Category Archives: Environment

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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Children are The Leaders of Tomorrow; Youths are The Leaders of Today

“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing toward being a champion.” 

-Billie Jean King

The weekend of August 12th was quite interesting as I listened to an amazing set of individuals invited as speakers at the TedxMaitama event that held in Abuja. It was the second Tedx event I attended. The first was the maiden edition of TedxStrathmore in Nairobi, back in 2014 I think. TedxMaitama wasn’t dull at all. It staged speakers from almost all sectors, entrepreneurs, public sector, creatives, international organizations and civil society, etc.

One of the most interesting things I learned was Nasir Yammama’s plan to send Jollof Rice to Space via a helium powered balloon (follow the hashtag #JollofRise next week to keep up with the success). For those of us who do not know Jollof Rice, it’s simply like cooking rice and stew together and it should come out as orangish redish or rather, tomato colour. It’s what Kenyans call Pilau. It’s all part of Nasir’s company plan of empowering smallholder farmers in rural communities.

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Another speaker Sadiq Abdulkadir, an architect presented something new in the architectural practice of Nigeria and quite interesting that amused the whole crowd. He was using virtual reality for demonstration of architectural designs. It was marvelous the first time I saw him and tried his solution 4 months ago at an exhibition of Nigerian Institute of Architects  in Abuja. With my interest in built environment, his solution would be something that I could use or see more of hopefully in the future.

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A TedxMaitama attendee trying out architect Sadiq’s new dimension in visualizing building architectural designs

Anyway, what compelled me to write this post is what the digital media entrepreneur, Japheth Omujuwa mentioned in his talk about children being the leaders of tomorrow. The speaker narrated how when he was in primary school, his teachers mentioned to him that they (children then) are going to be leaders of tomorrow. Moving to the next level, secondary school, he was told the same thing at Kings College. Another step forward at the university, a student union leader stood in front of a lecture hall which Japhet was present and addressed them as the leaders of tomorrow. Cut the story short, he rejected the leader’s notion that they (Japhet them, already grown as young adults) are the leaders of tomorrow.

Omjouwa didn’t believe that that‘tomorrow’ hasn’t arrived yet. Something must be wrong. Awareness and self-awareness are absent in us. That is what’s missing in the mind of many of us (youths) today. We are simply not aware that we are the leaders of today. Instead, we have narrowed our thinking to assuming that the leaders our teachers and elders always refer to is the political leadership; being president, governor, a senator or the likes.

Japhet asked a simple question to the crowd, referencing some of the young entrepreneurs/innovators invited as speakers who are already making giant strides in their endeavours, especially Nasir Yammama who was recently listed as one of the Forbes 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in Africa. “Can you say Nasir is not a leader today in agritech?” Omojuwa posited. You simply cannot. His social enterprise, Verdant Group, has impacted more than 25, 000 small holder farmers in Nigeria and the number will rise in the coming years.

Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean being a political leader. In fact, the Merriam Webster’s dictionary defined a leader as someone who influences people. so how many of us, through different roles and avenues have influenced one or two other people. How many of us have made strides in sports, in civil society, in entrepreneurship, in research or whatever else you are doing. Being a leader shouldn’t be taught as when no one stands before you, in fact you are a leader when everybody is ahead of you and you guide them from the rear. It’s simply the awareness we should possess. A very interesting article from Harvard Business Review says that “you can’t be a good leader without self-awareness. It lies at the root of strong character, giving us the ability to lead with a sense of purpose, authenticity, openness, and trust it.”

I couldn’t agree more with what Billie Jean Kings says as well, “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing toward being a champion.”  If we are a little more self-aware of what is going on, then we will take control of a lot of things going on. We will stop the wrong assumption that the tomorrow they told us while growing up hasn’t arrived. We will take more charge of what we do and feel confident and positive.

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Japheth Omojuwa making his point about awareness

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How Do We Become More Self-aware?

Don’t giggle at me when you read the next sentence. Start meditating. I know I know. Many people think of mediation as a foreign thing. I remember when I visited a resort owner and pitched him the idea that I would love to have people come to their cool green park and meditate. He concluded that it was an oyimbo (how white people are called in Nigeria) idea. It was my idea. I am not oyimbo.

Meditation simply allows you to be in the moment. To have yourself simply immersed in thinking of one thing. And thereafter, have reflections of what has transpired in your life. It’s what the Savages of Sirvana recommended to Julian, the successful Harvard Lawyer who sold his Ferrari, abandoned all what he had and travelled to India on a journey of self-discovery, as narrated in Robin Shirma’s book, “the monk who sold his Ferrari”.

