Martin Sagar speaks to African Business magazine about developing cities

2nd February 2015

Martin Sagar was interviewed by African Business for the article "Crunch Time for African Cities" which was published in the magazine's January issue. The following is an extract from the interview for the article.

African Business: Is the trend towards the construction of new cities or suburbs in Africa an acknowledgement that existing urban development has largely failed?

Martin Sagar: Inevitably, cities are under constant need of revision and repair and this is a global issue that is not exclusive to Africa. However, traditionally - in developed countries - cities have grown in a manageable way; however the rate of change in some African cities is much faster, making the case for new cities more compelling.

In Lagos, 60% of the population lives in informal settlements. These communities generate little tax revenues so little funding is available for infrastructural improvements on a big scale, making new cities – with their own revenue streams - an attractive proposition.

However, building new cities is not the only option for improving these informal communities. We’re working with Water Aid in Lusaka, Kinshasa, Lagos and Maputo on designs that explores ways of radically refurbishing existing infrastructure under the direction of a spatial masterplan which incorporates existing communities rather than literally building over them which is too often the case

AB: How do you think modern public transport systems can be imposed on already huge African cities that are struggling with rising road traffic volumes?

MS: Transport systems are not imposed, they‘re introduced. Rising road traffic is one of the biggest obstacles to delivering major sustainable transport improvements as it is a self-perpetuating problem. More specifically, the challenge is encouraging people to not use their car and favour public modes of transport. Historically, the introduction of major public transport schemes has been fraught with difficulty and has historically been most easily implemented in non-democratic societies; for example, the British railway system was greeted by uproar when first introduced in Victorian times but quickly became essential part of life.

AB: What do you think Lagos will look like in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time?

MS: Masterplanning has to be both visionary, shaping a city for the next 50 years, whilst also having the ability to deliver short-term solutions; the latter being particularly crucial in some African cities.

With Lagos, I think the short-term principal importance is completing the ongoing sea defense projects and also progressing the key public transport proposals, which include the Strategic Transport Masterplan by LAMATA. Also crucial is finding ways of funding other major infrastructure projects, which include dealing with issues of sewage and water. The Eko Atlantic project which we are working on is the first piece of the jigsaw in achieving this kind of balance in Lagos.

(A full version of the article can be found in the January 2015 issue of African Business.)

Related project