Public realm health in Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities

Public realm health in Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities

Résumé en français

La croissance rapide de lapopulation urbaine au Nigéria a entraîné une prolifération de développementsnon planifiés et des établissements informels tentaculaires, exerçant unepression énorme sur les systèmes d'infrastructure et la santé publique. Il estimportant de noter que les stratégies locales de santé du paysage sont mieuxdéfinies comme un moyen de traiter progressivement les problèmes mondiauxassociés tels que le changement climatique, la perte de biodiversité etl'inclusivité. Dans cet article, la santé publique au Nigeria est examinée pourrévéler des distinctions dans deux villes différentes - Lagos qui a évoluée progressivement,et la capitale planifiée, Abuja. Bien que Lagos et Abuja soient deux villestrès différentes, elles peuvent apprendre l'une de l'autre. En fin de compte,des perspectives complémentaires et équilibrées peuvent être utilisées pourorienter le développement d'un domaine public sain. Cet article explore lesprincipales différences entre les deux villes et utilise des études de cas deprojet pour mettre en évidence des stratégies qui peuvent être appliquées auxdeux villes pour améliorer le rôle du domaine public dans l'obtention de lasanté environnementale, sociale, économique et culturelle.

Rapid urban population growth in Nigeria has led to proliferating unplanned development and sprawling informal settlements, placing immense pressure on infrastructure systems and public realm health. Importantly, local landscape health strategies are best defined as a means of incrementally addressing associated global issues such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and inclusivity. In this article, public realm health in Nigeria is examined to reveal distinctions in two different cities — incrementally evolved Lagos and the planned capital city Abuja. While Lagos and Abuja are two vastly different cities, they can learn from one another. Ultimately, complementary and balanced perspectives can be used to guide healthy public realm development. This article explores key differences between the two cities and uses project case studies to highlight strategies which can be applied to both cities to improve the role of public realm in attaining environmental, social, economic, and cultural health.


Explosive urban population growth in Nigeria has led to increasing unplanned development and sprawling informal settlements, placing immense pressure on infrastructure systems and public realm health.

The most healthy and enduring public realm performs comprehensively well, offering environmental mitigation, economic value, community vigour, and access to art and culture. Public space fulfils its greatest potential when it is strategically organised to provide multiple benefits among these primary domains.

In this article, public realm health in Nigeria is examined through such lenses. Distinctions between the public realm in two different cities—incrementally evolved Lagos and the planned capital city Abuja—are compared. Urban and landscape organisational structures are first framed as a basis for the discussion. Subsequently, challenges in each city are examined to offer public realm health improvement strategies.

Several precedent-setting project case studies depict opportunities to address challenges and offer implementation strategies.

Fig 1: Lagos Street Scene
Fig 2: Abuja Open Space

Lagos and Abuja: Organisation, Challenges and Strategies


Lagos derives its name from the Portuguese word for 'lakes' and it is said to be historically credited to Ruyde Sequeira who visited the area in 1472 and called the city area Lagode Curamo. The city has always been protected by a chain of barrier islands and a major coastal mangrove ecosystem which have since largely been lost. Mangroves have prodigious natural powers, filtering brackish water, protecting against coastal erosion and providing a sheltered breeding ground for aquatic life, which in turn sustains humans.[1]

Its urban area has experienced a high growth rate over recent decades from 600,000 in 1965 to twenty million in 2020 and this has put pressure on its mainland area, filling areas bounded by creeks, rivers and topography.

Fig 3: Lagos Urbanised Area

 Lagos Public Realm: Challenges

Public realm in Lagos faces structural challenges. These issues serve as a fertile ground for poverty, inequality and poor health and quality of life in the city.   While the analysis below is not meant to be comprehensive, it does point to several critical issues.

As a large city with Unplanned Urban Development, Lagos has experienced unexpected and unmanaged population growth, including the proliferation of slums and informal development. Such conditions have been exacerbated by a poor political framework that stifles local government autonomy. This has resulted in the "urban poor suffering disproportionately from a wide range of diseases and health problems."[2] Failure of Leadership in Lagos State has led to the private sector filling the lacuna and hence, much of the peri-urban development lacks environmental accountability, favouring economic parameters rather than salutogenic concerns. There is also Inadequate Infrastructure -poor waste management, underperforming flood control, gridlocked transportation systems, and underdeveloped open space systems. Some of these problems are known to "exacerbate communicable diseases, including water-borne and food-borne diseases."[3] As of September 14, 2021, "Nigeria is seeing one of its worst cholera outbreaks in years, with more than 2,300 people dying from suspected cases as Africa's most populous country struggles to deal with multiple disease outbreaks."[4] The cholera outbreak is largely attributed to flooding and poor sanitation.

