Archives for category: Nigeria

What might be Lagos’s most internationally recognizable building project since the 1980s isn’t a skyscraper or a suspension bridge — it’s a one-room schoolhouse. The now well-known A-frame bobs in the murky surf of Makoko, one of Lagos’s largest slums, providing a learning space for a community of 100,000+ people not officially recognized by the city government. Designed by Nigeria’s rising star Kunlé Adeyemi, the project made waves in the architectural world last year for its simplicity, adaptability, and humanity. I first read (and blogged) about the project last fall and was struck by the auroral beauty of the blue-roofed building set against the cooking smoke and plain timber structures of Makoko where new homes are often constructed on a soggy foundation of raw sewage (see episode 2 of the BBC’s documentary Welcome to Lagos). Here was a project that had actually succeeded in that often sought but rarely realized gauntlet of creating low-cost, high-design buildings from recycled material to benefit poor communities. Write-ups poured in from the New York Times, The Guardian, and many others, and Makoko Floating School splashed across my newsfeed for several weeks.

Last summer when I was in Lagos for the first time, I saw the school from the Third Mainland Bridge moments before glimpsing the city’s skyline and I have to admit that the school stole the spotlight. The Third Mainland Bridge is the longest bridge in Africa, meandering from Ebute Meta to Lagos Island, and, about halfway along, it provides the perfect balcony to view Akeyemi’s school (where I took the photo below). Akeyemi certainly knew how to make the most of a small-scale project that other architects might have scoffed at. For making a name for himself Akeyemi had good training — he worked at Koolhaas’s firm OMA for nearly a decade before founding his own firm NLÉ in 2010. His relationship with Koolhaas adds a fascinating dimension to Adeyemi’s project since Koolhaas’s Harvard Project on the City produced some of the most provocative writing on Lagos to date. Koolhaas challenged outside observers to see Lagos as being at the “forefront of globalizing modernity” — a dynamic urban space that had outgrown Western notions of the city and carrying capacity to become a “self-organizing” entity that completely disorientated visitors but somehow “worked.” Within this paradigm, it’s not surprising that Adeyemi saw that the future was in Lagos and returned to set-up shop. But of course his move and the civically-concerned design he’s been involved in since being back puts a twist on Koolhaas’s “self-organizing” thesis.

Away from the stratosphere of starchitects, the school itself has become the pride of Makoko, a place for a handful of youths to get an education long denied to the unincorporated fishing community. Every day local children park their hollowed out wooden canoes around the floating school and gather on its open-air decks for class, and in the evenings the buoyant building becomes a community center for local leaders. The project is only the prototype of a much larger masterplan that Adeyemi envisions for Makoko, and if funding comes through all of the neighborhood’s stilt-supported shacks will one day be replaced by floating A-frames. When that happens, it may just be a sight to rival Eko Atlantic — the megaproject of office buildings developing on the other side of the city and architectural spectrum.

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(Mark Duerksen 2014)

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In 2009 David Adjaye and Philip Freelon’s plans for an inverted and stacked trapezoidal building encased in bronze screens won the design competition for the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). When the building opens in late 2015, it will have been 100 years since African American Civil War veterans first proposed a DC memorial honoring various African American achievements. This centennial timeline illustrates how long the struggle has dragged on to construct a monument to African American history, it also reminds us just how recently millions of Africans were enslaved in America by the fact that men who actually fought to end slavery were connected to this ongoing project. The building itself mines the more distant connection of the African origin of American slaves for its defining tripartite trapezoids, which evoke Yoruba carved wood columns–specifically the crowns at the top of the columns (not a king’s “crown” as many articles mistakenly assume)–found on traditional buildings in southwest Nigeria. The reference to Yoruba pillars subtly suggests the prominence of African American scientists, artists, and politicians in the creation of America, and also–to use the museum’s term–“the darker corners” of the reality that America was built on the backs of enslaved Africans. Revisions to the original winning design, including a third tier, have further brought out the form of a sculpted Yoruba column, whereas before the plans looked equally like a shimmering fire above a base of a flat funeral pyre…not exactly the imagery a museum to African American culture wants to evoke. The redesign removes the red-stone base, integrating the crown with the ground level. While these have been improvements to the original vision, budget concerns have scrapped plans for an entrance that would have crossed a series of intricately landscaped waterways, reverently breaking the stride of visitors as they approached and serving as a reminder of the middle passage crossing. Another victim of the budget has been the bronze facade, which will now be fashioned from some kind of coated composite. There are concerns whether the new material will shine and if it will eventually flake off. Perhaps, in an America where pernicious racism chips away at any optimism for a united union, nothing could be a more fitting symbol for the dream of a nation that recognizes and honors the contributions and heritage of African Americans…except for maybe a funeral pyre…or, maybe yet, the shift in the form of the building’s tragic flaw from funeral pyre to a million paint specks speaks to the shifts in the way American racism operates.