Anyway, you and I do not own a Ferrari, but what am simply saying is you should endeavour to have more self-awareness in whatever you do and meditation yoga, is one heck of a great idea to. Writing down your plans and priorities, asking trust friends, taking psychometric tests and getting regular feedback at work are among the 5 things this article from Harvard Business Review recommends.

The tomorrow our teachers informed us while growing up has arrived. It is today. If you cannot agree that you are a leader in what you do, it is simply because you have refused to take action.  So actually, children are the leaders of tomorrow, and youths taking action are the leaders of today.

“The only difference between the people off stage and the people on stage was that the people on stage had taken action and moved forward despite their fears.”

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Deliberations of the Panel Discussion on Sustainability in Architecture in Nigeria

The built environment is responsible for the largest consumption of energy produced in the world. They have a corresponding largest global greenhouse gas emission by sector, 40% according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). How does this all affect us and the environment? Negative impacts of climate change have positioned many people in danger. It has destroyed lives and properties. Worse, it places a dark cloud for future generations. As such, there is need to reduce the impact of our built environment on the carbon footprint.

The French Institute of Nigeria and Green Habitat Initiative, on 31st of May in Abuja, brought together professionals in the built environment industry to debate the right sustainability principles and materials for Nigeria’s built environment. Four panelists drawn from different disciplines and professions that cut across sustainability in architecture were brought together to lead the discussion. After introductory speeches by the panelists, a panel discussion held between the panelists, moderated by the Director of Green Habitat Initiative Sadiq Gulma.

A summary of the viewpoints of the four panelists is highlighted below.

Nmadili Okwumabua is Nigerian and promotes modernizing African architecture in Nigeria’s cities, through her organization Community Planning and Design Initiative. Through her presentation and contributions to the discussion, she stressed the need to reclaim our heritage by not being embarrassed about using red earth for our buildings in Abuja. Through her organization, Nmadili receives entries of architectural plans modernized with African values from everyone around the globe. She has received many great entries reflecting numerous African culture and values in their design. The panelist revealed she is currently building a prototype of such sustainable houses. The model would be instrumental in advancing the movement.

Having expressed her pessimism at the beginning of her presentation, Armelle Choplin our second panelist has been following cement, what she calls ‘the grey gold’ from Nigeria through Benin, Togo to Ghana. She is concerned that Nigeria may not stop using cement in building because it is becoming cheaper and Dangote Industries is providing all the cement Nigeria needs. Through her research, she has discovered there is a social symbol and even political to the use of cement in our buildings. People who use other materials, such as red earth maybe seen as less privileged. There is a challenge of finding skilled local builders to teach foremen how to use red mud in constructing strong buildings that can go as high as 10 story building. For a paradigm shift to take place, she asserts that notable and prominent people and organizations like Dangote would play an influential role if they take the lead.

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Having understood the local issues with the building materials in question, Mr. Stephanne Pouffary was on the panel to provide the macro vision of sustainability in cities. Through his NGO, ENERGIES 2050 he has worked with up to 30 cities all over the world including those in West Africa to help them advance their energy efficiency and sustainability goals. His contribution clarified that different cities have different priorities and motivation to go green. Our ability to personalize the codes that will drive everyone to cleaner cities. For that to work, he highlighted 3 things that needs to be done; increase professionals’ capacity in sustainability, form regional coalitions to promote goals and work out the cost benefit analysis for sustainability to go mainstream. At the end, cost drives everything.

All the talk would be in vain if there are no institutionalized policies to control and regulate the built environment. The fourth panelist, Dr. Sherif Y. Razak who is from the Department of Development Control (authority in charge of approving all building plans and development in Abuja) was on the panel to describe what the government is doing and needs to do. Currently, the Department has instituted a green building committee to vet all building submissions against certain green building concepts. However, a lot needs to be done before a bigger impact can be made. He stressed the need to increase capacity amongst professionals, including government staff. A prototype of buildings with such sustainability standards would be pivotal in influencing building policy and regulations. Therefore, what Ms Nmadili is building should serve as a good reference point for policy makers to use in changing the regulations.

After debating amongst each other, the panelists engaged with the teeming audience. Many shared their views and supported the fact that capacity needs to increase, especially amongst architects who are the chief drivers of the built environment. Many others questioned the officer from the Department of Development Control and their need to enforce the principles.

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The event concluded with more discussions amongst participants during the cocktail.

Saving the Environment, Tracking the Solutions

The need to preserve the environment in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Failure to do that invites conflicts, depletion of ecosystems, migrations etc. The country is already experiencing various forms of environmental degradations1.

