The Rise of Sustainable Cities in Africa
Over 55 percent of the world’s population lives in cities and, by 2050, that number is projected to rise to an astounding 68 percent. As people across the globe are increasingly moving to urban areas, there has been a corresponding rise in the awareness of the environmental impact of billions of people living on the planet. As people relocate, they are also examining the individual implications of their daily lives.
More than ever, we’re aware that we have one planet to protect and that many things we do regularly — things we used to take for granted — can ultimately negatively affect the environment. We now desire to build with green practices in mind, live with as little carbon footprint as possible, and travel from place to place using minimal fossil fuels. These factors have become drivers of urban planning and affect how the built environment is growing.
Though some of these ideas aren’t necessarily revolutionary and have been part of city life for many years, more and more of them are being prioritised in places such as Vancouver, British Columbia, Portland, Oregon, and Copenhagen, Denmark. Community parks, green building projects, public transportation powered by renewable resources, daily awareness of water consumption, the inclusion of bike lanes, and high-quality drinking water are all city goals and strategies.
Recently, the question has even been posed: what if an entire city could not only follow some of the best environmental practices but be made sustainable? A sustainable eco-city is one that focuses on a city’s social, environmental, and economic impact. An urban area like this aims to be self-sufficient in terms of food and power and to minimize outputs such as air and water pollution.
Seen by many environmentalists and city planners as the way future cities should be developed, a sustainable city is also described as being able to withstand rapid growth and development, while still maintaining low environmental impact. In areas of the world experiencing rapid urban growth, such as Africa, the idea of building sustainable cities has had a major impact in recent years. The urban population there is expected to grow by a billion people from 2015 to 2050, putting pressure on cities to be ready to accommodate this expansion.
With growth comes responsibility
At the first-ever African Climate Summit in 2019, discussions centred around the link between low-carbon cities on the continent and less climate risk. Sustainable cities have been cited as a potential key to real change in the face of what many scientists see as a grim future planetary forecast. Examples are popping up across Africa of urban planning that includes a sustainability mindset.
Look at Nigeria, for example. As Africa’s largest economy, and one that is predicted to surpass even the United States in population in the decades to come, it is estimated that half of the population lives in urban areas. Lagos, already tagged a megacity, will have a population of over 24 million people this year and another major city, Abuja, is one of the fastest-growing cities on Earth.
Nigeria has pledged to be part of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 goals developed by the United Nations, which will guide policy and funding through the year 2030. They include climate action, sustainable cities and communities, and affordable and clean energy.
As Nigeria continues to lead in urbanization, there is a focus on integrating aesthetics with livability. Our project, Eko Atlantic, is an example of the new Lagos. The city will introduce world-class transport systems, eco-friendly urban infrastructure, and mixed-use buildings. It’s the efficient, healthy, and safe city of the future.
What the future of Africa’s cities will look like
These futuristic cities are raising the standard of living across the continent. They are the perfect balance between eco-friendly and practicality. Eko Atlantic, for example, will host new businesses that will bolster the economy through tourism and innovation. Green initiatives will also breathe life into the city. Our roads are lined by trees, all of which are grown in a nursery further down the coast of Lagos. These trees, about 200,000 of them, will provide shade and greenery to the new community, which will eventually be home to 300,000 people.
The city will also be self-sufficient in telecommunications and power. The community will have energy-efficient generation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will answer to traffic issues by offering an eight-lane highway and other modes of transportation, including waterways, a ferry system, and a network of roads that will connect all districts across the city. This is what the cities of tomorrow will look like, and the continent and its citizens will benefit as a result.
Recently, the first EDGE certification was awarded to a building in the complex by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. The building that achieved this status, Alpha1 Towers, which is also Eko Atlantic’s first commercial space, had to meet the IFC’s criteria of having 20 percent less resource intensity in energy, water and embodied energy in materials. I hope the certification will encourage others to follow the lead in ushering in a new era of green buildings not only in Lagos but worldwide.
As Eko Atlantic and the rest of Lagos continues to develop, there is vast potential to continue to create dynamic, livable, eco-friendly spaces. It can also create jobs, set an example for the rest of the city, show that green spaces can be built in a place that many had given up on as lost to urban decay, and does all this with fewer resources than are usually used in the building process.
As the headlines continue to blare increasingly disturbing news about the future of our planet and the impact of increasingly crowded cities, we all must work together to find solutions that make environmental and business sense. Planning new cities as well as retro-fitting existing, abandoned spaces is one of the best ways we can change the course of Africa, and, by extension, history.