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Yoruba columns in the house of Susanne Wenger (Mark Duerksen, 2014)

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Columns carved by Olowe of Ise (source)

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*Self-promotion warning* A book review and an article–both related to Lagos–that I wrote last year were recently published online. The African Studies Quarterly book review was on Kaye Whiteman’s Lagos: A Cultural History (highly recommended introduction to the city) and the article looked at Rem Koolhaas’s Lagos project and the highly critical responses to it, making the straightforward claim that critics’ borderline-vitriol was unnecessary and unproductive, and that despite numerous imperfections, Koolhaas’s project in fact pushes African urban research in productive new directions of grappling with African cities on their own terms rather than as stunted or failed versions of Western cities. The article was published in the Johannesburg Salon.

Review of Lagos: A Cultural History

The Koolhaas Effect: Hot Air over Lagos

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Lagos Billboard (Mark Duerksen 2014)

Creating a mashup of aerial images of African cities is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now and today I finally had a minute to put the satellite images together. Here’s the link: Afrian_metropolises. I downloaded all of the images from Google Earth Pro at the same size and scale (from 34.7 miles). The top row shows six of West Africa’s largest cities, the middle row shows East and Central African cities, and the bottom shows southern Africa plus New York and Boston for familiar comparisons (for me at least). A few striking first glance observations include the size of the South African giants Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Nigeria’s neighboring megalopolises Lagos and Ibadan (especially these two Nigerian cities in comparison to Kano, which recent (politically motivated) censuses have given population figures equal to Lagos. This is not to say geographic size of a city is determinant of its population, but the aerial difference between these three cities is readily apparent). Also interesting to note is how obvious (but obviously not a scientific method) it is to tell how paved a city is or is not based on where the city lies on the scale between brown (dirt) and grey (asphalt). There’s a limit to how useful images/maps like this actually are, but it’s fun to look at and helpful to have a for developing a mental imprint of the relative geographic sizes and shapes of African cities. 

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(Mark Duerksen 2014)

This is the final post in an eight part series on the history of Ebola. For immediate information about how to help prevent the further spread of Ebola and keep yourself safe please consult and share the Ebola Facts website.

As we are well aware, this year the two-decade trend of isolated outbreaks in Central Africa every few years has been broken by a much larger and more prolonged series of cases in West Africa. The outbreak began when a two-year-old child in southeastern Guinea contracted the most deadly species of the virus (Zaire ebolavirus) in early December last year, putting into motion the initially slow and then progressively faster spread of the virus to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now Nigeria. Unlike the past twenty year’s string of Central African outbreaks that were each unique and separate despite initial speculation otherwise, this year’s West African outbreak does seem to be the result of a single index case followed by human-to-human transmission. Here’s a good time-lapse map of that transmission through West Africa. Summaries of the specifics of this year’s outbreak are widely available online, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will offer a few pieces of analysis based on the history I’ve covered in the previous posts.