The northern part of the country is facing extreme conditions of deforestation, drought, desertification and erosion2. The vast arable lands are lost due to overgrazing, unsustainable farming methods, deforestation and Sahara Desert enncroahment3. Other parts of the country witness soil and water pollution from oil spillage and industrial processes, deforestation, extreme weather conditions, flooding and loss of biodiversity2. The causes are largely anthropogenic which are now being exacerbated by climate change.

Keeping up with all the environmental degradations and marking them for protection would be an arduous task. However, achieving the feat, especially digitally, would mean all environmental issues are brought to the fore and attention of all. Hence, invigorating people and organizations to take actions.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has in recent time developed a national tracking programme of public health issues4.  It is called the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Programme (NEPHTP). Up to 26 states in the United States developed local tracking platforms that are embedded in the CDC NEPHTP.  The state of Lousianna’s Tracking Programme mapped the health effects and reach of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spillage as well as to inform other relevant authorities how to help5.

In the absence of any environmental tracking platform in Nigeria, I propose a Nigeria Environmental Tracking Platform (NET-P). A community-led initiative to identify, map and records the environmental problems their land is experiencing and also tracks and identifies the players trying to solve them would be an effective way of preserving the environment in Nigeria. It also mentions and educates users the consequences of not protecting the environment.

It is a regional innovation project that motivates people to solve the environmental challenges their locality is facing. Thereafter, any solution implemented by the people is indexed and properly elaborated in a manner to allow for replication and implementation elsewhere. It’s like an encyclopedia of regional environmental problems, the solutions needed and taken by others.

This initiative builds on the state of Louisiana Tracking Programme. The latter lacks functions of suggested solutions and does not catalogue solutions taken for easier reference. It also doesn’t rank the problems requiring urgent interventions. NET-P would be quite diverse, taking into consideration the environmental priorities of different regions. Different regions require different environment solutions; afforestation, land reclamation, water conservation efforts etc. The greater the need for the solution in the community, the more recognition it gets.

It would rank solutions based on social, economic and environmental benefits of in that location. Availability would be in different languages and easily accessible, with limited or no internet connection. An economic tree such as the baobab planted in dry Sahel region of north western Nigeria to combat desertification and improve livelihood cannot be ranked on the same level if it is planted in the oil polluted south-south Nigeria requiring remediation and land reclamation efforts.

It can also be used as an environmental reporting platform. One can report unsafe dumping in an area or burning of items that cause air pollution. Thus, organizations tackling such problems would become aware of it and choose the best action to take.

According to a study of over 3,425 environmental projects implemented in the UK under the ‘Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities’, grassroots community-led initiatives have been more successful than projects with top-down approaches led by local authorities. Grassroots projects reveal how the community is committed to solving their problems. The solutions were needs-based; known and identified by the community themselves. They were also more successful because they enjoyed participation of experts from different fields6.

Such a community initiative can spur different people into being responsible for the well-being of the environment they live in. It would promote efforts taken by other people, encourage and allow for replication of solution elsewhere. It would strengthen unity and cohesion in and between communities, enhance teamwork, bring synergy, foster peace between citizens and above all, help Nigerians, environmental organizations and the government in preserving Nigeria’s environment.

 

References:

  1. United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs. Institutional aspects of sustainable development in Nigeria. http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/natlinfo/countr/nigeria/inst.htm accessed on 20th May 17
  1. United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs. National Environmental Problems, National Implementation of Agenda 21, Nigeria Country Profile, November 1997 <http://www.un.org/esa/earthsummit/nigeriac.htm&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  2. Sunday Gabriel. Tackling the Effect of Desertification. Daily Trust. June 21, 2009 <https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/sunday/index.php/feature/3346-tackling-the-effect-of-desertification&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  3. Centre for Disease Control, National Environmental Public Health Tracking Programme <https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/tracking/&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  4. Centre for Disease Control, Louisiana Tracking Platform, Sharing Our Stories: NCEH’s Impact on Public Health <https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/stories/trackingla.html&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  5. Community Development Foundation, How do community groups make life better. Paper 5, improving the physical environment, October 2014, Page 2. <http://www.cdf.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/physical-environment.pdf&gt; accessed on 20th May 17

 

Sustainable Abuja: Pedestrian Friendly or Car Friendly?

Why does it matter if a city is sustainable or not? Why does it matter if a city is walkable or not? Why it does it matter if a city is inclusive or not? It matters because when every person who lives in a city is considered in building it, it ensures their collective participation and recognition. It empowers them and increases their mental strengths which automatically can increase their contribution in making the city a better place.

