The Streets of Lagos: Disputed and Shared Spaces

Special Report: The Road, between Networks and Territories
By Laurent Fourchard

Lagos as the main metropolis in sub-Saharan Africa has recently become a new scientific object, especially for Western architects and town planners. Among them, Rem Koolhaas suggests to change the traditional perception of cities in Africa. According to him, the so-called informal sector is too often considered as a mere disorder that should be suppressed, whereas, Koolhaas argues, it actually informs on the capacities of the people to regulate their own activities. The economic capital of Nigeria is regarded both as an extreme and pathological form of the city in Africa and as a paradigmatic case of a modern avant-garde city. In rehabilitating the city, Koolhaas however proposes a non-historical and apolitical vision of Lagos streets. A more careful historical analysis examines the long tradition of conflicts among antagonistic economic entrepreneurs and between public action and private actors. It seems very dubious to oppose to the current apparent disorder a golden era of urban order set up by late colonial or post independence town planners. For a long time, street space has been shared, negotiated and disputed by groups with divergent interests. The street is affected by power relations and by the antagonisms between the town, the state and various private actors. The use of the street in Lagos is potentially conflicting and highly political: it cannot be reduced to an aesthetic of chaos, which is largely western-biased and which ignores local perceptions of the city.

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