Why Designing With the Consideration of Vulnerable Groups Improves the Overall Liveability of Our Cities•
A CITY FOR ALL: CASE STUDY OF OBÁLENDÉ
Why Designing With the Consideration of Vulnerable Groups Improves the Overall Liveability of Our Cities
By Tilewa Adeoye & Tope Ipaye
By merely looking around, it is easy to pinpoint the different shortcomings and their varying extents of the urban planning of Lagos and other Nigerian cities. In Lagos, where Studio Contra is based, accessibility, congestion (human, building and traffic), pollution (land, water, air and noise), insecurity, transportation and severely lacking aesthetics are issues residents grapple with on a daily basis. These complex and interconnected issues have been present for years and significantly affect our quality of life. However, in typical Nigerian tenacious fashion, we have adjusted and developed ways of working around these problems. Unfortunately, there are groups of people for whom adjustment presents a more imminent danger; women, children, senior citizens and differently-abled persons.
This observation is what informed our approach to our submission for the Gender Perspective in Urban Planning and Design design lab. Organized by the Lagos Urban Development Initiative in October 2020, the design lab was aimed at tackling the issue of safety of women in public spaces by developing and implementing a set of urban design considerations generated from the perspective of women. This was to be achieved through the engagement and empowerment of women across different sectors of urban planning, including developers and Government workers. Selected participants were each to redesign designated 250m radiuses of Lagos Island ahead of a two-hour workshop and subsequently, present their designs in a final presentation session. The design lab has since ended and with the recent partial closure of Obalende - our designated 250m radius, our findings and proposals echo strongly.
Given the increasing national security concerns and current global health crisis, there is no better time than now to begin rethinking design and planning solutions and their impact on our lives within the built environment. We share our research and thoughts with the hopes of accelerating further research on the subject and consequently, remedial action towards a better built environment; across Nigeria and the wider African diaspora
ACCESSIBILITY IN PUBLIC SPACES
In the realm of architecture and the built environment, ‘accessibility’ is a recurring design consideration. As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, it is “the quality or characteristic of something that makes it possible to approach, enter, or use it”. Ideally, this ease of access should be experienced by all, regardless of demographic, but historically, this has not always been the case. Cities are often designed in ways that are significantly skewed in favour of what is deemed “typical”, and sometimes completely failing to consider the ‘atypical’. This means that less than fully-abled persons have significant challenges in navigating the built environment. Over time, legislation and inventions like the dropped curb, ramps, and Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSI) have sought to make universal design a reality; many cities still have a long way to go.
However, the scope of accessibility extends beyond physical and/or cognitive impairment. During our research and analysis of the study area, we identified that across socio-economic levels, women, children, senior citizens and differently-abled persons - collectively referred to as ‘vulnerable groups' in this text, bear the brunt of inaccessibility. Aside from the general security concerns associated with commuting around Lagos, they are exposed to an extra level of danger. For women and children, molestation and kidnapping are major concerns; for senior citizens, difficulty in navigating the physical environment as a result of reducing mobility due to ageing and/or illnesses; and for differently-abled persons, difficulty in navigating the physical environment during what should be easy trips. All groups are at a higher risk of assault, theft and violence.
STUDY AREA & SITE ANALYSIS
Well known for its transport hub, busy markets, night life, red-light district, and Suya at Suya junction, Obálendé is a bustling neighborhood of Lagos located in Eti-Osa LGA. It is a famous point of transit for many commuters plying the Mainland-Island axis for work. Its landmarks include the Nipost Building, Police Headquarters, Police Barracks, and RCCG Haven Assembly. However, regardless of the significant police presence in the area, it has often been the site of major clashes and unrest, like the NURTW clash in February. Due to its unique features, it has also been a location for civil demonstration, most recently the #ENDSARS protest in October 2020.
Obálendé’s main planning problems include narrow roads, traffic congestion, illegal bus stops, inadequate lighting and greenery, and noise pollution, among others. These problems hamper the enjoyment of its public spaces and to make it truly accessible, a multi-faceted solution must be implemented.
Despite having a narrow width of just 6m (excluding pedestrian walkways), Lewis Street is one of the busiest roads in Obálendé. As depicted by the sectional diagram above, makeshift bus stops take up most of the road, leaving only one travel lane that is insufficient for the volume of vehicular traffic received by the road. The pedestrian walkways, a mere 0.75m, are encroached upon by roadside shops whose patrons further interrupt the smooth flow of traffic when they stop to make purchases. Similarly, on Torton Street (5.8m), illegal parking is rife and vehicular traffic has almost taken over the pedestrian walkways, making it almost impossible to walk by without significant risk of being overrun by moving vehicles. On Moloney Street (7.8m), the lack of road markings is the main source of chaos.
