Waterworld: RGU researcher helps Nigerian community develop regeneration plan

A researcher at Robert Gordon University (RGU) is helping a waterfront community in Nigeria develop a sustainable regeneration plan to prevent the settlement being demolished by the country’s government.

The Makoko slums in the heart of Lagos are home to approximately50,000 people. A fishing community built on the edge of the Lagos Lagoon, means many of the shacks are raised on stilts, while residents navigate the streets in canoes.

Problems with sanitation, a lack of clean drinking water and little infrastructure saw the Nigerian Government take action in 2012 to demolish some of the buildings in Makoko.

Dr. Ebun Akinsete
, now a researcher at RGU’s Centre for Understanding Sustainable Practice (CUSP), grew up in Lagos and decided to get in touch with a local NGO (Non Governmental Organisation), Urban Spaces Innovation, which was trying to assist the community, when she heard about the demolitions.

Alongside other NGOs including the Heinrich Boll Foundation and Fabulous Urban, a multi-disciplinary working group was formed to develop a regeneration plan for Makoko of which Dr Akinsete was a member.

She said: “I acted as an interface between the state government and the local community, trying to represent the community’s priorities, while meeting the government’s aspirations for the area. 

“We conducted several community forums with different representative groups, carried out surveys and neighbourhood walks, in order to capture the community’s needs and ambitions and translate this into something to be presented to the state government as an alternative way forward.”

After months of development, feedback and redevelopment, the working group has come up with a Sustainable Urban Regeneration Plan, which looks at ways to tackle issues in housing, infrastructure, education, transport and economic development and includes demonstrable pilot projects that can be implemented individually.

Dr Akinsete said: “The plan was presented to the community members, NGOs and other stakeholders in the Nigerian climate change community, during a launch event towards the end of last year. Feedback on the plan was on the whole very positive and recommendations have been taken on board to update the final version. 

“The next stage will be to present the plan to the Lagos state government via the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, and then take it from there.  As in most cases such as this, there is a lot of politics involved so we have to wait and see as to whether it will be deemed viable.” 
In the meantime, funding applications have been made to international aid agencies to support the implementation of the pilot projects in order to raise awareness about the plan and the possible opportunities.

The first project to be developed is a ‘neighbourhood hotspot’ - a biogas plant which utilises organic waste to produce energy for the community, while also doubling as a community centre which can house a range of activities from study rooms to mini clinics.

The project is set to feature in both the 2014 International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam as well as the 2014 Venice Biennale.

 “The idea is to tackle multiple issues with integrated solutions, for example, tackling the issue of energy provision, while addressing sanitation, health, and education,” Dr Akinsete explained.

“The only way to truly get a sense of the fabric of the community is to spend time there, especially as Makoko is a water-top community. There is no other way to fully understand how the community’s interaction with the water governs their way of life, and just how wedded they are to that. 

“I was astonished to see five or six year olds with their own canoes, and ladies frying snacks, selling them and steering their canoes along the water ways – all at the same time. At one of the community forums, a local leader stated that the residents get sick if they stay on the land for too long and I could well believe it. The water is ingrained in their way of life.”

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Jenny RushCommunications Officer | Design and Technology