Lagos: fastest-growing city in the world

A piece by Mariana von Zeller for Current about Lagos, Nigeria -- the "New York City of Africa," and the fastest growing megacity in the world. Via AfricaUnchained (Thanks, Emeka Okafor!)

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  1. Wow. So often, content dealing with African slums becomes mired in the usual “it sure does suck to live in a slum” saw, but I haven’t seen such a vibrant, progressive, and downright interesting look at the culture and economy of these places as this video.

    Time to watch more Current.

  2. Interesting video, but yeesh. They were robbed and forced to pay bribes, and walked through mosquito infested sewers. It’s only colourful and interesting because our camera crew is so wealthy. A few dollars here and there mean nothing to them, and they have all their malaria shots. They don’t have to rely on ignorant, superstitious vigilantes for protection.

    Remember The Ghost Map, which was featured on Boingboing? London started building sewers throughout the city, even through the slums, back in about 1850. Eliminating the open sewers is a good place to start if their intention of being the London of Africa is more than just lip service.

    (Hoping my post doesn’t get disemvoweled)

  3. Wow lagos looks so awesome, and except for the government mandated clean up day (but I presume there will be a lot of competing clean up services already!!), it’s a perfect example of how the free-market is perfectly suited to a developping nation!

    I predict that within my lifetime (the next 60 years), Lagos will indeed be like New York, or London.

  4. it’s a perfect example of how the free-market is perfectly suited to a developping nation!
    Indeed.
    Lagos will be like New York, or London.
    Or the other way around.

  5. Part 2 should have her bribe the vigilantes to ride their modified mopeds into the Flour Master King’s Underground gasoline powered spambot farm.

  6. Even after having lived in a rapidly growing 3rd world city, I can’t imagine the planning nightmares of a city that big growing that fast. How do you keep up with roads, sewer, water, electricity, schools? The answer is.. you don’t. I’m a city planner. Many will argue that the self-created capital of the shanty-towns which eventually become part of the city are a good thing. I see a lack of open space and planning in these areas as creating a place which will be marginal for many many years. There are no easy answers, but the video sheds a great light on areas many turn a blind eye to.

  7. I spent two weeks in Lagos in January 07, and this short film manages to capture a lot of the chaos and vibrancy of the city, as well as the juxtaposition of western and tribal lifestyles. Despite the living conditions, the pollution, the poverty and corruption, I found that the natives of Lagos were generally cheerful, hospitable and friendly.

    Having said that, we didn’t go anywhere without a bodyguard who was born and raised in Lagos, and we had to pay many bribes along the way.

    One little anecdote about the street vendors: some of the traffic jams are artificial – the roads are often broken up on purpose by these roadside entrepreneurs so that the traffic has to slow down, which gives opportunity to sell stuff. Whenever the roads are fixed, they don’t stay fixed for long.

  8. My main objection to the segment is the recycled and uncritical use of the term “developing world.” African critics have long contended that this term is Eurecentric because it implies that they (non-Europeanized societies) are primitive versions of the central model of civilization. Are Nigerians supposed to develop into clones of us? Should Lagos become the “London of the future?” It’s an absurd proposition because London is a wealthy city predicated on the poverty that is distributed locally and across the globe. When Nigerians in the documentary hope that Lagos will become the next London or New York, they have internalized this Eurocentric view. But it’s not surprising given the role that global media corporations play in defining the ideals of the world. Who can fault them for not wanting the privileges afforded the global elites?

    I think it’s better to think of places like Lagos and Mexico City as interconnected nodes. The reality may be that Lagos is really a microcosm of the world as a result of capitalist “evolution.” I qualify the term “evolution” because we often think that to evolve means to build better and more efficient solutions, but that is not always the case. For example, we may think of Western civilization as “evolved,” but it is in fact contrived. It is the result of many deliberate and planned decisions mixed with a bit of accident and synchronicity. Throughout history human agents have made conscious decisions about how to shape or respond to their environment. Some are more successful than others. The thing about “our” civilization, that is, the one that primarily inhabits the technological bubble, is that in the end we may not be so wise. That all depends on us, of course. This is why it is better not to think of Lagos as “their” reality. We are all interconnected.