IMG_5260Matt Ridley gets it all wrong for The Times

First there’s a need to correct a couple of pieces of misinformation that continue to circulate with this year’s outbreak. A more minor error is that this is not in fact the first time that there has been a West African case of Ebola as many news outlets have reported. Previously a zoologist working in Cote d’Ivoire caught the Tai Forest species of the virus and then fully recovered in Switzerland. Second and more importantly, the virus has not been previously restrained to only rural, remote areas of Central Africa. As we’ve seen, two of the deadliest previous outbreaks occurred when the virus struck the relatively large cities and regional hubs of Kikwit and Gulu. These Central African cities might not have quite the same level of road infrastructure linking them to other urban centers as West African cities do (although I know plenty of people board buses every day in Gulu bound for several cities and countries), but these two cases do provide a precedent for urban outbreaks of Ebola. And although these previous urban outbreaks were incredibly deadly, the cities were able to eventually contain the virus’s spread within a matter of months. So, in searching for a reason why this year’s outbreak has spread so far and killed so many, the answer is not as simple as stating that this is the first time the virus has appeared in an urbanized setting.

Other explanations have included the slow recognition and response time of international medical teams. Again, a look at the history of the virus shows that response time is not a unique factor in considering why this outbreak is so much worse. In the cases of the 1976 Sudan and Zaire outbreaks and several subsequent episodes, international teams were slow to recognize the virus’s appearance and did not arrive on the scene until after the local communities had already contained the spread of the virus. This fact suggests that one reason for the extent and deadliness of this year’s outbreak might be partly found in the local community’s responses. As Hewlett observed in Gulu, the DRC, and Gabon, many communities in Central Africa possess long practiced social procedures such as quarantine and modified burial practices that they employ when their communities recognize that they are dealing with an especially virulent affliction. I do not know if communities in West Africa have similar procedures, but it would not be surprising if they don’t due to the fact that they’re not used to seeing diseases like Ebola, or alternatively that they did previously possess similar response techniques but that the long civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone destroyed that local knowledge as violence and insecurity ripped communities apart.

Whatever the cause(s) behind the severity of this year’s outbreak, the fact is Zaire ebolavirus’s path through West Africa has been more deadly than all previous Ebola cases combined, and I have to admit that when I initially heard that the virus had arrived in Lagos—the impetus for this series of posts—I feared that Ebola might finally find in the fast life, international networks, and rancid infrastructure of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest city what HIV/AIDS found in the reused medical needles, sex trade, and migrant networks of 1970s Kinshasa and Brazzaville—that is, the lethal mixture of social and environmental conditions that would allow the virus to eventually explode into a global epidemic.

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Trash disposal in Lagos (Mark Duerksen 2014)

Being a Central African originating RNA virus linked to primates and transmitted through body fluids, comparisons of Ebola to HIV/AIDS were bound to occur. However there are several important differences that will likely yet prevent Ebola from boiling into an epidemic the way HIV/AIDS did. The first significant difference is the length of time from infection to fatality (or recovery for 10-60% of Ebola patients). HIV can hole up and multiply inside an infected person’s immune system for months, years, or even a decade, slowly destroying T-cells until it has killed so many that doctors consider the person to have developed AIDS. Over these months or years while HIV festers into AIDS, a person with HIV may be completely asymptomatic, but all the while still able spread the virus through sexual contact or blood transfusions. This slow and silent development timeline means that an HIV carrier might not even realize that he or she has become infected for years or even a decade and all the while be transmitting the virus to numerous people, allowing HIV to creep into a critical mass of carriers before it is even detected. This quiet buildup of an infected mass of people is exactly what happened for decades in Central Africa, and by the time doctors “discovered” HIV/AIDS, it was already an epidemic throughout the region.

Ebola on the other hand asymptomatically incubates for a few days or up to a few weeks, during which time the victim cannot transmit the virus to another person. Once symptoms develop after the incubation period, the patient’s health declines quickly and death is then generally a matter of days away, leaving only a very small window to further spread the virus (although it can still be contracted from infected corpses, so that is an additional concern and why burial practices are crucial to containing Ebola). One important note here is that those who recover from Ebola can still transmit the virus through semen or possibly breast milk for a number of weeks. While Ebola is easier to transmit during its small contagious window than HIV/AIDS is during its prolonged window, Ebola still has a low transmission rate,[1] requiring direct contact with infected bodily fluids, and the virus cannot be transmitted through the air the way respiratory diseases can be. Despite the horrific extent and fatality numbers of Ebola in West Africa, the virus will likely burn itself out due to its short contagious window (although it might take severe quarantine and curfew measures as we’re now seeing in West Africa) before it ever reaches a critical, completely uncontrollable mass in the way HIV did.

