UrbanBetter Cityzens

Rethinking Public Spaces: The 9-Year-Old on the Floor.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot remember the vastness of the trees that shaped my childhood. My mother would tell me during our walks to the market or school:

 

“Look, Munnir, you see that building? It wasn’t there before. That one too. This road didn’t have gutters. Oh, that sign is also new.”

 

“From our house, you could see as far as Agidingbi. It was mostly trees and open spaces.”

 

 

Agidingbi is where my primary school was located. Despite being nearby, it took about 20 minutes struggling through the growing Lagos morning traffic to get to school.

 

“Years ago, a straight path would take you there in 5 minutes,” my mom added.

 

I was used to the huge buildings around me, some abandoned before I became fully aware of their presence, others complete and bustling with people wearing what I came to learn was “corporate clothing.” The building beside us was massive for a five or six-story structure (my memory fails me).

 

 

I never understood the significance of this change, the growing concrete. Perhaps it was due to my innocent ignorance of not being there when these structures didn’t exist. Maybe I would have noticed early on when the fumes from the gigantic industries, standing like immovable giants within our estate and around us, began to worsen. It felt like, each day, there was this reinforced confidence to darken the blue skies and pollute the air, my air.

 

I had nothing to compare and contrast. How could I be sure something was wrong or better when I had never really experienced that ‘better’?

 

I loved asking questions — I still do. Questions like:

 

“Why are the gutters open?” “Why are there no clear road markings for the different types of vehicles?” “How does someone in a wheelchair easily cross to the opposite end of the road?” “How would kids, like me, cross safely without depending on the largesse of a stranger?” “Why aren’t trees planted for their shade and fresh air to make walking more enjoyable?”

 

The “whys” were endless. They still are. These questions wouldn’t have come from a place of mischief or trying to seem annoying or troublesome. No one wants to be truly tagged as “troublesome,” yet, I needed to risk being labelled as one.

 

………

 

“Hey!!! Ah!!! Stop!!!”

Onlookers let out these screams on the day I decided to brave the double-lane road and cross like the big boy I thought I was. The Okada (motorcycle) rider was on the floor opposite me, scowling in pain.

 

I was still trying to make sense of what had just happened when I realised I was also on the floor. How did I end up here? I couldn’t get an answer as the pain from where I had been hit on my legs took over.

 

Deliberately designing cities to be livable is not just about providing infrastructure but ensuring it is inclusive and requires minimal human interference to be deemed “safe.” It should be safe for all by design.

 

 

I learned this lesson the hard way. Why was the Okada rider driving at that speed? Why were there no zebra crossings on a road that had schools along it? Why, why, and why did it have to be me and not my brother who had annoyed me only a few minutes ago?

 

These were questions no one asked at the time. These are questions I am now asking on behalf of that 9-year-old on the floor.

 

This city is on the move. A flurry of concrete is once again on the rise, and the green is disappearing faster than ever – road expansions, revamped buildings, and water path reclamation signal a commitment to progress. But amidst the dust and detours lies an opportunity.

 

I have always wondered why we had pedestrian access that was so inaccessible. By design, it was an enjoyable experience as a child when we would have to climb and jump from the little pedestrian paths we had. Now, it’s a hectic task going up and down, while being completely inaccessible to people with disabilities.

 

 

By infusing intentional transformations with health and access in mind, the city can create a more inclusive, livable Lagos for all.

 

The current focus on infrastructure is crucial. However, let’s not forget the invisible infrastructure – the health of our residents, especially the 9-year-old who is still on the floor.

 

Imagine wider roads that prioritise not just cars, but pedestrians and cyclists. Well-maintained, accessible sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and strategically placed pedestrian crossings would encourage people to walk and cycle – not just for leisure, but for everyday commutes. This wouldn’t just ease traffic woes; it would promote physical activity, a cornerstone of well-being.

 

 

But walkability goes beyond paved paths. Trees are silent warriors in the fight for clean air. Planting them along reconstructed streets wouldn’t just beautify the city; they would act as natural filters, absorbing pollutants and releasing life-giving oxygen. With the planet experiencing 12 straight months of record-high temperatures, these trees will be shady havens during the scorching city sun, oases of fresh air amidst the urban bustle.

 

Good drainage is another health champion. The ever-present threat of flooding during heavy rains isn’t just an inconvenience; it creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes, spreading diseases like malaria and dengue fever. By ensuring proper drainage systems are built into the city’s fabric, we can safeguard public health and create a cleaner environment. Most of the drainages I saw growing up were open. By simply covering them, we solve several health and safety risks.

 

These seemingly minor changes have a profound impact. Walkable streets, clean air, and efficient drainage contribute to a healthier city. Residents will breathe easier, exercise more, and the city itself will thrive as productivity no longer suffers due to accidents like the one I experienced.

 

The reconstruction of any city into a megacity is not just about concrete and steel; it’s about building a healthier, more inclusive future. Let’s infuse these projects with features that prioritise the well-being of its citizens — from a city that’s not just commotion in motion to a city that cares for that 9-year-old on the floor.

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Rethinking Public Spaces: The 9-Year-Old on the Floor.