 There is a clear Dearth of Parks and Public Spaces, and even private green spaces, in spite of the well-documented evidence of the role of green spaces in aiding social and environmental health. Widespread Impervious Surfaces between lagoons and waterways result in calamitous flash flooding and sewage contamination. These conditions result in flood-related infectious diseases and waterborne diseases.[5]

 Social and Mental Health Challenges within the public realm cannot be understated.  Stressful urban conditions include Little or No Recreation and Leisure Spaces, as public realm is by necessity oriented toward commerce and street-selling.

Many Lagosians require such daily income to survive.  Overall, this has led to organic Urban Segregation as evidenced by disparities in wealth and hence, gated, socially segregated enclaves, often with privatised public realm, security, garbage collection, electricity, and private transportation.

Fig 4: Typical Street Flooding, Lagos
 Lagos Public Realm: Strategies

A preliminary set of strategies are offered to address public realm challenges. These include more Federal Support, as Lagos would benefit from a more productive relationship with the federal government. However, successful Private Sector Interventions including Eko Atlantic, Nollywood and Computer Village, have taken place without direct state support. The private sector may be more inclined to offer progressive environmental, social and cultural amenities, in order to establish market attractiveness. Furthermore, Large Scale Planning would help the entire city, to focus growth, transit and infrastructural support and open space systems. These plans should include specific metrics for environmental, community and economic health and include Neighbourhood Planning. Legislative Requirements should include open space and public realm requirements for new development.

Green Infrastructure should be prioritised to provide environmental functions, such as flood protection, cleaner water and air, and habitat.

Lastly, Complete Streets should be imagined to better accommodate a full range of transportation modes and uses, including commercial and pedestrian spaces, walking, bicycling, public transportation and automobiles.


Lagos and Abuja maintain an umbilical connection. The latter was derived from the former: Abuja was intended to represent the antithesis to Lagos, the antidote to its dysfunctions.

 Abuja is the Capital City of Nigeria. It came into being on February 4, 1976 by federal government decree.[6]  Before then, and for about sixty years, Lagos had served as the Capital City.[7] In many ways, solutions to Lagos' public realm problems have been addressed in the planning and design of Abuja. Open space is integral to its founding plan and the original capital city planning team included the firm Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd. The role of green space in addressing public health is well-understood, e.g., recreation and fitness, mental health, social cohesion, air and water quality, heat mitigation, flood mitigation and carbon sequestration.

 Ian McHarg's famed ecological planning process guided the siting and organisation of the city, including the analysis of bedrock geology, elevation, topography and ecosystems. Sensitive landscapes such as rainforests were preserved. The analysis resulted in a set of planning and design principles, e.g., a "continuous urban mass" rather than multiple areas across the area. In addition, 32%of land area in Abuja was saved for open and parks which is very untypical for most African cities.[8]

Fig 5: The original Capital Plan for Abuja
 Abuja Public Realm: Challenges

Previous and current urban expansion trends in Abuja city are inconsistent with the well-designed masterplan highlighted above. This results from the city's expansion into lands intended for non-urban development areas, including environmentally sensitive areas. Hence, the cohesiveness and integrity of the original Abuja plan is slowly being eroded.

The highly valued open space system of the planned capital city is being infringed upon. Natural, scenic, cultural and habitat values are being compromised.

These include development encroachment, loss of native systems and de-vegetation, associated loss of biodiversity, soil erosion and cultural loss (historic native settlements).

A comprehensive analysis of the founding capital plan is not offered in this treatise. However, a cursory examination of the city's public realm suggests pedestrian-unfriendly streets; fragmentation and discontinuity; over-scaled, un-programmed and under-maintained spaces.

 Abuja Public Realm: Strategies

A preliminary and partial set of strategic responses are offered to address selected open space and public realm challenges. These include the endeavour to stay Committed to the Original Plan thereby ensuring the preservation of the fully interconnected open space framework, resulting in a more sustainable and healthier long-term outcome. Distinctions between flexibility and "distortion" of the plan should be determined. Critical issues such as sustainable stormwater management, biodiversity and habitat connectivity, air quality management, climate mitigation and carbon sequestration should be addressed through the appropriate prioritisation of the Environmental Role of Open Space.

Neighbourhood Planning should be used to reinforce a community-centric development and reestablish local district planning efforts. And neighbourhood engagement should be explored. Quality of life and well-being should drive these discussions. Lastly, but not least, Reimagined Streets should include the evaluation of the full hierarchy of streets as public spaces and not just automobile conduits. The role of streets in mitigating air and water quality should become key considerations.

