’s largest rooftop garden.” It is a tourist’s destination and delight. The public park has so many interesting side attractions which include an exotic food court, a variety of sculptures, unique water fountain, botanic garden, a large open-field concert facility, event hall, image gallery, children playground and free seasonal events/activities for tourists. In 2016, the Millennium Park recorded 25 million visitors out of a total 58 million people that visited the city of Chicago (Wikipedia).


Operational lapses should be revisited and corrected

Since its inception in 2012, LASPARK was able to establish 327 parks comprising public event parks, gardens, and public playgrounds. The ownership of the parks is broken into 212 (LASG), 85 (private concerns) and 31 (established in schools), as reported on the LASPARK website. However, the flaw in most of the parks is that they cannot be regarded as public parks in the true sense of the word. They are not user-friendly due to their dangerous/vulnerable/isolated locations.

For example, one is located under high tension electric cables along Osborne Road, Ikoyi. Some are located inside the loops of bridges or in awkward places without direct access and along the expressway having a high volume of vehicular traffic. Constant exposure of prospective visitors to imminent danger while making attempts to cross the ever busy roads is one sure way to discourage people from using the parks.

Although the sizes of the parks are not specified on the LASPARK website, which is a serious oversight, they are “parklets or mini playgrounds… smaller versions of a standard public park”. Most public parks are usually accompanied with useful information about the history, size, the attractions within the parks and sundry activities for the benefit of visitors. LASPARK scores very low in this aspect of public park management. The website is not replete with adequate information which could be very useful to both local and foreign tourists. This is could cause a dent on LASPARK’s public image because the Agency is not information prolific.


Avoiding past mistake

While the effort of the present administration is commended in the areas of city-wide urban renewal, it seems the mistake of the past is still being repeated in most of the state’s physical development projects such as housing, bus terminal and road construction. This writer had the privilege of visiting the Lagos Homes housing estate being developed at Sangotedo area along the Lekki Expressway and the newly-built Ikeja Bus Terminal. The two projects occupy very large tracts of land. However, when compared to areas earmarked for landscaping and tree planting, there is disequilibrium. The Sangotedo estate is overbuilt with residential buildings without the commensurate ratio of open space and playground or a nearby outdoor public park big enough for the anticipated use of the estate’s large population.

The Ikeja Bus Terminal has very minimal trees planted within the complex. For the benefit of commuters, more trees are required to be planted which, in the future, would provide shade during inclement weather conditions for passengers while waiting to board the bus. The proliferation of trees within the bus terminal is desirable. It serves a good purpose at reducing the harmful effects of carbon dioxide emission from the fleet of buses regularly coming and going out of such a localised area where human traffic is expectedly high. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen to sustain human life.


Aim high and be the first, nobody remembers the second

Lastly, if the noble intention for the enhancement of tourism is to go beyond mere sloganeering and the Tree Planting campaign is not a propaganda, Lagos State is in dire need of iconic public park in each of the IBILE Districts (Ikorodu, Badagry, Ikeja, Lagos, and Epe). Activities to do and places to visit, where is the restaurant to eat local foods/delicatessen and places of entertainment/concerts to attend are the primary factors that gravitate tourists to and sustainable tourism in the city or country. For Lagos to be competitive in the world tourism trade, the proposed parks should not be less than 200 hectares in size but could be more. Prototype design should be avoided. Each district must have a different design with unique attractions and features. As a Centre of Excellence and a trail blazer State, the parks must be of high international standard and the call for design must be open to local and international competition so that the best design would be chosen.

The city-state of Singapore is a best practice in tourism and park development. It has many unique attractions and creatively designed “one-of-a-kind” public parks, architectural buildings, nature reserves and awesome city aesthetics that put Singapore in number one position among “the best ten world’s tourism cities in 2016.”

With a strong political will, Lagos State can reach the same enviable height but it should be mindful of Arnold Glasgow’s immortal caveat: “an idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.”(Arnold Glasgow, 1905-1998).

By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban planner, planning advocate; Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos)

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