Sustainable Landscape Redevelopment of Kano Traditional City

Sustainable Landscape Redevelopment of Kano Traditional City

Résumé en français

La période coloniale a créé beaucoup de changement à Kano, surtout relatif à son paysage traditionnel/culturel. Le paysage modern de Kano est très différent de la ville fortifiée. Alors, la manière de sa transformation architecturale et la répartition spatiale est pertinente. Le colonialisme a entrainé la transformation d’un Emirat à un système colonial de l’Autorité Indigène qui est maintenant connu comme le Gouvernement de l’Etat. Ce développement a fait perdre à des espaces ouverts traditionnels tels que la place du palais, leur valeur en tant que lieux de rassemblement.

En utilisant une méthodologie de recherche purement qualitative, cet article tente une évaluation du patrimoine culturel de la ville fortifiée de Kano en ce qui concerne les espaces ouverts traditionnels en vue de fournir un cadre pour le réaménagement durable du paysage culturel. Le document donne également un aperçu de la transformation de trois espaces ouverts traditionnels sélectionnés dans la ville de Kano et des principaux défis qui y sont associés, tels que la congestion, le manque de dispositions appropriées pour les piétons et la planification du paysage mal conçue. Le document découvre que bon nombre de ces espaces ouverts historiques n'accueillent plus convenablement les activités culturelles. Ils ne remplissent pas non plus leurs principales fonctions et, par conséquent, les activités culturelles débordent de zones désignées, causant des inconvénients.


The cultural activities of a society are embedded and interwoven within settlements, especially in open spaces and along transition corridors. Life in the cities of the future takes place around shared spaces such as gardens, public spaces and workshops (Future of Cities, 2014). The manifold dimensions of sustainable landscapes, however, raise challenging questions over the nature of how to design, plan, and manage them, which is further complicated by a variety of traditions, subcultures, and by the different scales, and concerns of urban and rural practitioners (Selman, 2008). The key to this phenomenon is the ‘conjecture attitude’ of professionals and craftsmen. The lack of emphasis on folklore preservation in the development of cultural landscape is quite evident as priority is given to monuments and relics, and little priority on cultural open spaces of which many have great historic values complimenting the existence of the monuments today (Kates et al, 2005; Rodriguez, 2011; Seitel, 2001 and Sing, 2011).

Colonialism in Nigeria brought about the shift of Government from the Emirate to the Native Authority, which is now the State Government. This made open spaces such as the Palace square lose their identity as traditional nodes for town gatherings due to transformation or succession by other cultural activities. The colonial masters changed the character of roads from human and animal tracks to asphalt laid roads for automobiles, which are less convenient for traditional activities. Nigerian Government Laws and acts such as the Land Use Act of 1988 vested land in custody of Government, which complicated the management of traditional open spaces. The ministries and agencies in charge of these inherited traditional open spaces and transition corridors put little emphasis on the importance of such cultural heritage at various levels of urban renewal and development. Presently, Kano traditional city faces challenges on a daily basis as regards designated open spaces for social and cultural activities. Traffic generated at peak periods of the day in and out of the city hub is always chaotic. Fridays are worse because many people end up praying hundreds of meters away from the mosque, in the scorching heat from the tarred road. Traditional chiefs and well-wishers also pay homage to the Emir after every Friday prayer thereby occupying virtually all the open spaces. The palace space is also used for unorganised parking of cars, which is even worse when weekly weddings take place at the Palace.

The annual Durbar festival makes roads around the Emir’s palace and Central Mosque less efficient and inconvenient for horse riders and their spectators. One can hardly differentiate commercial and administrative areas from the cultural zone of the city (Minjibir, 2011). This is because government policies in managing open spaces and traditional corridors have failed to redevelop the city hub along best practices of conservation and preservation of cultural landscapes.  

This paper therefore, attempts to provide an overview of the transformation of three selected traditional open spaces in Kano city (Native Authority Garden, Kofar Kudu and Filin Masallaci and the major challenges associated with it, such as congestion, lack of proper provision for pedestrians and ill-conceived landscape planning. These traditional open spaces are iconic for a number of reasons; (1) They systematically link the four most important institutions in Kano namely the Emir’s palace, the Court, the Prison and the Kano Central Mosque and (2) the fact that they are in a way part, or extension of such socio-political institutions. The utilitarian functions of Kano traditional open spaces, especially in hosting annual Durbar and other traditional ceremonies, also make it pertinent to retain their character and preserve socio-political and cultural relevance.