    I believe the documentarians intentions were good; they wanted to showcase a situation outside many of our normal reality, but that’s the problem of creating something as difference, i.e. they are different because they are not us. Frankly, I wish Current had actually asked local filmmakers to document their own city. Why do we need a white guide to interpret the place when a local one would be a lot more insightful and also supportive of the local economy? I doubt a local filmmaker would think of their environment as “fantastic” (in the fantasy sense) or bizarre. Black magic is not bizarre, and is probably mislabeled in this segment since the magic they speak of is designed to actually pacify bad people through nonviolent means. Maybe a Nigerian should come to London or San Francisco and make a report of the “black magic” that is seen every 10 minutes on television, something we call advertising.

  9. I may have missed it, but there has been no mention of all the material on Lagos coming out that is associated with Rem Koolhaas and his work with (i think) the Harvard Project on the City.

    There’s a cool photo-essay on Lagos in MUTATIONS
    The film, LAGOS/KOOLHAAS

    and then two pretty recent pieces (that I have yet to see):

    Koolhaas’s dvd-KOOLHAAS: LAGOS WIDE & CLOSE INTERACTIVE JOURNEY INTO AN EXPLODING CITY

    and the book KOOLHAAS: LAGOS WIDE & CLOSE INTERACTIVE JOURNEY INTO AN EXPLODING CITY

  10. Thank you for this amazing video. It is the perfect visual exclamation point as I finish up ‘Collapse (How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed)’ by Jared Diamond.

    WOW

  11. This is a great piece of journalism/documentary, really. She manages to not editorialize too much on things very different from her own experience, which is refreshing, and shows skill.

  12. I applaud BoingBoing for posting this. The imagery speaks volumes, so much more than the sparse commentary.

    Curiously, I just viewed ‘Idiocracy’ for the first time the night before, and the similarities between the satire and current conditions in Lagos is alarming.

  13. This is a real interesting documentary. The neighbourhood on stilts was amazing – in Benin, stilt villages are a tourist attraction, in Lagos they just look scary. I’ve discussed some of the historical developments about crime in Lagos on my blog.

  14. First, I would like the person to counterbalance this video with a more positive one. There are places in the city that London would envy.Furthermore, It has changed considerably.Moreover, despite all this negative comments, tourists are trooping in day and night to catch a glimpse of the city (or what were you doing there!).

  15. Bad Coffee @2: No. It was colorful and interesting because it was colorful and interesting. Money and malaria shots make it survivable and accessible.

    How much do you know about the history of everyday life in London and NYC? There are plenty of parallels with Lagos. The most significant difference is the pace of growth. Otherwise? London’s streets were once full of peripatetic vendors. NYC had its street gangs of young unemployed locals who preyed on outsiders. London had bigger sewer problems because it wasn’t a long strip of land surrounded by deep water. NYC had worse transit problems for the same reason. But in a lot of ways, Lagos is a look into the history of our own major cities.

    Maurik @3:

    Wow lagos looks so awesome, and except for the government mandated clean up day

    That government-mandated cleanup day is all that’s keeping the city habitable and allowing it to grow. Skip three of them in a row, and the whole city would turn septic.

    (but I presume there will be a lot of competing clean up services already!!),

    Go back and watch the video again. That’s not how it works. The work isn’t being done by hired services. People are cleaning their own neighborhoods where they live and work. If you lived there, you’d be out with a shovel like everyone else, helping muck out the accumulated mess.

    By the way, I can tell you how things work out when basic public services are supplied by competing private concerns: it doesn’t take long for those private concerns to figure out that they’re much more profitable when they don’t compete. Then you go through a period where bodies keep turning up on the sidewalks. When it’s over, the public services people will have worked out which clearly-defined territories they control, and the residents of those territories will pay whatever the going rate is. All the competitive drive will be channeled into trying to take over each other’s territories.

    That’s your best outcome. It’s nowhere near as dysfunctional as the messes you get when you have (for instance) multiple competing firefighting companies.

    it’s a perfect example of how the free-market is perfectly suited to a developping nation!

    No. That market isn’t free. Everybody who’s in a position to collect rent is doing so. That’s why the film crew has to get permission from neighborhood leaders and pay fees just to enter a neighborhood. It’s why area boys can shake down strangers with impunity.