Like in many developing countries, informal activity dominates the economic landscape and small businesses are how many Nigerians make ends meet. In the study area, there are two observable types of petty trading; fixed shops and mobile markets. Fixed shops are extensions originating from within private property and are mostly run by female traders who sell food and clothes, while mobile markets are wheelbarrows pushed by male traders who seek out areas with the highest traffic flow for the sale of their wares. These micro businesses take up part of the provided pedestrian pathways and hence, interrupt foot traffic.
Traffic cannot be avoided in discussions about Lagos State. However in Obálendé, it is exacerbated by illegal bus stops, opportunistic commerce and a fragmented major roundabout. Feeding into the Obálendé Roundabout is heavy vehicular traffic from Ring Road, Eko Bridge, Marina and Ikoyi Road and it is worse during rush hour. Although having generally fair road conditions on their own, these roads suffer from traffic congestion that emanates from this poorly-planned point of convergence.
Contributing to the overall rowdiness of the roundabout are illegal bus stops created by bus drivers who, in a bid to reduce the time spent in rush hour traffic, prefer roadside loading to going into the designated terminus to pick up passengers. Aside from vehicular traffic obstruction and pedestrian traffic congestion that tends to thin out along the inner streets, this creates an unsafe environment from which touts and other miscreants can extort and harass commuters, and catcall women.
Inadequate lighting and greenery
Research has proven that quantity and kind of greenery in the built environment is directly linked to its overall perceived quality. Some benefits include interception and absorption of solar radiation & reduction of ambient and surface temperatures therefore reducing the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, providing shade for respite from the heat, stress relief and improving mental health and enhancing emotional wellbeing. When incorporated in buildings, they improve thermal comfort and reduce energy consumption. In the study area, urban greenery is virtually non-existent and the bulk of perceivable observable greenery is on private property. The result is a visually unpleasant environment that lacks all the aforementioned desirable qualities.
At night-time, because there are insufficient numbers of street lights, the streets are dark and hard to see and most artificial lighting is provided by passing vehicles. This further aggravates the unsafety of commuters and passers-by, as the darkness provides cover for thieves and pickpockets. This reduced visibility is particularly detrimental to the elderly whose deteriorating vision make them prone to tripping over uneven surfaces, women who remain fearful and hyper-alert due to the increased probability of sexual assault, children who face the risk of being run over by moving vehicles, and differently-abled people who already have enough trouble as it is navigating the streets.
Noise is another major problem in Obálendé due to the commercial nature of most of the activities in the area. Some of these are petty trading, hawking, food vending and auto repair activities. Coupled with the incessant honking that has become an issue that requires special attention, road rage and rowdy bus stops, it is amazing how commuters maintain sanity, especially during rush hour. The diagram below indicates nodal sources of noise in the study are during the day.
The main goal of our proposal is to create beautiful, enjoyable spaces that encourage preservation, by implementing strategies that, though aimed at the safety of vulnerable groups, benefit everyone in the long run; because designing for the vulnerable means pushing design considerations beyond the basic requirements of legislation, consequently increasing the safety and comfort of all users, and improving the overall liveability of our cities. The key strategies for achieving this are updating and enforcing usage of the centralised bus terminus, improving traffic flow through revision of the existing traffic flow, designing for better pedestrian access, improving lighting levels, and greening the site.
PROPOSED DESIGN SOLUTIONS
1. Traffic Flow Road
To replace the existing fragmented roundabout that is responsible for a major fraction of vehicular congestion, we propose a singular extended roundabout. Coupled with prominent road markings and functional traffic lights, the proposed design would better cater to the volume of traffic received by the area and hence, significantly reduce the problem of traffic.
2. Central Bus Park
As previously identified, illegal bus stops are responsible for a lot of rowdiness and traffic congestion. Hence, eradicating them and updating the existing terminus to a level that not only accommodates an adequate number of buses but is also appealing enough that deciding against using it is insensible, would free up the streets. The proposed design also allocates commercial trading spaces within the terminus, as relocating roadside traders, stalls and mobile markets is necessary for complete eradication of the existing rowdiness. Immediately following the completion and opening of the updated terminus, it might be necessary to temporarily deploy traffic wardens to ensure that illegal bus stops do not resurface.
3. Improved Lighting
Enhanced lighting will make this area safer at night for women, children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the city at large, reducing spaces that allow criminals and pick-pockets to operate. Rather than lampposts that would require disruptive construction, we propose lights mounted on cables above the intersection and around walkways.
4. Greening and Pedestrian Access
Greenery planted in the interstitial spaces of the elongated traffic peninsula, benches for waiting and resting and trees to provide shade will making a more pleasant intersection and creating a cooler and more comfortable micro-climate for pedestrians. We also propose that zebra crossing be introduced to allow safe passage across this busy intersection.
It is evident that fixing Obálendé alone cannot solve the urban planning deficiencies of Lagos, and strategies backed by humane enforcement of regulations must be developed to fix the complex economic and societal issues that manifest physically in the built environment. This approach must be multifaceted to prevent the recurrence of previously solved problems. Suburb to suburb and city to city, we can start by improving the livability of our immediate environments.