Fig 1: Satellite image of the study area
Fig 2: Site visual map showing the study area

Literature Review

Open Spaces and Cultural Landscapes

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) (2013) described an open space as, “any open piece of land that is undeveloped (has no buildings or other built structures) and is accessible to the public. Open space can include green space, schoolyards, playgrounds, public seating areas, public plazas and vacant lots.” Many researchers have the opinion that space remains open as long as it is not fenced by a wall, this might further classify the perception of open spaces by USEPA. Garba (2007) attempted to examine change in the public space of traditional Hausa cities over the period 1804 to 2004 where he concluded that:

The examination of findings of the research with other general observations support the advancement of four general conclusions. The first conclusion is that the nature of change in the city has been gradual and incremental, with change manifesting in diverse forms in the different aspects and dimensions of open spaces. Second, that change has been slow for most of the period studied, with a perpetuation of practices between historical periods, but has assumed a more rapid pace in the later part of the post-colonial period starting around the 1970s. The third, that the faster rate of change in the later part of the post-colonial period is doing away with the character traditionally associated with the city resulting in less attractive forms. Finally, the examination of change shows that the city has never had any significant comprehensive intervention aimed at upgrading and improving the city’s urban environment and public space throughout the historical period.

Garba's (2007) observation about types of public spaces and activity patterns in public spaces in traditional Hausa cities is summarized below:

 Jihad Period and its patterns

  • Social life focused on movement and transportation, functional, religious, cultural, social and entertainment, and recreation activities
  • Each activity associated with specific form of practice in the period, sometimes with root in pre-Jihad times
  • All activity types inherited from pre-Jihad period

Colonial Period and its patterns

  • Some practices disappear or change form with time
  • Introduction of recreational sports activities
  • Introduction of political activities in later part of the period
  • Beginning of change in form of transportation as an activity

Post-Colonial Period and its patterns

  • Significant change started towards the later part of period
  • Change affected form of many activities including transportation and movement, social, religious, and entertainment and recreation activities
  • Craft activities die out to be replaced by new forms of practices
  • New forms of recreation and entertainment practices take over

The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) (2008) defined cultural landscape as a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values. Therefore, any open piece of land that is undeveloped that is accessible to the public, which is associated with a historic event, activity or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values is a Cultural Landscape.

Birnbaum (1994) highlighted that there are four types of cultural landscapes which are not mutually exclusive, namely; “historic sites, historic designed landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes, and ethnographic landscapes.” Bridgewater and Bridgewater (2007) believe that non-physical remains, in other words, intangible elements such as names of places or native traditions are also part of cultural heritage. Specifically significant are the interactions between these elements and nature, depicting the combined cultural landscape.

IFLA (2008), Pozo (2003), CEER (2006), El-Ghazy (2008), further described cultural landscapes as the combined products of the interaction of people and nature. Cultural landscapes are categorized by UNESCO World Heritage (2001) as being defined, evolved and associative. The most easily recognized are the clearly defined landscape, which is designed and created deliberately by an individual or group. This includes gardens, fields, meadows, reserves, estates grassland lands and landscapes constructed for aesthetic reasons, which are often but not always, associated with religious or other monumental buildings and ensembles. The second category is the organically evolved landscape. This originates primarily from social, economic, administrative, and religious necessity and has evolved to its present form by relating with, and in reaction to, its natural environment. These can be further sub-categorised into relict and continuing landscapes (Flemming and Campbell, 2011; Adinnu, 2005; Singh, 2011).

Birnbaum, (1994) went further to explain that:

Careful planning before undertaking work can help prevent irrevocable damage to a cultural landscape. Professional techniques for identifying, documenting, evaluating and preserving cultural landscapes have advanced during the past 25 years and are continually being refined. Preservation planning generally involves the following steps: historical research; inventory and documentation of existing conditions; site analysis and evaluation of integrity and significance; development of a cultural landscape preservation approach and redevelopment plan; development of a cultural landscape management plan and management philosophy; the development of a strategy for ongoing maintenance; and preparation of a record of redevelopment and future research recommendations.


