Urban spaces can be exciting. There are several activities happening, They can be a melting pot for a diverse range of people from all walks of life and backgrounds to try to actualize their dreams and no where is this more prevalent than in Lagos, the bustling and sprawling metropolis in Western Nigeria. Lagos and I have a love-relationship, but sometimes, every so often, like in many other relationships, it is good to get away, to have one’s space. Absence they say…makes for fonder hearts.
Coming back to Edinburgh from Lagos last week, I realized after a few days that the over-arching headache that had lingered with me over the weeks I was in Lagos had dissipated. I am not a proponent of being paracetamol-dependent, and refuse to always rely on drugs (the medical prescription, chemist kind and any other type for that matter, to be clear) , and this is why the headache had lingered, because paracetamol is not my friend. Yet, after a few days in Edinburgh, it had gone. I wondered what had happened, and tried to trace my activities, and realized that it was due to the time spent outdoors, morning walks, evening jogs and daily cycling that had worked the magic of healing.
And then, it hit me, that my persistent headache in Lagos was due to many factors: the need to be constantly alert all the time one was out of the house, even while the driver was driving, even in traffic, just in case someone was trying to get one over you, Lagos is for the very sharp. You have to have your wits about you all the time. All. Of. The. Time. The other main factor for me in any case,, is that there is really no outdoor place to go to zone out – by outdoor, I mean, outside of the gated communities we refer to as estates. Here in Edinburgh, I walk or cycle to work. In Lagos, that luxury rarely exists. And so it was that after coming back from Lagos and going jogging and walking for a few days, I was amazed at nature’s ability to relieve stress and tension, sans paracetamol, sans alcohol, sans music. Just me, the trees, the birds, and the open space.
I started to wonder, as I wandered around the streets of Morningside, how it can be so that something so simple, so easy, so free, is denied to much of the populace in Lagos. Denied I say because I believe there is a key role for the Town planning commission to take a more active role in the construction of the landscape that is Lagos, especially in such a time as this where the Africa rising, Nigeria rising narrative is attracting even more dwellers to settle in Lagos.
Yes I know that the free spaces are not really free, the Lagos real estate bubble means that every and any area that can be sold and built up is sold and built up, with the resulting constructions being one of blocks of flats built to maximize the available land with little or no space left for cars to park, let alone trees. and even in some new estates, there are no trees on the streets. No trees. The trees are bulldozed away to make space for yet more concrete, more paving blocks on the ground, resulting in an existence where people go from home to work to home, and on weekends, to church/parties, one that has very little greenery, little tranquility, little serenity, very little.
At first glance, this may appear trivial, but it is not. Especially when one thinks about the effects this lack of usable, safe, accessible oases in the city can have on people. I have myself as a prime example – I was not out looking for greenery, but its absence affected me, and I am aware of this, because I have something to compare it with, but what about the many people for whom this is their daily reality, and they are constantly stressed, constantly under tension, everyone constantly alert, with no place for respite, little interaction with nature, and no benefits from its healing powers; having little or nothing to turn to for solace, except perhaps alcohol as a form of respite from the stress, a way to drown out tension, a way to feel slightly loose again, but then sadly, this also has very severe after-effects -alcohol, the drug becomes the illness that no one ever recovers from…..and it is an easy road to slip on to – very easy, especially when you consider the alternatives, sex and drugs, and for some, it is a combination of all of the above.
What then can this mean for Lagos in 30/40/50 years? If the city continues with much the same with no deliberate and concerted planning, the future Lagos will result in an even more sprawling mushroomed existence. Driving past new Lagos (Lekki/Ajah), I cannot but compare it with old Lagos: Yaba, Surulere, Ikeja, Victoria Island, Ikoyi (although the landscape in Ikoyi has altered so much to become the new block of flat zone) – those areas were ordered, they were planned, there was organization ,there was flow. But now, even old Lagos areas are under attack.
The landscape of Lagos is changing, and it rightly should, to accommodate the influx of people and flurry of activities that can only happen in a burgeoning metropolis such as ours. However, there is a role for those in charge of urban design and urban planning to implement one of the various plans and urban plans for Lagos – I am told there are several plans and proposals but they are not implemented – if we can have some guiding rules for people ,where residential areas remain residential, commercial areas are commercial and where there are allocated spaces within these communities for nature, where people can go for long walks, where people can reflect, where people can de-stress, not as an add-on visit to a center, but as part of their daily lives in Lagos, their daily realities. Not only will this reduce the tension, it will create a sense of well-being, and a sense of wonder, an appreciation of the magic that is nature, a better sense of awareness, and maybe just maybe, less aggressive and antagonistic Lagosians.
But a part of me, the Miss-Benefit-of-the-Doubt knows that this might only remain a dream. I know that we are too focused on making money, at the cost of everything else, to take some time back, to think about the Lagos we really want, how it should look like, how the city’s infrastructure and landscape affects and influences our well-being. We don’t pay much attention to this even though we should.Capital cities around the world, New York, London, Paris all have urban oases for people, where nature is architecturally beautifully and respectfully interwoven into the city-scape, gardens and parks to which people can escape for a few moments to breathe.
With that realization, as I walked the final metres back to my flat, my body craved for fresh air as though in advance of my next travel to Lagos , as if it wanted to store up banks of fresh Edinburgh air for itself, before another trip to the land of concrete.
Obediently, I inhaled.