An Entire City Under Construction to Save Another from Climate Change

By Alissa Walker on at

The African coastal nation of Nigeria is experiencing many familiar problems in our age of climate change: rising sea levels, storm surges, devastating flooding. Its most populous city, Lagos, is going to outrageous lengths to protect itself, both environmentally and financially, by building an entirely new city the size of Manhattan between it and the ocean.

The multi-billion-dollar Eko Atlantic development claims it will safeguard against coastal erosion, "transform[ing] land lost to the power of the sea into an ocean-front city that will be one of the wonders of the 21st century." It also bills itself as the economic catalyst that will nudge Lagos into the category of a truly global megacity, making it the "new financial epicentre of West Africa by the year 2020."

An Entire City Under Construction to Save Another from Climate Change

Over at The Guardian, however, Martin Lukacs calls Eko Atlantic "climate apartheid" built by "disaster capitalists." These investors, he claims, are using the threat of climate change as a reason to build what's essentially a closed-off, financially inaccessible city that will only "save" the people who live there:

Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatised green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms. Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful exploit the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts – this is climate apartheid.

An Entire City Under Construction to Save Another from Climate Change

Developers are currently finishing construction on the artificial island the city will sit upon, including a 1.8-mile-long seawall dubbed the "Great Wall of Lagos." It is one of the largest civic engineering projects in the world.

An Entire City Under Construction to Save Another from Climate Change

An Entire City Under Construction to Save Another from Climate Change

Meanwhile, the official website for Eko Atlantic promises a walkable community with office towers, parks, and outdoor restaurants. There's a marina that would be not at all out of place in an episode of Miami Vice. A "spectacular central boulevard... similar in size to the Champs-Élysées in Paris or Fifth Avenue in New York" will run down its centre. There will be housing for 250,000 residents and jobs for 150,000 more.

It's unclear, however, exactly whom those 250,000 residents will be. For many citizens of Lagos—about 70 per cent of the population—sites like this are home:

An Entire City Under Construction to Save Another from Climate Change

The Makoko Floating School designed by NLÉ in Lagos's Makoko slum, photo by Iwan Baan for NLÉ

The Makoko slum--where about 100,000 people live on boats and stilted homes in a lagoon--is only about a mile away from Eko Atlantic. Parts of this slum and other communities like it have already been demolished or forced to relocate due to development. Some claim that Eko Atlantic's construction and dredging have even made the coastal surges worse for these floating neighbourhoods.

While a barrier island would likely help protect the city from a storm surge, this particular idea of a massive privatised development designed for millionaires and their corporations seems particularly insensitive to solving the larger issues around climate change and inequality in Lagos.

Fuelled by oil wealth, Nigeria will soon eclipse South Africa as the largest African economy; Lagos is already considered to be the second-largest city in Africa. Eko Atlantic claims that it will help to lure more attention to the greater metropolitan area, creating a new financial superpower. That it certainly will—Eko Atlantic will rise up over the next decade, its towers filled with investors gambling on the growing economy, while the rest of Lagos slowly submerges around it. [The Guardian]

All images except Makoko via Eko Atlantic