This study involved qualitative evaluation of the cultural heritage of traditional open spaces and transition corridor of Kano walled city. The cultural activities as they relate to the cultural landscape were captured and understood to decide what exists and what is to be rejuvenated in the landscape. In so doing, data was primarily collected through the visual survey of the Emir’s palace road and plaza, Native Authority garden, Kofar Kudu and Filin Masallaci open spaces. Primary data was also collected by conducting interviews with ten relevant stakeholders. Secondary data was sourced from extracts and documented literature from thesis/projects, journals, national and international policy documents, guidelines on cultural landscape development, as well as virtual resources.

The research searches for answers to culturally specific questions about the values, behaviours, opinions and social perspectives. Evidence was collected using a predefined set of processes, through which the paper hopes to fetch new, but relevant information.

The primary data collection involved physical inspection of traditional open spaces. Oral interviews were majorly the source of primary data collection which was conducted with a traditionally learned chief on cultural heritage of Traditional Kano City, a well-experienced practitioner of landscape development of the traditional city and an official of the National Museum of Kano State (Gidan Makama). This gave a broad account of folklore as insight into Kano cultural heritage with a variety of opinions with regards to the cultural landscape, cultural activities and urban transformation. For the purpose of this paper face-to-face interview is used as part of the primary data collection process. This technique, to a reasonable extent, demands skills from the interviewer, especially as cultural sensitivity is demanded.  

Analysis and Discussion

Visual Survey: Native Authority garden

The garden is located about 300 meters from the Kofar Nassarawa city gate. Fenced with a see-through dwarf wall, the open space has some trees which create fair shade. There exist some shabby structures presumably constructed for a restaurant, two mai-shayi (tea spots), an individual selling yams, and ironically for a garden, firewood is sold in the open space (Fig. 3a).  People can be seen sparsely seated on benches, with a few bicycles and motorcycles (Fig. 3b) and a few refuse dump spots exist.

Fig 3a and 3b: Native Authourity Garden I

Kofar Kudu Open Space

This open space is divided by a road, marked by a row of trees leading into the Palace through the Kofar Kudu Palace gate (Fig. 4). The eastern part is a bare field and has a ceremonial podium above the Palace fence. On Eid festivals during the traditional Hawan Sallah processions, entourages of traditional chiefs parade in the open space to wait for the Emir either to ride in or out of the Palace (Fig. 5).

Fig 4: Kofar Kudu entrance to the Palace
Fig 5: Kofar Kudu open space eastern wing
Fig 6: Kofar Kudu open space western wing

The western wing has few existing trees and is also a bare field with a few parked cars (Fig. 6).

Filin Masallaci Open Space

The prayer ground has two bare fields both at the western and eastern side of the mosque. On Fridays, the prayer congregation is formed from the inner mosque space slowly to the outer grounds in a continuous formation (Fig. 7a) which spills onto the road without any shade (Fig 7b). The western field has very few trees and what seems to be a dilapidated podium.

Fig 7a: Filin Masallaci open space western wing

The eastern side of the prayer ground has similar characteristics (Fig. 7c) but has a few cars at the east palace gate called Kofar Kwaru.  On returning after each Eid prayer, the Emir delivers his Eid speech followed by a jahi, a traditional horse race in batches to salute the Emir. The mosque prayer congregation extends at least 3 kilometres away from the mosque under the scorching hot sun on asphalt tarred roads.

Fig 7b: Friday prayer congregation spilling on to the road                 Fig 7c: Filin Masallaci open space eastern wing I

Native Authority Garden

The garden, popularly known as Filin Karta was established by the Native Authority during the colonial period. Dr. Uba Adamu highlighted that, “the N.A garden was the Friday prayer ground before the Kano Central Mosque was built by Emir Abdullahi in 1860.” The Kano State Government therefore decided to fence the garden because of abuse such as smoking and gambling (Karta) as Arc. Ibrahim Haruna stated. This move was taken to sustain the traditions of the people while making them more convenient. Today the Native Authority garden serves as a waiting place for artisans of the State Works Department, especially in the morning; there also exists a Mai Shayi (tea joint), a restaurant and firewood selling spot.