Perhaps the most optimism-inspiring difference between HIV/AIDS and Ebola is the two viruses’ rates of mutation. While both likely simmered in the forests of Central Africa long before scientists officially detected and classified them, Ebola’s genetic structure has hardly changed since the first confirmed cases in 1976 while HIV/AIDS has mutated incredibly rapidly, making treatment for HIV/AIDS much more difficult to square with virus’s continually changing configuration. Ebola’s steady genetic structure makes the prospects for a cure much more promising, and as we’ve seen with the initial success of ZMapp, cures seem to be on the horizon. Now we just have to hope treatments can be produced and distributed asap because, while Ebola is not likely to become a global epidemic, it is causing untold suffering in West Africa that we likely won’t realize the true extent of for some time yet. Ebola’s destructive path through West Africa includes not only the direct victims of the virus, but also those caught in the clashes between soldiers enforcing quarantines and those trying to flee its path, survivors who are now shunned by their communities, communities that no longer trust doctors and hospitals, businesses and entire economies that have taken a massive hit, and medical infrastructure throughout the region that has been depleted, abandoned, and looted, causing other illnesses to proliferate in the absence of treatment facilities. Still it is worth noting the statistics on HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases deaths per day dwarf Ebola deaths in the Ebola-affected countries–a reminder that those preventable diseases also require immediate attention and that serious long term work to repair medical infrastructure and communities’ relations with medical personnel will be imperative to West Africans’ health once this outbreak can be contained.

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[1] Daniel G Bausch, et al., “Assessment of the Risk of Ebola Virus Transmission from Bodily Fluids and Fomites,” Journal of Infectious Disease, 196(), S142-S147. Available online: http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/196/Supplement_2/S142.full

This post is the second part in a short series I’m writing on the history of Ebola. For immediate information about how to help prevent the further spread of Ebola and keep yourself safe please consult and share the Ebola Facts website.

While there are numerous virology and pathology articles trying to pin down the scientific facts of the elusive Ebola virus, social scientists do not seem to have thoroughly studied the dreaded virus…and it’s not hard to imagine why historians and anthropologists would shy away from field research on a disease like Ebola.

I haven’t researched Ebola in the field, and when reading this historical summary please note that I am not a doctor, nor am I a historian of science, so please consult the sources cited for more thorough information. That being said, as compellingly argued in a recent Journal of African History article on the social history and biology of HIV/AIDS in Africa, scientific understanding and treatment is often enhanced by a greater awareness of the social and cultural contexts in which diseases have developed and spread. These kind of historical insights are why I hope I’m able to offer something by giving an account of Ebola from an African history perspective without having an advanced background in biology.

However a quick synopsis of Ebola’s basic biology is of course necessary. Ebola virus disease (EVB) or Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) is an RNA virus that is part of the Filoviridae Family of diseases of which there are three members—Marburg Virus, Cueva Virus, and, our concern, Ebola Virus. Within its branch of the Filoviridae tree, Ebola comes in five species: Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV, discovered in1976), Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV, 1976), Tai Forest ebolavirus (TAFV, 1994), Reston ebolavirus (RESTV, 1989), and Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV, 2007). Amongst these five strains, Zaire, Sudan, and Bundibugyo are responsible for the deadly outbreaks in Africa, while Reston has never caused human illness or death despite several people testing positive for it (they remain asymptomatic), and there has been only one human known case of Tai and the victim fully recovered within six weeks.[1]