Fig 6: Eko Atlantic Green Corridor

 Case Studies

Three in-progress project case studies are highlighted to depict opportunities for healthy landscapes to be restorative and resilient and to address challenges and offer implementation strategies in both Lagos and Abuja. These cases focus on broad measures of health: environmental, community, economic and cultural well-being.

 Eko Atlantic

Lagos suffers regularly from devastating flooding, storm surge, coastal erosion and is at risk from climate change and associated sea level rise. There is also a dire need for real estate revitalisation and economic development.

 Eko Atlantic was conceived as a response to these challenges - a 2600-hectare barrier island built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean that addresses water problems but also establishes a new African financial capital.  The development is also envisioned as an environmentally responsible response to the ills faced by Lagos.

Fig 7: Eko Atlantic Peninsula Master Plan

 Two Eko Atlantic projects are used to display their role in addressing these broader objectives:

Azuri Peninsula and La Definition.

 Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula

Azuri Peninsula is one of the first development projects at Eko Atlantic. The project includes three residential towers, a heavily programmed amenity and recreation podium, ground-floor shops and restaurants, pedestrian-driven streetscapes and a waterfront promenade and public spaces. A marina serves the larger development.

Fig 8: Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula Public and Private Realm

 Landscape Vision

Organising concepts for exterior public realm design are highlighted below.

Community Health: Accessible Public Life

A set of principles were developed to guide the development of site program for the project. These principles were focused on getting the community engaged with one another around fitness, recreation, entertainment, culture and learning, and play.

 Community Security: Public, Semi-Public and Privatised Public Spaces

Security is a significant health issue in both Lagos and the nation. The Azuri development plans establish a range of secured spaces across public, semi-public and privatised public realms. Streets are public; plazas are semi-public in that they are carefully managed and patrolled by building owners; and privatised public spaces are accessible only to residents and tenants.

 Stewardship-Inspiring Art

Nature-inspired forms have been integrated across multiple city blocks. Both ground-level and podium-level landscape forms are inspired by a major mangrove ecosystem once defined the Lagos coast, potentially raising environmental awareness and instilling community stewardship. The swirling, arcing, splaying forms are used to integrate the overall composition. Landforms rise up as abstract reference to wind-born waves.

Fig 9: Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula, Multi-Block Realm Integration

 Pedestrian Comfort

Heat, rain, humidity, harsh sun and wind coming off the Gulf of Guinea create uncomfortable pedestrian conditions, potentially with adverse health impacts. These conditions are addressed with building placement and massing, and landscape architectural design. Metrics were defined and tested with site architectural elements that were designed to mitigate these conditions.

 Sustainable Stormwater Management

This is the most critical role of the open space system. As noted, a primary impetus behind Eko Atlantic itself is to protect the city from flooding and storm surge. Consequently, open space has a fundamental role in serving this mission, for both flood control and water quality. Environmental, community and economic health rely upon improving these conditions.

 Eko Atlantic la Definition

La Definition is a mixed use, high-rise development sited on a 20,000 square meter urban development block at Eko Atlantic in Lagos Nigeria. The mixed-use program serves both the community of residents and the public, encouraging health, walkability and interaction. The development includes condominiums, fitness, sports and recreation, spas, playgrounds, restaurants, retail and entertainment, a cinema, a clubhouse and multi-use events facilities. Culturally inspired gardens and landscape spaces organise the overall exterior program.

 Ground floor streetscapes, plazas, retail, restaurants and theatres are publicly accessible. The public may also access first floor podium recreation uses, including tennis, basketball, football, swimming, fitness, and spa uses.  An upper podium level is reserved for private community uses.

 Smart systems will be used to facilitate environmental health: energy efficiency, water conservation, water recycling, security and wireless, and data-driven communication. The project includes three energy efficient towers. The project will be first of its kind to be certified under EDGE Sustainability in West Africa. EDGE is a green building certification system focused on making buildings more resource efficient.[9]

Fig 10: Eko Atlantic La Definition, Public to Private Realm Relationships
 Landscape Vision
The landscape architectural vision is based upon the dual premise that nature in the city is precious, and that culture roots people. Together, nature and culture drive place-making and vitality.  

Accordingly, a choreographed diversity of culturally rooted garden spaces will offer exercise, recreation, entertainment and engagement, both for public and private users. Personal health, both physical and mental, is a key project objective.

