Cities face big problems, much of which is providing adequate urban services and an adequate standard of living for its teeming populations. A corollary to this challenge is managing physical spaces within the city. Cities such as Lagos Nigeria with huge population densities are also being strained by the growth of slums. There is a historicity to slums and informal settlements in African cities. Many of these neighborhoods termed ‘slums’ have been in existence for close to a century. In Lagos- Makoko, Iwaya, Ijora-Badia, are not all creations of urban sprawl but old low-income neighborhoods that have degenerated into slums. Most of these neighborhoods pre-existed current urban planning and megacity development frameworks. It then becomes acutely challenging to rationalize urban spaces while confronting the challenge of historical informal settlements and slums which have begun to mushroom.
Gentrification programs are often exclusionary as an urban renewal strategy. Urban renewal, a process of redeveloping the city, has been a major strategy of city governments. Urban gentrification, which is the usual (and expected) result of these development programs, is often accompanied by forced evictions and demolition of physical structures and relocation of businesses and communities. Externalities resulting from these urban renewal programs often occasion dire consequences for low-income populations, who are residents of neighborhoods being gentrified. Cities are viewed as primary locations of economic opportunity and attract migrants from other regions of the country. These migrants often arrive at and build community at the margins of society-literarily. They settle in slums, where there is a thriving informal structure that provides cheap and flexible housing rentals at best and open spaces at worst.
In these slum communities, there is little restriction to entering the labour market. No resume requirement, special skills or training mandatory. To survive, brawn and enterprise is what is needed. A young man arriving at Makoko, can easily get a room for200 Naira (1 USD) per night in Apollo street, and by the next morning walk down to Temidire market to help shoppers carry their goods for a fee. In less than 24 hours, he has begun the process of instituting himself as a member of that community. This is the reality of many migrants, young and old that arrives in large cities. Indeed, as urban governments attempt to creatively address challenges of population growth and urban sprawl, unintended consequences of urban development programs often have dire consequences for low-income neighborhoods. Development induced displacements, demolitions and forced evictions exacerbate the experience of poverty for residents of communities affected.
Individuals rendered homeless as a result of forced evictions in cities often face double jeopardy: having fled the poverty in rural areas and thrust into wage labour in the city, they lose social connections and networks that had served as a form of safety net in urban poverty. These individuals -often young and many- deal with the loss of what meager property they possessed, face starvation and are sometimes unable to return to their points of origin. While informal safety nets in the slums did not shield them from deprivation, it at least provided a form of comfort in times of extreme need. Indeed, slum dwellers already saddened by poverty, when suddenly thrust out of their homes most times resort to worse living conditions than the slums. They and their children are exposed to abuse and exploitation. Such exploitation is often of a physical, psychological and sexual nature. Children are also exposed to criminal influences and sub-cultures, which, in the long run, decimate security and safety in the city and compound already high youth unemployment rates.
Usually, evicted persons relocate to empty spaces under pedestrian bridges, beach fronts, and other open spaces within the metropolis. However, beautification projects implemented in the process of gentrification obliterates free access to these spaces. This fact those not detract from the benefits of urban beautification and landscaping projects- yet it provokes a question? Except in the event of a proper relocation plan for evicted persons, to where should they go? Back to the village where there is biting poverty, from which they sought refuge in the city? Or to other communities on the fringes of the city, which soon develops into another slum community and suffers the same fate they barely survived? It is imperative that urban governments conceive urban renewal within an inclusive framework that is sensitive to the needs of populations across all socio-economic strata in the city.
Any policy framework aimed at addressing challenges of urban sprawl must take into cognizance the following: protection of vulnerable groups, particularly low-income communities: promotion of equal development of all neighborhoods: adoption of participatory processes that include low-income and vulnerable populations, to enable proper capturing of issues facing individuals transiting from a rural/traditional economy to urban living. To explore this triad of concerns, the multi-hub urban development model is proposed. A “hub’ refers “a geographic point surrounded by suburbs whose relative economic prosperity to the latter allows it to be a suitable end market for goods and services from these suburbs’. Rather than wide-scale gentrification, these hubs would serve as catalysts for development in fringe neighborhoods, alleviating the pressure exerted by push factors that drive the growth of informal settlements and slums in the city center.
The multiplicity of economic hubs has two advantages: it will ease the pressure on current downtown areas and infrastructure, as well as redistribute available opportunities across the city. Moreover, by proximity to suburbs, hubs will retain some measure of informal social networks and safety nets of communities within its area. However, this model is an ideal type that can only be implemented in consonance with the development of basic infrastructure across the city and not gentrification of lands occupied by low-income communities. Certainly, the proliferation of urban slums and informal settlements is not an anomaly, but a reflection of contestations within the city. In addressing the dissonance between the current state of cities and aspirations of urban governments’, the most effective policy framework will have to embrace a cocktail of strategies and goals that serve majority of the city’s residents, including marginal populations.