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Designing African Cities: Urban Planning Education In Nigeria




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By Prof Vanessa Watson and Prof Babatunde Agbola

In June 2011, the Governor of Osun State inaugurated a 10 man Committee for the state Urban Renewal Programme. The Committee of which I was the Chairman was to prepare an Urban Renewal Master Plan for each of the 9 selected cities in the state. At the inauguration, the Governor emphasized and re-emphasized that the type of plans he anticipated for each of these cities are not the types and models of New York, Washington, London or any other Euro-American cities. The plans were to reflect African cities realities and thus have relevance for the lives of the residents of these cities.

These observations of the Governor point to the widespread belief of Nigerians that there is an observable disconnect between what the planners learn and know and what they put into practice for the general welfare and liveability of the populace. Admittedly, theory feeds and inform practice but when theories of other climes are transplanted for practice in another, the result cannot but be disastrous. Such is the effect of received contemporary planning education and knowledge on the morphology of Nigerian towns and cities.

Design concept for Eko Atlantic Image from archinect.com

Design concept for Eko Atlantic City
Image from archinect.com

According to Watson and Agbola (2013) in their book ‘Who will Plan African Cities’, ”Planning is the single most important tool that governments have at their disposal for managing rapid urban population growth and expansion and Nigeria would seem to have an abundance of this tool to affect and effect the desired changes in the Nigerian urban space”.

Today, (Feb, 2014) in Nigeria, there are 49 Planning Schools, 31 of which are in Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology, while Urban and Regional Planning are taught in 18 Universities spread unevenly across the Nigerian geographic space. This is the largest assembly of planning schools on the African continent. The most poignant question, however, is how has these number of planning schools and their products impact the morphology of Nigerian cities or the livelihood of its citizens?

Visualisation of the Abuja Master Plan, 2006 - 2008 Image from www.as-p.de

Visualisation of the Abuja Master Plan, 2006 – 2008
Image from www.as-p.de

That these number of planning schools and their products have not positively or evidently affected the morphology of Nigerian towns and cities may be traced to three factors: either the curricula of the planning schools are faulty or; the products of these schools have no leverage to practice what they learnt; or both.   In the view of Watson and Agbola (2013), it is more of a faulty curricula which feeds wrong professional practice which seeks to produce Euro-American cities on the African continent

Most planning educators in Nigeria are products of top rate schools in the global north of Europe and America, including this writer. The received knowledge by these educators are mostly in contradistinction to the needs, aspirations and indeed, realities of  African cities. The result is the transplanting of America and Europe knowledge of city plan to Nigeria. Yet, the form, functions and processes of these Africa cities are uncommonly different. Many of the attending problems of Nigerian cities are not the contending issues in the global north. No wonder Nigerian cities remain undeveloped but growing and its major problems remain unsolved.

Areal view of Part Harcourt, taken for The Human City Project, Nigeria Image from cargocollective.com

Aerial view of Part Harcourt, taken for The Human City Project, Nigeria
Image from cargocollective.com

There is thus a need for the rejuvenation of planning education in Nigeria. This need has been accentuate by the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS) beginning in 2008 when a major conference on evolving a new curricula by African Planning Schools was held. At that conference, thoughts of African Planning educators were distilled and five major themes that should be entrenched in all African Planning Schools curricula were identified as:

  • Informality
  • Access to land
  • Climate change
  • Collaboration between planners, communities, civil society and other interested parties
  • Mismatch between spatial planning and infrastructure planning

In addition to this effort and confronted by daring challenges of urban development in Nigeria, the Nigerian  Institute of Town Planners (NITP) and the Town Planners Registration Council (TOPREC) have encouraged Planning Schools to come up with revised curricula to take into consideration topical issues of practical relevance to the lives of Nigerians. Taking the lead, for example, the TOPREC Mandatory Compulsory Development Programme (MCDP) 2013, an annual mandatory seminar series for planners nation wide was based on Climate Change with a message that all planning schools should include these in their curriculum.

Aerial view of Makoko Image from thecreatorsproject.vice.com

Aerial view of Makoko
Image from thecreatorsproject.vice.com

These curricula changes to include all the five identified issues are being pursued with dedicated seriousness by TOPREC as they go on periodic accreditation and any planning school that do not have issues of common and practical relevance are refused recertification.

The required change is very challenging but with collective determination of the planning schools and the unrelenting enforcement by the statutorily supervising bodies, the battle for a more realistic curricula for Nigeria’s planning schools can be evolved and implemented.

Floating Community Design by NLÉ Image from thecreatorsproject.vice.com

Floating Community Design by NLÉ
Image from thecreatorsproject.vice.com

With this, the urban form and landscape of Nigerian cities can be more inclusive, growing with development with the possibility of having decidedly Nigerian cities with which the city residents can relate and be proud of as their own cities.

Professor Vanessa Watson is professor of city planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and Deputy Dean of the faculty. Her research over the last thirty years has focussed on urban planning in the global South and the effects of inappropriate planning practices and theories especially in Africa.

Professor Babatunde Agbola is currently the Director of Physical Planning at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. He is also a member of the International Scienctific Council (ICSU), African regional Office. On October 18 2012 he became the Chair of the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS) with headquarters in the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

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Olamide Udoma is a researcher, writer and filmmaker holding degrees in BSc Architecture, MA Design and MPhil Infrastructure Management. Olamide has worked in London, South Africa and Nigeria with various organisations focusing on transport management, slum upgrading and housing rights in urbanising African cities. At Our Future Cities NPO, she is the Lagos manager and editor.