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Polycentricity and sustainability of green infrastructure in Lagos-Accra coastscapes

cropped-cropped-dk3.jpg In the context of green urbanism, our basic understanding of “polycentricity ” is theoretically mixed in terms of spatial pattern, time, location and service effectiveness. Although not fully fermented in advanced academics and urban policy arenas, the notion of polycentricity is much debated in relation to the broader urban economic weightiness and compactness rather than the standalone green base of proximate cities in the world. Polycentricity has popped up more as a theme on policy roundtables in developed cities as compared to developing cities. While polycentricity appears inappropriate in certain localities, it is becoming an important subject, in practice, because of the growing interest to sustainably integrate proximate cities to boost their potentials in oiling subregional urban economic development now and in future.

Several spatial and socio-economic factors go into characterising and interpreting the polycentric nature of ‘cities’. More generally, polycentricity  means “a (large) city having several different commercial centers or central business districts (also sometimes known as polynuclear cities)” (Simon, 2008 ). In the western coast of Africa, human settlements are gradually merging to form minute clusters of 20-250 housing units to one of Africa’s megacities – Lagos city. The hours spend in travelling between Accra and Lagos have become shorter due to better road connectivity and transport services. Thus, the indices of polycentricity should not be completely rejected from analysing and planning the subregion’s sustainable urban integration (SUI) framework.

Within Lagos-Accra cities, there is thousands of mushrooming rural and peri-urban communities. Living in the coastal cities is predominantly supported by food production, fishing and picking of natural fruits. Irrigating vegetables using drip approaches is evidently common in the peripheries from Lomé to Cotounu. The proximity of these cities encourages trading of green commodities and services across national borders. The community of Sogakope, which is directly located along the downstream of the Volta River, in the late 1970s, had almost no multi-story physical infrastructure built there. Only recently a commercial bank, a rural bank and a branch of a state bank designated for agricultural development have been added to the commercial life. Internet and telephone usage have risen dramatically by over 35 per cent and 76 per cent respectively. Since the early 2000s, motorbiking services and the volume of ‘bread’, okro and oyster trade have either doubled or quadrupled. A similar situation can be traced in other contemporary settlements such as Ada, Keta, Aflao and Akatsi. The intra-and inter-migration of people on regular basis, transportation of goods, and the establishment of educational and hospital facilities as well as light commercial activities, including salt mining, selling petrol, block factories and cement production going on in the coastal areas are accelerating already deteriorated green urban landscapes.

The Lagos-Accra corridor of the ECOWAS subregion is densely populated and remains probably the most urbanising in sub-Saharan Africa. Lagos alone accounted for 10.8 million residents in 2000 and this figure is expected to reach 18,857 in 2025 (UN-Habitat, 2014 ). The total share of urban population in the ECOWAS cities was “44.9 per cent urban in 2011” and this is projected to reach “49.9 per cent by 2020, and 65.7 per cent by 2050” (UN-Habitat, 2014:98). The availability, security and distribution of safe food are crucial in supporting urban population growth in the subregion that had reached “137.2 million in 2010”.

Despite the presence of relative natural resources such as rivers, earthworms, insects, termites, birds and fruit-producing plants to meet food demands, arising population growth and its impact on the environment such as deforestation, erosion and the conversion of green spaces are causing the disappearance of food resources in and around cities. Food insecurity in urban slums is threatening. The immediate response to food needs is varied along the corridor. One of the responses is the establishment of Weta Irrigation Project (or the “IDA Rice Farms”) along the Accra-Lome Highway, which is arguably the biggest commercial irrigation facility in Ghana (Amanor, 2013). Agricultural activities have long been part of life in the subregion but are not formally organised as compared to the “IDA Rice Farms”. This project supplies rice and local empowerment opportunities that have only become possible by the conversion of large areas of natural green composition. The local economic value of the irrigation project is obviously huge – labour, income and selling services. Yet it is not clear how this project, situated in the basin of the UNESCO’s recognised Avu-Keta Lagoon Ramsar, influences the previously riched green landscapes. Nearly 75 per cent of phytospecies are deformed by climate change and human actions.

Green infrastructure is life. This is because of the immeasurable environment-development value it offers to the present and the future cities in the Gulf of Guinea region – adapting to unpredictable flooding and sea rise, providing food, furnishing materials for agri-industries and shelter as well as generating revenue from environmental taxation. Rethinking or re-planning sustainable urban integration (SUI) of the Lagos-Accra cities without considering the sustainability of green infrastructure in the subregion is not a good thing.

The scale of green properties in the fringes of and within the West African cities continues to shrink annually, which is a consequence of multiple natural and human actions – fires, desertification, savannazation, (peri-)urbanisation, erosion and coastal salinity. These actions appear as ills on the surface but they also offer unique opportunity for developing policies to advance polycentric development that fit the SUI agenda in the corridor to jointly learn, plan, monitor and tackle rapid degradation of coastal green properties. It is not irrational to promote urban economic development that in-build steps to sustain green infrastructure in-between the emerging ‘polycentric cities’. At the moment, the idea of polycentricity may sound confusing or irrelevant due to the prevailing harsh living conditions in the West African subregion. Nevertheless, it is arguable that it will be a profound policy issue by the ending of the 21st century and beyond.

Further readings
1. Martijn J. B.; B. van der Knaap & R. S. Wall, 2014. Polycentricity and the multiplexity of urban networks. European Planning Studies 22 (4): 816-840, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2013.771619.
2. Simon, D. 2008. Urban environments: issues on the peri-urban fringe. Annual Review of Environmental Resources 33:167–85.
3. UN-Habitat, 2014. The state of African cities 2014: Re-imagining sustainable urban transitions. Nairobi, Kenya.
4. Amanor, S.K. 2013. Expanding agri-business: China and Brazil in Ghanaian agriculture. IDS Bulletin 44 (4): 80-90.

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