    We’re far freer than they are. Do you imagine that the guys who’re selling tickets to use the bridge are the ones who built the bridge? They aren’t. They’re just in a position to charge for access. Or look at that neighborhood that’s policed by private vigilantes. The price is that they have to accept a king. Why? Because the point is to have an institution that can exert more force than the inhabitants can themselves. When those are the terms you get rulers, not police.

    In that environment, successful entrepreneurs aren’t saying “Yay for competition!” They’re buying influence and evading laws and regulations so they can avoid competition and make even more money.

    I swear, the imaginary social systems systems of stick-figure liberterianism could only have been invented by naifs who grew up in first-world suburbs, where the service infrastructure and the rule of law are so pervasive that you can almost pretend they’re not there.

    Chasqui @6: Funny, but I’d never thought of that in terms of later development. It’s a nightmare: no formal land titles, no defined rights of way, no public records of where the water and power are flowing and the capacity of the system … it’s like an organism trying to grow without an expandable skeleton.

    Antonio Lopez @8, the opposite of “developing” is “timeless”, which is one step removed from “vanishing.” If you want an example, look at how white commentators have described the native tribes of the Americas. What they mean by a “timeless way of life” is something that’s outside the processes of history; not the same kind of humanity we understand ourselves to have. I can hardly think it’s a preferable description.

    For example, we may think of Western civilization as “evolved,” but it is in fact contrived. It is the result of many deliberate and planned decisions mixed with a bit of accident and synchronicity. Throughout history human agents have made conscious decisions about how to shape or respond to their environment.

    Yes.

    I believe the documentarians intentions were good; they wanted to showcase a situation outside many of our normal reality, but that’s the problem of creating something as difference, i.e. they are different because they are not us.

    If they’d tried to portray the people of Lagos as being just like us, it would have been a very strange film. What they showed was not that the people are essentially different from us, but that their circumstances are different. I don’t see any problem with that.

    Frankly, I wish Current had actually asked local filmmakers to document their own city.

    Nothing that they’ve done is keeping local filmmakers from documenting Lagos.

    Why do we need a white guide to interpret the place when a local one would be a lot more insightful and also supportive of the local economy?

    Don’t you think you’re being a bit of a snot? For you, this video is free ice cream. You’re complaining about how inferior it is compared to some completely imaginary other kind of ice cream you’re making up on the spot. We don’t have that other kind on hand right now. If you’re that big on it, go find some yourself.

    As for those local filmmakers you’ve conjured up, what they’d have would be different insights. How good or bad they’d be depends on the filmmakers themselves. If you’re going to treat the citizens of Lagos as sentient individuals, you have to follow that assumption to all of its logical conclusions.

    By your reasoning, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America should be inferior to contemporary American descriptions of their great political experiment. In fact, we read both, and are enlightened by both. De Tocqueville is a writer of considerable insight.

    I doubt a local filmmaker would think of their environment as “fantastic” (in the fantasy sense) or bizarre.

    Are you sure? Consider the Latin American magic realists, who coolly put fantasy to work as an expository technique. Besides, everybody’s religion looks weird to everybody else.

    Black magic is not bizarre, and is probably mislabeled in this segment since the magic they speak of is designed to actually pacify bad people through nonviolent means.

    Isn’t that a completely Western division of magic into white and black practices and motivations?

    Maybe a Nigerian should come to London or San Francisco and make a report of the “black magic” that is seen every 10 minutes on television, something we call advertising.

    Now, that is a remarkable piece of condescension. Nigerians come to Western cities all the time, and have no problem recognizing advertising as advertising. They have advertising too, you know. They’re also quite aware that their magical systems are magical systems.

    I used to live around the corner from a Brooklyn store that sold magical supplies to Nigerians and other recent African immigrant groups. Their shopfront sign listed all the the different systems they catered to. If you went in asking for the wrong thing — say, a Las Siete Potencias Africanas votive candle, or a can of High John the Conqueror Indoor Aerosol Spray — they’d amiably direct you to one of the neighborhood’s many Botanicas, which were equally magical but catered to a different clientele.

    Finally, if Nigerian film crews did come here and make documentaries about our religious practices, I know exactly how I’d react: I’d be fascinated.

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    In Search of the Fastest Growing Places – In Search of the Fastest Growing Cities in the World

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