What To Do With Abandoned Buildings in Our Cities

Lagos and Abuja are homes to many abandoned buildings and undeveloped plots of lands for the latter. These buildings are not part of the 50% of the residential estates in Abuja that are not occupied due to no buyer or rent demand. The buildings I refer to are mostly old abandoned uncompleted or completed buildings and a bit dilapidated at times. Although some are in good conditions, but haven’t been occupied for a very long time. As long as 5 years or more.

They are unused for many reasons; closure of the business/company that occupied it, inaction by the property owners either due to insufficient funds or lack of ideas of what to do next, court orders due to many reasons such as establishing rightful owner of plot (such disputes are common in real estate booming Nigeria) etc.

In Abuja, surprisingly, there are many undeveloped plots of land in the inner core of the city; Maitama, Wuse and Central Area. This is hard to come by in Lagos though.

The data is hardly available for the number of such abandoned buildings or pieces of lands in Nigeria. In Lagos, there could be as much as 200 on Victoria Island alone, Engr. Mohammed who resides in Lagos confirmed to me as we drove on the island. A Daily Trust article published November last year stated that the Lagos State Government confiscated 89 abandoned buildings in Ikoyi/Victoria Island axis alone. In a growing Abuja, city council recently did a survey and came up with about 436 abandoned buildings. For cities in the US like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit, there are 54, 000, 15, 000 and 10, 000 abandoned buildings according to an article posted on CBS News website.

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Abandoned building in Victoria Island

Why Abandoned Buildings Shouldn’t Be

Newspapers frequently reports such buildings are normally used as hideouts for criminals. Others engage in other acts like preparing hard drugs, rituals or even rape minors. Unfortunately. I recently got a forwarded message from a resident in Lagos thats says Lagos just got a new Commissioner of Police. Part of his action strategies to curb criminal activities is to comb abandoned buildings regularly. See how serious the situation is.

These two major reasons of redundancy and using it for illicit acts by criminals should propel city officials to take a regulatory stand on it, especially Abuja where crimes are on the rise. Such regulations should spur economic benefits for the owners and the citizens, especially now that jobs are hard to come by in Nigeria.

What To Do: Innovate

How can building owners leverage their unused buildings as they wait for bigger funds to do as they wish or simply an idea to do something?

Innovations like that of the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC) of Minneapolis in the US is a great source of inspiration. NEIC buys abandoned buildings in their neighbourhoods and lease them out to businesses. Not gentrification by the way. In 2011, the residents, 90 of them, pooled in $1,000 each to acquire a building. They repeated same in 2014 with more than 200 members now as part of the cooperative. They later rented it out to 2 companies; a brewery and a bakery and sold one of the buildings to a bike recovery shop.

It is a common characteristic of cities to have such unused spaces and ‘abandoned’ buildings. Innovations in the form of urban agriculture have brought back life to unused plots of lands and buildings in cities like Malmo in Sweden. Urban agriculturists go into a lease agreement with land/property owners of say 5 years and thereafter move in to start growing food, either from the ground or in containers.

With such assurances, urban agriculturists can easily settle and move to plan a business with anticipation of moving after such agreement.

It is a win-win-win for city council, property owners and citizens. City owners do not have to deal with the eye sore of dilapidated or undeveloped pieces of land and also curb the probability of crime. Property owners earn some money while waiting to take a decision of what to do with the building. Citizens can start a business or grow food in the city or start any business saving them cost of traveling to rural areas.

In hustling vibrant Lagos, security officials guarding abandoned buildings provide accommodation to many people at night only and charge them a fee, without the permission of the owner. This shouldn’t be.

Unfortunately, the typical attitude of asserting authority of public servants had hindered them from providing innovative solutions like the ones mentioned above. Instead, Lagos State Government is confiscating properties. What did they do with it? To whose benefits? Why can’t there be an amicable discussion with property owners and authorities to find a win-win situation for both parties?

Property development code in Abuja says you should complete your construction in 2 years. There are opportunities of extension though. However, what is not allowed is change of use from say residential to commercial. Property owners must apply for a change in use.

An initial conversation with the department of urban planning for the city of Abuja showed that farming is not allowed in the city. But is already going on, informally. The good thing with urban agriculture is it can be done in beautiful ways even the city officials would crave to include as part of future districts designs.

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We can have these indoor plantations and it cant hurt the city

For cities like Lagos that have no land to build or farm, it is a great opportunity to advance sustainability in the city. Growing food in the city is a great part of ensuring food security and quicker access to healthier food.

A different mindset was assumed when designing our cities. With sustainability advocated in all spheres, especially cities, we should incorporate in all our design and development thinking. SDG 11 is about sustainable cities and communities.

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2 thoughts on “What To Do With Abandoned Buildings in Our Cities”

  1. Truly abandoned buildings in our urban towns are an eyesore! I suspect city officials are unwilling to wield the big stick for fear that this might crash the property market. I quite agree with your suggesting that city residents form cooperatives to takeover such properties and make some money out of them. However, this cannot be a reliable solution in all cases of abandoned properties. For example, when the property is a subject of a pending court case, the court would not normally allow any of the parties, or even the state for that matter, to dispose of such a land under dispute. Yet court cases seem to take forever!
    By the way, that cute little picture of a greenhouse you had depicted a typical hydroponics greenhouse. That system of farming sure guarantees 100% yield but is way too expensive for a country like Nigeria which is still struggling to entrench mechanized farming. (even the tractors used in our institutions of learning are far outdated!). Nonetheless a thoughtful piece.

    1. Hi Mamahannatu,
      Thank you for your comment. And I totally agree with you regarding the issues you raised. Especially for Abuja, there are so may abandoned buildings that have their cases in court. I hope the ones who havent can do something better with them.
      I learned there are many greenhouses in Minna ad Jos. Perhaps some people are taking bigger risks. For sure it is not an easy investment, with business partnerships though, I think risk can be reduced and capital may be easier to raise.

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