A lot has been said about computer games: how addictive they can be and how they slowing turn into couch potato, a very clingy unsanitary couch potato grudgingly hugging the remote. That might be true under certain circumstances, but for today I want to appreciate the lessons I have learnt from some of them especially the empire building and city planning ones. Indirectly these games show us how city planning decisions impact on the general ambience and growth of a community. For example building a factory too close to residential premises always gives you low marks and turns the area from a high eco-friendly zone to a medium or low one whilst building parks and planting trees does the opposite. So you see they can be useful in teaching kids/adult players (like me) a thing or two about the importance of maintaining ‘greenhouse economy’ and modern day infrastructure development. Sadly however the unlike the game the impact of knocking down structures either for the improvement of an area or the expansion of a region is never as simple and without life changing consequences as they are in the games.
City planning and reconstruction process are ongoing on a daily bases around the world from back home in Nigeria to the far regions of Antarctica. In Nigeria alone, several cities have undergone some level of reconstruction with the aim of producing better structural flow throughout the city, this includes my home town Enugu. Most of these changes are a welcomed development on paper, but in reality the management and execution is below par. People are often left homeless, caught off from a stream of income and in some instances medically impaired as a result of the governments’ tardiness in dealing with the aftermath of such ‘progressive thoughts’.
The United Nations sustainable development goal number eleven addresses this issue, it reads: “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” In accordance with this goal seven areas have been identified as key: housing, transport, planning, natural/cultural heritage, resilience, environment and open space. The approach aims at encouraging governments and town planners to take a holistic and broader perspective to meeting the 21st century the demand for sustainable and liveable human settlements. The UN also acknowledges that there will be challenges which would vary across nations when it comes to achieving this goal. I already foresee three major challenges with respect to this goal in Nigeria including:
- A total disregard for the areas that need it most: the tendency of past governments to concentrate developments to areas that need basic facelifts is not new. Often times these projects are desirable, but essentially not needed, concentrated at the city centres or the governors’ personal hometown, they generally are self-serving and ignorant of the masses need. Rural areas and slums which require restructuring and modernisation to easy urban city crowding never make it into the drawing room as areas to be focused on. I have seen parks, zoos demolished only to be replaced by luxury estates owned by the wealthy built for the wealthy. Score points: Sustainable city planning development zero -0, government mismanagement one – 1.
- A mismanagement of those who get affected: sadly this is a story that resonates from developmental processes in Anfield UK to the streets of New haven Enugu, Nigeria. Deadlines are given to residents of selected sites, but in most cases demolition processes start before the set deadline, leaving people bereft of home and hearth, running from pillar to post. More disturbing, however, is the failure of the authorities to deliver on their compensation plans. Cash, land or alternative living arrangements are promised vocally, but in Nigeria less than half if any of those affected ever receive this alleged compensation. They are tossed and turned by red tape and pure political illusion hogwash, leaving some medically impaired as the weight of starting afresh on an uneven playing field in midlife gets the best of them. Score points: Sustainable city planning development zero -0, government mismanagement two – 2.
- A multiple increase in abandoned project/discontinuity: lack of continuity is a trademark of the Nigerian government, the only thing they seem able to pass down graciously. It is
remarkable how each government never strives to finish off a project within its tenure leaving society littered with half-finished hazards and empty pockets. In most cases where the project is actually completed the possibility of it being substandard is quite high. Score points: Sustainable city planning development zero -0, government mismanagement three – 3.
With time running out and a score point of three – zero in favour of the opponent, surely it’s time to pack up shop. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, with regards to Nigeria I have decided that until we own it and change it by us there really isn’t any point holding out hope. The Akwa Ibom and Kaduna government are presently taking on some city development plans; for the sake of hope I pray they put the People and posterity first. As citizens, however, we must accept that the change we seek won’t come easy; tackling the claptrap jobs of past administration will be an uphill climb, surmountable only with careful transparent management and realistic expectation.