For quite a few years, Lagos has intrigued me even though I have not set foot there yet. I probably share some of Rem Koolhaas‘ fascination with the apparently unplanned nature of this growth, and the ability of the city to cope with the influx of people without visible mechanisms to deal with the outcomes of growth.

Matthew Gandy’s paper says it all in its title : “Planning, Anti-planning and the Infrastructure Crisis Facing Metropolitan Lagos“. This paper is especially interesting in the way it provides a counterpoint to Rem Koolhaas’ somewhat condescending views by linking the challenges in urbanism with the city’s political, economical and social dimensions, thereby disproving an African exceptionalist perspective.

For a traveler’s first impression of the city, you can begin with “Lagos: city of more” – a correspondent diary by The Economist. Then you can take a step back and read James Meek’s “Everyone’s sleeping with one eye open, an article that try to understand what it is like to live in the middle of a population explosion, in a megalopolis bursting at the seams that will soon overtake Cairo as Africa’s biggest. The Wikipedia article about Lagos provides some background too.

But the complacent clich├ęs and the epic challenges do not seem to deter some people from thinking big. I stumbled upon West Africa’s biggest development project, named Eko Atlantic :

The project is located in Lagos, Nigeria and will be built on land currently being reclaimed from the sea. [..] The development area will cover over nine million square metres and will be sectioned into seven districts which will be home to over 3000 buildings many of which particularly in the financial district will be skyscrapers. [..]

The development is planned to have a population of 400,000 upon completion with a further 250,000 commuters. To help them get about there will be an eight-lane coastal highway running along the northern boundary of the project while an internal network of roads will connect all districts, along with a tramway system which will also circulate through the city allowing access to all areas including public transport on Victoria Island. [..]

The artist’s views of the Eko Atlantic suggest something almost Singaporean and the sheer scale of the project will give anyone pause. I wonder how this new quasi-autonomous district will integrate with the rest of the city without widening the socio-economic fault lines – but even given this risk, you have to give credit to ambition on such a scale in such an environment.

If you have any experience of the developing world’s politicians, you will be quick to dismiss this sort of bombast as utter vaporware. But think again : this CNN about the vision of Governor Fashola for Lagos hints that this is a serious project of its way to implementation – and the videos show that some dredging and backfill works have already begun.

The project may be late, or even fall victim to the chaos altogether. But then again it may become a symbol of the return of planning and ambition in urban development in Lagos. Such feat would have significance far beyond Edo State, for all the sprawling megalopolis of the developing world.