 The landscape is designed with a multi-purpose function: a family park, are creation mecca and a wellness retreat. A set of garden rooms and hanging gardens are organised to punctuate and terminate clear pedestrian axes. Children's learning and developmental play are also included. Meditative, therapeutic, and peaceful spaces complement active spaces. A public art program is under development, using material patterns, textures and colours to tell a unique story of place.

 Lagos Climate and Pedestrian Comfort

Hot, variably wet and humid tropical climate requires rain and sun protection, wind mitigation and dehumidification to enhance pedestrian comfort and vigour. Solar and engineered wind studies have been conducted to determine mitigation needs.

 Uncomfortable wind speeds are reduced where viable.  Comfortable ventilated zones are facilitated. Selected areas are shaded and others are protected from rain.

Fig 11: Eko Atlantic La Definition Art and Cultural Integration
 Detailed Design

Detailed design is inspired by Nigerian cultural and physical diversity, including fashion, fabric, art, landscape and native ecosystems. Each garden space reflects a unique set of attributes that collectively tell a story about the great richness of Lagos and Nigeria and bring people together.

By getting people engaged, both with culture and with one another, physical and mental health is nurtured.

Social relationships benefit mental health, … physical health, and mortality risk. Studies show that people with meaningful social relationships are happier and live longer. These people may have…. increased longevity, better emotional stability, higher self-esteem and fewer health problems.[10]

 - Two complementary and axially opposing spaces abstractly symbolise the two main seasons in Lagos: "Dry and Wet Gardens."

- "Therapeutic Gardens" are meant to be intimate and somewhat private and are developed with soothing sensory features that offer a restorative respite from the city.

- A "Storied Allee" emphasises cultural roots to tell a story with regional public art. The allee culminates with a Culture Garden at its terminus.

- The "Great Lawn" is a grand but flexible, multi-function space to accommodate community activities such as movies, performances, classes and informal uses such as play.

- A "Cool Garden" offers dramatic relief from the summer heat and humidity and showcases a culturally inspired trellis canopy anchored with a water column.

- The "Sunset Garden" offers luxuriant swing seats and a colour palette of grass layers through which to enjoy the setting sun.

A "City Overlook Garden' is positioned toward the growing skyline and represents the former mangrove ecosystem with interpretive elements.

-  The "Fitness Garden "is sited with ocean views as a rejuvenating exercise space, rich with health-inspiring green walls, canopies and groundcovers.

- A "Children's Garden" places didactic emphasis on references to local ecosystems and habitat, including aquatic and birdlife, and man's relationship to a healthy marine environment.

- A "Fitness Promenade" celebrates the virtues of movement and is prominently framed by a large-scale green wall and hanging garden.

 Jigna Open Space Revitalisation

The next case study represents a recreational open space project. The project plays a role in preserving the open space of the original Capital Plan. The site plays an integral role in the broader open space context and network of connecting greenways. These corridors make their way down to the urban core, the original and current heart of the city.

Fig 12: Jinga Open Space Framework and Programming

 Public Perspective

Abuja residents move to Abuja for a better life. Health and access to nature and green spaces are typically part of that plan. Residents understand the broader importance of these spaces in the city. They are often better educated and better off than Lagosians and are more vocal about their communities. Some are even resentful of the government's inability to protect the assets of the Capital City.

 Park Development Principles

Principles are used to clarify and align a diverse set of interests:

- Sound environmental practices and authentic ecological and vegetation communities to restore native landscape health.

- Emphasis on a passive physical program with minimal environmental and visual impact.

- Varied means of accessing the area, e.g., walking, hiking and bicycle trails, and public transit.

- Educational and youth programs to nurture stewardship and environmental health.

- Rigorous ongoing management and maintenance operations.

 Landscape Restoration Program

The Landscape Restoration Plan is focused on the revitalisation of vital native species, ecosystems and physical assets:

-Restored Forest/Woodland

-Restored Park and Shrub Savanna

-Protected and Restored Riverine Corridors

-Re-introduced Extinct Rain Forest

-Cultural and Archaeological Assets

Fig 13: Jigna Open Space Rejuvenation and Programming
Concept Master Plan

The plan promotes strategic relationships between open space corridors and built-up areas.

Relationships to future community development are defined. Plans are organised around an open space network that integrates with external open space systems. Restored forests and savannah areas meet recreational meadows. Open space fingers below the site are revitalised to connect to the city open space framed in the original capital plan. Well-connected open space is demonstrably healthier than fragmented open space, e.g., it supports biodiversity and conservation of habitat, sustainable stormwater management, community access, neighbourhood connectivity and non-automobile mobility.

Program in recreational meadows includes indigenous pavilions and overlooks, naturalised event space, a nature centre and modest sports fields. Restored riparian corridors will be designed to manage stormwater flow and control erosion. Auto access is limited to the edges of the open space system.