Ebola is a public health nightmare because it can be contracted easily and is almost always fatal. Ebola is introduced into human populations from contact with the highly contagious blood or body fluids of infected animals such as monkeys or bats, and then spreads through human-to-human transmission. There is also some inconclusive evidence that the virus can spread through airborne nasal and throat secretions.[2] The signs and symptoms of Ebola have been well publicized, and they include the sudden onset of fever, sore throat, extreme weakness, headache, and muscle pain within 2 to 21 days of infection. Additional symptoms soon appear that make transmission more likely, including vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, both internal (gastrointestinal) and external (gums, nose) bleeding.[3] There is no known treatment for Ebola (although vaccines are in the works), and once the onset of symptoms occur, victims usually die within 5 days with Zaire ebolavirus’s fatality rate nearing 90% and Sudan’s being slightly less between 53% and 66%.[4]

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Bats on an island in Lake Kivu (Mark Duerksen 2014)

One of the greatest mysteries surrounding Ebola has been identifying the “reservoir”—the animal that asymptomatically carries the virus between outbreaks, allowing it to go silent for years at a time. Scientists have come to consider fruit bats as the most likely reservoir candidates after capturing and testing thousands of African animals, and after numerous attempts to infect various animals and plants, which confirmed fruit bats could contract and carry the virus.[5] However most human cases are thought to be the result of exposure (hunting, eating) to infected nonhuman primates and duikers (small deer) that have acquired the virus from bats.[6]

[1] WHO, “Ebola virus disease Fact Sheet,” April 2014. Online: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/

[2] C. J. Peters and J. W. LeDue, “An Introduction to Ebola: The Virus and the Disease,” The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 179 (1999), ix-xvi. Online: http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/179/Supplement_1/ix.full.pdf

[3] WHO, “Ebola virus disease Fact Sheet,” April 2014. Online: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/

[4] A. S. Carroll et al., “Molecular Evolution of Viruses of the Family Filoviridae Based on 97 Whole-Genome Sequences,” Journal of Virology, 87(2013), 2608-2616. Online: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23255795

[5] Ibid; and Xavier Pourrut et al., “The natural history of Ebola virus in Africa,” Microbes and Infection, 7(2005), 1005-1014. Online:

[6] A. S. Carroll et al., “Molecular Evolution of Viruses of the Family Filoviridae Based on 97 Whole-Genome Sequences,” Journal of Virology, 87(2013), 2608-2616. Online: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23255795

For immediate information on how to help prevent the further spread of Ebola and how keep yourself safe, please consult and share the Ebola Facts website.

The terrible news that a man—who we now know was an American citizen on his way home to Minnesotadied from Ebola upon arriving in Lagos from Liberia jolted me when I read about it a couple of days ago. Ebola—the disease my older sister used to give me nightmares about after she read The Hot Zone—seemed oceans away when I was researching in Lagos several weeks ago, where car crashes, malaria, and Boko Haram seemed like much more immediate fears.

But now, in a matter of hours, via one single horribly unlucky man on one ill-fated flight, the disease has arrived in Nigeria’s megacity—a city where as many as 20 million or more people live without a reliable source of power, without a well functioning sanitation system, and without much infrastructure whatsoever (a topic I am currently writing another post on). The people of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea along with the health workers bravely working to treat those affected have already suffered horribly from West Africa’s first outbreak of the Zaire strain of Ebola—an outbreak that has killed at least 1,500 people since early 2014—and it is terrifying to think of the virus traveling to a major international city like Lagos where the toll could be even more horrific and from where it could more easily spread beyond West Africa (over seven million passengers traveled through Murtala Muhammed International Airport in 2011 alone).

With fear for my friends in Nigeria in mind, I decided to research more about the deadly disease, and have been writing a summary of the virus’s history because the wikipedia entry didn’t provide much information and because the double mystery surrounding Ebola and Central Africa—still imagined by many in Heart of Darkness terms—is in part why many people find the disease so terrifying. Over the next few days I’ll upload a series of posts on the history of Ebola, so check back or follow Arcade Africa for notifications of those posts.

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Murtala Muhammed International Airport (Mark Duerksen 2014)

A few quick updates:

First off, a big thank you to The Guardian for including me in their updated list of The Best City Blogs from around the World (link to Arcade Africa under general sites, fifth from the left). I’ve gotten a lot of traffic (relative to next to none previously) through their link recently!