Only about half of the interviewees, who turned out to be of the older generation, readily identified the Native Authority garden. However, all the interviewees acknowledge the cultural significance of the garden and that present values relate to it being a space primarily used for community activities. Mal. Shehu Garba, a plumber with the Works Department, complained that, “there used to be some concrete chairs in the garden, but all got destroyed. This garden is an excellent hangout because of the shade, but now needs to be upgraded and maintained” (in Falaki 2015). Most of the interviewees remarked as follows: 

  • The Native Authority Garden serves a number of purposes ranging from Friday congregational prayers, community space to recreational space
  • The open space is not properly maintained
  • The open space is faced with some challenges such as gambling (which is against the custom of the area
  • That the garden should be maintained and controlled by the government so as to serve the general public (Falaki 2015).

Kofar Kudu Open Space

The traditional open space which is popularly known as Kofar Kaya is divided by the road entering the Palace through the Kofar Kudu Palace gate. The left side serves a weekly function as an extension of a Friday prayer grounds that extends from the city central mosque along the road to the South gate of the Palace. Cars are parked by people, such as traditional chiefs, who come to pay homage to the Emir after the prayers,  and by participants in other events such weddings at the Palace. Annually during the two Sallah festivals, entourages of traditional chiefs parade in the open space to wait for the Emir either to ride in or out of the Palace during each of the traditional Hawan Sallah processions. The right side of the open space has a podium usually used to accommodate guests at Durbar events, while horsemen race to the podium to salute the Emir and guests, a practice known as Jahi. Maje Ahmed Gwangwazo explained that, “During Eid festivities, Filin Kaya open space becomes a fair of very colourful costumes with each chief and his entourage displaying the attire of the chief’s office. The impressive 18th-century war brigades and the Emir’s guards are always what a lot of people look forward to watching. It is a competition.”  The same space is used at night by students of the neighbourhood to study, as Khalifa Kaura explained, “Students from Gwangwazo, Sagagi, Yakasai and Kankarofi utilise the open space to study, especially during the hot season and owing to the fact that electricity is inadequate, which made the Emir give a standing directive that all the lights in the open space should be left on for at least 12 hours from 6pm to 6am.” Mukhtar Ahmed narrated that what they heard from their parents and grandparents is that the open space was provided for public gathering right from the pre-colonial period. The right side of Kofar Kudu open space needs to be organized to accommodate and harmonise its various functions. In 1988 President Robert Mugabe visited Kano and was honoured with a ceremonial urban procession and Prince Charles of United Kingdom also attended a Durbar celebration in Kano and was honoured with a similar activity there.  In recent years it is occasionally used as a ground for funeral prayers, one of which was the prayer for the late wife of the late former Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, and other prominent personalities such as the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, and Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule because of the unusually high turnout of people. There are a few spectator stands at the right side, but inadequate, and most of the interviewees believe that there is a pressing need to rehabilitate the space to harmoniously accommodate the various cultural functions that take place in the open space.

In response to Kofar Kudu open space most of the interviewees observed that:

  • The open space serves a number of purposes such as Durba ceremonies, Eid celebration, town gathering, congregational prayers and wedding ceremonies.
  • The government should maintained the open space for the above mentioned activities as a way of preserving its iconic roles.
  • The open space needs to be landscaped in order to meet international standard (Falaki 2015).

Filin Masallaci Open Space

The central mosque was first built in 1860 by Emir Abdullahi. The Mosque, with its prayer ground, is another open space behind the Emir’s palace which is mostly utilized weekly for Friday prayers. Little trading takes place after prayers. Mal. Ado Kabara complained that:

It is evident from the way the congregational Friday prayer is usually performed that shades are needed. Congregation rows are supposed to be a continuous formation, but areas with shade are occupied first and many worshipers neighbouring the mosque prefer to sit on the veranda of their houses and wait because they are sure the congregation will in time reach their location.