 Viewshed impact analyses were completed to guide the positioning of the proposed development program.

 Looking Ahead

While an improved public realm alone cannot solve problems such as poverty, it can play an essential role in improving Nigerian public health and quality of life across environmental, economic, community and cultural performance domains.

 A set of individually balanced principles are offered to guide healthy public realm development in response to the challenges and opportunities highlighted above:

 - Large Scale Planning and Incremental Localised Development

-Government Leadership and Community-Driven Design

-Environmental Health and Economic Development

- Public Access and Securitized Spaces

-Functional Needs and Quality of Life

 There is reason to be optimistic about improving the public realm and public life in Nigeria's cities. The optimism is driven by the collective character and mindset of Nigerian citizens. Such character fuels the yearning for a better life.

 Nigerians are indomitably happy people, as indicated on global surveys. A spirit of optimism and ambition persists, and many Nigerians seem to have a strong sense of connection to one another. Nigerians are drawn to art and culture, from music to literature to the visual arts. Nigerians are becoming more demanding of their governments: clean air and water, reliable infrastructure, and recreation spaces to raise healthy children.

 The hope is that the democratic will of the people will bring about the change that Nigeria deserves.

Fig 14: Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula Waterfront Public Realm


1. Maclean, R., 2021. The Nigerian Activist Trying to Sell Plants to the Oil Company That Destroyed Them. New York Times. Available at:

2. Gupta-Smith, V., 2020. Unplanned urbanization a challenge for public health. World Health Organization. Available at:

3. Gupta-Smith, V., 2020. Unplanned urbanization a challenge for public health. World Health Organization. Available at:

4. Asadu, C., 2021. Already fighting COVID-19,Nigeria faces one of its worst cholera outbreaks in years. Los Angeles Times. Available at:

5. Olanrewaju, C.C., Chitakira, M. & Olanrewaju, O.A., 2019. Impacts of flood disasters in Nigeria: A critical evaluation of health implications and management. Journal of Disaster Risk Studies. Available at:

6. FCDA (1979). The Master Plan for Abuja: The New Federal Capital of Nigeria. Abuja, Federal Government of Nigeria: 285.

7. Aderibigbe, A. B. (1975). Lagos: The Development of an African City, Longman.

8. Tobin, T. (2017). Nationalism Can't Be Built: The Story of Abuja's Creation (Unpublished master's thesis).Department of History, Georgetown University.

9. Anon, Edge: Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies. Available at: [Accessed September 20, 2021].

10. Anon, Social engagement and health. My Health, My Life. Available at:


Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula

Architect: Gensler

Landscape Architect: Design Workshop, Chuck Ware, Principal-in-Charge

 Eko Atlantic La Definition

Architect: ITB Nigeria

Landscape Architect: Hermon Empor Nigeria (Landscape) Ltd, Chuck Ware, Principal-in-Charge, in collaboration with Fadera Williams (Assistant Landscape Architect)

Jigna Open Space

Landscape Architect: Design Workshop, Chuck Ware, Principal-in-Charge

 The article was partially adapted and significantly reworked, with permission by Damian Holmes from March 9, 2021, in the World Landscape Architecture blog titled "A Tale of Two Cities: Public Space Development in Nigeria" by Chuck Ware.

Photo Credits:

Fig 1: Lagos Street Scene: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo, Image ID: 2CX1MPG

Fig 2: Abuja  Open Space: Site Photograph by Consultant

Fig 3: Lagos Urbanized Area: Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), A Data Center in NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System(EOSDIS) — Hosted by CIESIN at Columbia University

Fig 4: Typical Street Flooding: Lagos

Fig 5: Original Abuja Capital Plan:  International Planning Associates (IPA)

Fig 6: Eko Atlantic Green Corridor: Design Workshop

Fig 7: Eko Atlantic Peninsula Master Plan:  Gensler

Fig 8: Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula Public and Private Realm Integration: Gensler and Design Workshop

FIg 9: Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula, Multi-Block Public Realm Integration: Gensler and Design Workshop

Fig 10: Eko Atlantic La Definition, Public to Private Realm Relationships: ITB Nigeria

Fig 11: Eko Atlantic La Definition Art and Cultural Integration: Hermon Empor Landscape Architecture

Fig 12: Jigna OpenSpace Framework and Programming: Design Workshop

Fig 13: Jigna OpenSpace Rejuvenation and Programming: Design Workshop

Fig 14: Eko Atlantic Azuri Peninsula Waterfront Public Realm: Gensler