Secondly, a few days ago was the two year anniversary of starting this blog. Yay. Two years ago I was fresh out of college and hadn’t even applied to grad school yet, but I already knew the topics I’ve been following here were something I wanted to learn more about and share information on. Here’s to hoping it’s still going in two more years.

And finally, an update on a project I’ve been following closely and have posted about before: it looks like the much delayed NYC Museum for African Art has suffered another setback and is now scaling back plans for the Museum’s architectural embellishments in order to cut costs since its fundraising has dried up. Billionaires, and millionaires, open your wallets and fund this worthy project that will inform and thrill thousands and thousands of visitors with Africa’s rich art history. It only needs $11 million more…a single Fang sculpture (below) alone recently auctioned for nearly half that much.

Again, more posts on Lagos/Nigeria to come soon–working on them in a word doc now–so stay tuned.

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I flew out of Murtala Muhammed Airport at 11pm and, after a short stop in Heathrow, I landed at Shannon Airport on the west coast of Ireland and was soon gliding through lush, stone-wall-lined country roads on an Éireann Bus headed to Galway City. As I sleepily stared out the window, I–at first casually and then more methodically–noticed the similarities between the architecture of Irish homes and those I had just left in Nigeria. The simplicity of the shapes–boxy, mostly single floor homes that maximized living space within the small plots–was the first noticeable parallel between the houses, and so was the material–concrete cinder blocks stuccoed and painted a variety of colors. Another common feature was walls around the plots. In Ireland yards were surrounded by the traditional, pastoral stacked-stone walls (some with and some without mortar) between 3 and 5 feet tall, and in Nigeria housed were barricaded behind tall concrete, booby-trap topped walls that provided their residents with security (but that I suspect also have connections to longer traditions of Yoruba architecture in which compounds were surrounded by walls not so much to keep people out, but to create a sense of belonging amongst those within the walls–more on this in another post soon). Then there was the paved yards around the homes–a not so attractive feature shared by Nigerian homes (to tamp dust? To provide more parking space for numerous visitors?) and Irish homes (to give homes and vehicles a more stable foundation on the water logged soil?). Having been in Ireland for a few weeks now, I’ve noticed other similarities shared between the former British colony Nigeria and arguably the first British colony, Ireland. There’s a second hand feel accompanied by a resourcefulness that’s noticeable in Ireland similar to that in Nigeria, which was especially apparent compared to the conspicuous wealth and opulence found in the former colonial metropole, London. Unconnected to colonial history, there’s an interesting similarity between Bronze/Iron age Celtic art and ancient Yoruba art (this region of Africa developed bronze and iron smelting independently of Europe/Asia). Any art historian could probably pick out just how different they are, but broadly speaking, I think there’s quite a few similarities in patterns and forms (especially the eyes: Irish Sheela na gig and Yoruba Orisha.

That’s a lot more than I was planning to write on the simple observation that a few things in Ireland remind me of Nigeria. Now I’ll work backwards and post more thoughts on Nigeria and Lagos over the next few days/weeks.

 

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Somewhat Upscale House in Lagos (Mark Duerksen 2014)

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Typical city home in Galway (Mark Duerksen 2014)

A few cities (mostly in South America) have recently built or are planning to build gondolas to lift people up and over traffic to take them throughout the city as an efficient, low(er) cost, and scenic means of public transportation. This is the second time I’ve run into this urban mobility solution in the last couple of weeks and given how successful some of these projects have been, I’ve been wondering why it has not yet been more widely implemented. Compared to the disruption and all the technical difficulties in digging tunnels for underground metro systems, building these hanging subways is far less disruptive (and cost “between $3 million and $12 million per mile, comparing favorably against $400 million per mile for subway systems and $36 million per mile for light rail systems”} and although they don’t have the carryings capacity of underground trains, they can be visually “timed” and offer a visible link to the heart of the city for residents of historically marginal areas (or “urban islands”) that are then connected to gondola lines. The article claims that plans for a gondola system is in the works for Lagos (I’m not sure if it’s part of the proposed but slow to develop plans for a Lagos train metro system). This is a phenomenon worth following.