Hajiya Hasiya Mukhtar Kabara stressed the need for designated areas for women on the Friday prayer ground. The city central mosque popularly known as Filin Masallaci has its problems. This is because there are drainage issues in some parts of the open space, and people urinate on some of the edges of the space along the main road because the area looks deserted. The eastern side of the prayer ground is used to deliver Eid celebration speeches by the Emir on return from each Eid prayers, which is followed by a Jahi (a traditional horse race in batches to salute the Emir). Mal. Ado Kabara added, “Another tradition that takes place is during weddings where the groom and groomsmen hold a horse ride procession called Hawan Angwaci. During the procession or at the end, the groomsmen race on their horses to salute the groom.” Most informants believe that the valuable open spaces need to be landscaped to integrate and provide convenience for all cultural activities.

While commenting on Filin Masallaci open space, most of the interviewees opine that:

  • The open space serves as a prayer ground (for both Eid and Friday prayers).
  • The open space has no proper shade and cannot support the population of worshippers.
  • It faces hygienic problems such as defecation, and dumping of refuse.
  • It needs upgrade through the planting oftrees, proper landscaping to integrate all types of functions of thespace (Falaki 2015).

The Redevelopment of the Selected Open Spaces in Kano

Some of the major challenges of Kano traditional open spaces as identified in this paper are: (1) under-utilisation of the open spaces (2) the presence of petty traders and uncoordinated parking of cars and (3) the total absence of sound government policies guiding proper landscaping in the city. It is on this basis that this section provides the following suggestions for the redevelopment of the three selected open spaces.

Native Authority Garden

  1. Reduce the height of the walled fence to make it inviting
  2. Organise and preserve the multiple cultural activities of the garden using hard and soft landscape elements. Providing garden furniture and proper planting of trees in the garden for public relaxation as well as convenience for congregation of prayers especially on Fridays
  3. Surface pavement for seating;  also for public relaxation and comfort of the prayer congregation especially on Fridays
  4. Need for Government policy on landscape planning of traditional open spaces

Kofar Kudu open space

  1. Needs to be properly landscaped to accommodate its multiple functions of a car park, a congregational prayer ground for Friday and funeral prayers, a ground for the annual Durba festival and a focal point as a Palace/City square while preserving the values of cultural activities
  2. Provide proper pedestrian walkways around the open space for tourists especially during the Durbar festivals and traditional huts for vendors of local artworks and leather products usually patronised by tourists

Filin Masallaci open space

  1. Organised planting of trees to provide shade for the congregation in Friday prayers and Eid ceremonial processions
  2. Also providing a convenient surface pavement for congregation in Friday prayers and Eid ceremonial processions
  3. Provide public convenience facilities at the outskirts of the open space and should meet the needs of women. It will add value to consider children and people with special needs.


Despite the iconic nature of the three selected open spaces in the ancient city of Kano, especially in terms of the role they play by systematically linking the most important socio-political institutions (the Emir’s palace, the court, the prison and the Kano Central Mosque), they remain in a somewhat neglected state and function badly.  Apart from becoming part and parcel of the said institutions, this paper provides some ways through which the open spaces will be redeveloped by proper landscaping. It also argues that the utilitarian functions of the open spaces, particularly in hosting congregational prayers, annual Durbar and other traditional celebrations, make it pertinent to maintain their character.

The fact that during festivities cultural activities many times spill out of designated traditional open spaces because of high population, the paper suggests that proper hard and soft landscaping of the street that connects these traditional open spaces can become an extension of the open spaces thereby accommodating more people. The planting of adequate trees will surely help create shade and convenience for both the public and tourists who come annually to watch the Kano Durbar. Similarly, the provision of proper pedestrian walkways around the open space for tourists, especially during the Durba traditional festivals, as well as the construction of huts for vendors of local artworks and leather products usually patronised by tourists, would also help in the redevelopment of the open spaces. We also emphasise that the physical changes to the space must be done sensitively to support the traditional, spiritual and cultural activities that take place in the three spaces discussed, as it is these intangible aspects of the spaces which give them their iconic character.


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Oral Interviews:

Falaki, M. and Audu, A. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Sule, Y.M. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Adamu, A. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Haruna, I. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Gwangwazo, M. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Kabara, A.U. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Ahmad, M. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Kabara, H.M. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Garba, S. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.

Falaki, M. and Kaura, K. (2014). Interview on Kano Open Spaces.


Photographic Credits

Figs 1 and 2: Google Earth image from Kano Urban Planning and Development Authority

Figs 3a, 3b, 3c, 4, 5, 6, 7a and 7b: M. Falaki