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FUTURE LAGOS | Part 1: How to live and work with water in the future city




“Lagos, where the government is in a continuous game of catch up in supplying the teeming and growing population with basic infrastructure, soft infrastructure is the most appropriate means for service delivery.”

aqueous city2

A principle for Makoko and water settlements of similar genius.

 future lagos logo

by Bayo Windapo

Water is an essential element in many activities carried out in cities. Unfortunately, in Lagos, most water bodies that run into the city are grossly under-utilized and have been channelized, and the Lagos population uses many of them as waste dumping sites.

channelized water body

A channelized water body in Somolu Lagos

It has been found that about 10,000 sqm of industrial effluent and most of the human waste collected from septic tanks on land by waste collectors are dumped directly into the lagoon resulting in a high concentration of bacteria which results in the death of plant life and endangered marine life and this also results in the contraction of diseases by humans. The channelization and dumping of waste into these water bodies cuts them off from city life and prevents them from being important features in the city for human engagement.

In Lagos the settlements on water are hidden and ostracised due to the health implications, lack of infrastructure and their ‘unattractiveness’. The government has neglected them and labelled these areas as ‘slums’. Makoko, on the Lagos lagoon is one of these blighted and unhealthy water settlement. Although Makoko has its challenges, it demonstrates how the resources produced by water can sustain a community if harnessed appropriately. There is great value in preserving unique communities like Makoko, as there are things that can be learnt from the resourcefulness of the settlement in designing the terrain of water.

Makoko and other surrounding coastal settlements.

Makoko and other surrounding coastal settlements.

In countries like Britain, waterfronts and water bodies are great sources of revenue, public space and great boosters of tourism. Therefore an inappropriate use of water can only be to the disadvantage of the people in the city, because this disorganized use prevents the city from tapping into the innate ability of water to be put into a variety of uses.

Soft Infrastructure

To use water appropriately cities need to move from hard infrastructure (roads, bridges, sewers, concrete embankments, piers) to soft infrastructure. Soft infrastructure refers to less expensive systems that draw their power from local knowledge and resources (human and material) in a manner that empowers communities due to their intrinsic ability to allow involvement of ordinary people in their creation and can be managed on a local level.

Soft infrastructure helps in blurring the boundary between city and water. It has an ability to house a diversity of functions and a multifunctional approach to infrastructure is more in tune with the contemporary society, and this can be more uplifting to disadvantaged contexts. In a context such as Lagos, where the government is in a continuous game of catch up in supplying the teeming and growing population with basic infrastructure (water, electricity, sanitation), soft infrastructure is the most appropriate means for service delivery.

Walls were built along the edge of the Roman Tiger River to attenuate floods. It severed the connection between land and the river.

Walls built along the edge of the Roman Tiger River to attenuate floods. It severed the connection between land and the river.

Furthermore, Lagos and cities like Rome and Venice have opted for hard infrastructure strategies in many cases to deal with flooding by building sea walls, piers, floodgates and other wave attenuating devices. These strategies make our cities more vulnerable to sea level rise because they offer a short term solution to a long term change in the climatic conditions of the planet. Ironically, they are also environmentally damaging and prove to be unsustainable and ineffective. These hard water eliminating structures of society such as piers and floodgates, should rather be reconfigured from ribbons into a matrix of spaces that help to intertwine the built environment with water by transforming them into landscaped areas that can be used as public spaces, urban farms, tourist centres and other uses which can also help in the purification of water as seen in the New Urban Ground and New Aqueous City projects which are proposals for softening the New York waterfront.

urban ground1

New Urban Ground project. Transforms the urban streets and edges into better flood and moisture absorbers

In the New Urban Ground project, the hard urban edge of the Gowanus canal in New York, and streets are transformed into absorptive surfaces that attenuate floods while also helping to lower the urban heat island effect by replacing some of the dense urban materials with softer ones.

Transforming the Urban surface into an absorptive material that copes with floods in a sustainable manner

Transforming the Urban surface into an absorptive material that copes with floods in a sustainable manner

Urban heat island refers to the hard surfaces in the city that prevents water from percolating into the ground and evaporating into the atmosphere and these hard materials result is excessive urban heat generation. The Urban edge and street are transformed into absorptive surfaces by replenishing the previously marshy edge using wetlands and porous open-mesh concrete tiles that allow surface run-off and flood waters to seep into the ground thereby preventing erosion and flooding. This New Urban Ground project does not just aim to curb floods but, in its greening of the New York surface it creates positive public space that in which people can experience nature in the dense city. It is a conscious effort to redefine what the water’s edge could be.