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A great blog post on Nigeria’s plans to build a new centennial “smart” city (more of a district) for 100k people in its capital Abuja (itself a planned city that was built in the 1980s). While praising the socially and environmentally conscious planning approach that promises “a mature vibrant ecosystem,” the piece reminds us that new cities in developing countries are almost always reliant on fickle market driven investors hoping to reap huge economic playoffs from these “green and sustainable” international business hubs by quite simply plundering its countryside. These ambitious, environmentally conscious, new city projects are in themselves fantastic examples of planning and social responsibility, but as the post points out, at some point we have to take a step back and question whether our capitalist economy and its byproduct of violent ecological damage are themselves sustainable, and how do we plan and build a better version?

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Billing itself as a kind of anti-megacity that have been the focus of urban studies in the developing world, the Anam New City project is creating a new “rurban” (mixed rural and urban) area in east-central Nigeria for approx. 30k people to live in. Funded by the Chife Foundation, the aim is to create a model for sustainable development that mixes agriculture and pastoral space and lifestyle with dense community living (and the service delivery that is possible with it) in a clustered, mixed use master plan. I’m very curious to follow this project as people move in. Unlike past African city plans, this one seems to have a better appreciation for the “rurbanism” that eventually works its way into nearly all African cities–I read somewhere that the cows in Nairobi produce some massive quantity (in the 1000s of pounds) of dung a day. Of course this is a project funded by an wealthy NGO and unlikely to be reproducible across the continent where a more likely widespread approach is the privately funded planned cities to cater to international economic development. Still it seems like the NGO is going to eventually upload a manual onto their website that shares information on how to build similar cities. Master planning isn’t nonexistent even in places considered the epitome of “adaptive self-organization” such as Lagos where the current mayor Babatunde Fashola is building planned urban housing projects for the city. It would be interesting to see the effect of aspects of Anam New City incorporated into a kind of “nodal development” of a megacity, creating hubs of pre-planned order with services and uncongested transportation. Here’s a link to the Anam City blog.

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Is increasingly wealthy Africans. One quick positive and negative question: will this new demand be coupled with a revivalism of African interest in religions and cultures that were persecuted under Christian colonialism? What kind of strains will it put on the already poorly monitored and regulated art market in Africa?

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A brief interview with Andrew Esiebo about his latest photography project:  West African barbershops, one of the most consistent and ubiquitous forms of architecture and public art in African cities.

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When the old isn’t working or is just too cumbersome to overhaul….simply build a brand new city from scratch! At least that’s what these projects intend to do. Most of these future cities are in the initial/early periods of funding/construction but they will be fascinating to follow as they begin opening for business. They’re all located next to some of the continent’s largest decaying/overcrowded urban areas–what will become of those when these glitzy new international business orientated centers are fully functional? I can imagine a mass rush of people pouring towards the promises of these new cities (if only as day commuters since they’ll likely be exorbitantly expensive places to live like Victoria Island in Lagos in currently), abandoning the rusting infrastructure and informally organized cities just miles away. Will there be an influx control mechanism built into these new centers? A passcard system? We know how well planned capitals like Dodoma and Abuja have played out in Africa; will an urban area backed by international corporate investment lead to different results? Part two coming soon.  Eko Atlantic project constructed on man-made sandbar in the harbor of Lagos:

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is expected to top 1.3B by 2030. What does the soon to follow increase of corporate spurred consumerism mean for urban Africa? A sense of being connected to global culture trends and ideas through fashion and design? Or the kind of rampant consumerism that leads to violence and even murder over a pair of shoes? It’s not difficult to imagine either scenario. Speaking of fasion, the Nigerian government seems to think a tax id number can be made fashionable based on this ad that popped up beside the article (and based on this article in the Atlantic, the Mayor of Lagos seems to be having massive success in boosting tax revenue, having already raised monthly revenue from $4 million to $101 million):

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Would this work in Lagos? Is that question a luxury for marginal residents of Lagos?

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Incredible photos of Lagos youth and Niger’s oil blackmarket. Blogged about in the New York Times.

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