Similarly, the New Aqueous City also proposes wetlands as wave attenuating elements. The uniqueness of this project is the proposed extension of the city into the water and consequently the water into the city, through housing blocks that sit on piers and, an archipelago islands made out of inflatable floating sections that form a star shape. The housing blocks help both in attenuating floods as a result of their piers and they also provide housing; an idea which is particularly pertinent to Makoko because of the housing deficit in Lagos and the fact that the community of Makoko already lives on water using stilts.

Houses on wave attenuating piers and islands.

Houses on wave attenuating piers and islands.

Furthermore, the star shaped islands gather silt from the ocean as a result of their shape and their inflatable extensions, and the silt gathered results in a formation of islands that both help in attenuating floods and providing a landscape which people can explore and marine life can thrive on and around, further integrating the city with water.

Liquid Urbanism

The integration of the built environment with water can be achieved by employing ideas of liquid urbanism. Liquid urbanism is a manner of building and living on water in which the flow of water is not excessively tampered with.

thai dwellings

Thai raised stilt dwellings help households in coping with floods

Liquid urbanism is exemplified by the 18th century settlement, Makoko, located at the fringe of the vast Lagos lagoon with a population of 100,000. The people of the settlement like early civilizations such as Egypt, Rome and Thailand, use the resources of the Lagos lagoon to their advantage by engaging in activities like fishing and lumbering. Most of their homes are built on stilts and raised platforms.

Aerial view of Makoko showing the raised dwellings

Aerial view of Makoko showing the raised dwellings

 

Renewable Energy

To transform Makoko and similar communities from their states of degeneration and improve the water-based way of life of the local populace we can learn from an on-going project, the neighbourhood hotspot designed by Fabienne Hoelzel for Makoko.

Rendering of a Neighborhood Hotspot

Rendering of a Neighborhood Hotspot

The project uses an urban strategy of developing 23 node buildings all over Makoko that house a variety of services that people need in a sustainable manner that improves and learns from the existing spatial practices of Makoko.

Each hotspot provides water, electricity and sanitation to the community through sustainable means by capturing rainwater and the transformation of human waste into energy for cooking and charging batteries by using biogas technology. They also look beyond these basic needs and provide kitchens, clinics and recycling centres and thus become independent structures that can help to legitimize Makoko as an important part of the city.

Plans of a hotspot and biogas plant on the right.

Plans of a hotspot and biogas plant on the right.

Living with Water

Soft infrastructure, liquid urbanism and renewable energy are principles for living with water. Soft infrastructure includes wetlands, urban farms and as elements that clean water and, blur the edge between land and water. Liquid urbanism points to the idea of touching water lightly and living above water in a manner that does not obstruct its motion by using piers, stilts and floating platforms. Lastly renewable sources were revealed to be viable solutions to providing potable water and electricity and the systems highlighted include windmill, biogas plants, solar panels and rainwater harvesting. They are strategies that can help mitigate the current degeneration of Makoko and similar contexts, because these strategies take account of the existing, human, water and material resources and, the existing tectonic practices of the community of Makoko.

Based on this, it can be concluded that, globally there is a drive for discovering systems that work with issues of climate change, population increase and poor infrastructure delivery. The implications of climate change on our cities can be used as uplifting mechanisms that can totally re-script our conceptions of what our cities can be in the future. It will be futile to build barriers to these issues, as these barriers do not address the complex matrix of the activities within cities.

 

Credits

  1. Image: Bayo Windapo
  2. Image: Bayo Windapo
  3. Image: OPPENHEIMER, M. 2011. Climate Change and world cities Rising currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront. New York: New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art.
  4. Image: OPPENHEIMER, M. 2011. Climate Change and world cities Rising currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront. New York: New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art.
  5. Image: OPPENHEIMER, M. 2011. Climate Change and world cities Rising currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront. New York: New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art.
  6. Image: OPPENHEIMER, M. 2011. Climate Change and world cities Rising currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront. New York: New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art.
  7. BOONJUB, W. 2009. The study of Thai traditional architecture as a resource for contemporary building design in Thailand. Doctor of Philisophy in Architectural Heritage Management and Tourism, SILPAKORN UNIVERSITY.
  8. Image: Bayo Windapo
  9. Image: AKINSETE, E., HOELZEL, F. & OSHODI, L. 2014. Delivering Sustainable Urban Regeneration in Emerging Nations: Introducing Neighborhood Hotspots. Journal of Architectural Education, 68, 238-245.
  10. Image: AKINSETE, E., HOELZEL, F. & OSHODI, L. 2014. Delivering Sustainable Urban Regeneration in Emerging Nations: Introducing Neighborhood Hotspots. Journal of Architectural Education, 68, 238-245.
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FutureLagos

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.