I am constantly asking this question in the city I live, Abuja. I have been around far too long to witness its evolution from a small city of a million people to more than 4 million people now. I have lived long enough to see big wide dual carriage ways being built without pedestrian bridges. Long enough to witness its rapid urbanization without a corresponding provision of social and affordable housing for its youth and many of the people who work inside it. Long enough to witness failing urban transportation to carter for everyone.

But what about regulations that affect how sustainable a city is? Such as ensuring a city is walkable. A sustainable city should discourage emissions of greenhouse gases, especially from transportation that is shown to be the 4th highest emitter of GHG by economic sector. Therefore, less car usage should be a watchword. A more walking population can mean healthier and more productive workforce.

Constantly connecting districts with roads doesn’t mean it’s bad, but what’s bad is laying out a road without a corresponding provision for where pedestrians can safely walk or access public transportation.

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Recently, I have been witnessing how safe bus stops are created on different road ways in Abuja. So for the past years when the roads were existing, pedestrians have to legally run across 8 lane roads in crossing over to the other side. Legal because when the roads were built, ped. crossings were not provided, even though they were built around popular road crossings and bus stops for the public. The developers never felt the need to consider the pedestrians. Despite the sudden interventions of building ped bridges, there are many major bus stops without these.

Because the custom of running across roads (jaywalking), even when the pedestrian bridges are built, people ditch them and prefer to run across. Another reason is carelessness. There are instances where people are hit by speeding cars. Jaywalking is a crime in many countries. But Abuja is a place where zebra crossings are only for real Zebras; found only in the zoo. In some places, animals use pedestrian bridges, while humans prefer to run across (have you seen such photos). Only a minute fraction of car drivers respect the pedestrian crossings.

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If you want someone to stop for you or a loved one at zebra crossing, you should start stopping for people if you are behind the wheel

Another reason for ditching pedestrian bridges is because they are built a little faraway from where people normally run or bus stops are located. Although at times, it is the only feasible engineering and planning option.

I wonder when people will become more watchful of their safety and start obeying simple rules to prolong their lives.

But simply putting pedestrian footpaths and bridges doesn’t make a city walkable. What about other regulations to promote walking. Often times, commercial buildings in Abuja who due to their strategic locations can have two accesses to their building. One faces a collector road (busier road) and the other access road (less busier than the collector). Government Development Control Department orders such building owners to shutdown pedestrian gates overlooking busier roads. Road users who come to such places are made to travel round and a longer distance to access the other gate, thus aiding more car emissions while inconveniencing pedestrians.

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An image of the numerous order signs painted on many commercial buildings in Abuja by the Development Control Development

The most walkable cities in Nigeria are not the developed the cities. Basic social amenities are more than 5 minute walk from homes. The thinking here is, development means more space for cars and less for pedestrians. Unequitable and uninclusive development.

It will be a welcome and sustainable development if Nigerian cities are designed around the people living in it.

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Where to Sell and Donate Recyclables in Abuja

If you have ever heard the phrase “waste to wealth”, here is how you can start benefiting from your waste in Abuja.

We all buy (soft) drinks packaged in plastic (PET) bottles, glasses or Aluminum cans. After we drink down the contents, we either toss it in the bin or on the road. Do you know what happens to these waste when they get hauled away by waste collectors? They take them to dumpsites and simply dump there. Now that’s not the scary thing. When this goes on forever, we will be fighting for land with the waste we create.

That’s what developed countries like Italy and many others are currently facing. They generate a lot of waste and do not have where to dump it. A huge monumental case is about to happen in Delta State, where a company from Italy, through a Nigerian company, brought their waste to dump in the state.

And if you live in Abuja, there are people who are just a phone call away to come and collect your recyclables. There are 3 things to do if you want to start being part of the recycling chain in Abuja.

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One. Provide a dedicated bin for your recyclables and another for the rest.  By doing this, you are practicing separation at source.

Two. Inform everyone in the house or office that they need to abide by the separation at source.

Three. Call waste haulers to come and get it. Who do you call?

You can sell or donate your recyclables to 4 different types of people in Abuja.

  1. Chanja Datti

It is a social enterprise that collects waste from households and commercial places in exchange for points (recycredits the company calls them) you can redeem for airtime, hotel room discounts, supermarket discounts etc. All you need do is log in to their website and register. The company normally provides a jute sack for registered households to put their recyclables (see infographic below). If you fill it up, you give them a phone call to come and get it for free. You can as well just provide your bins, when it reaches a big quantity, you can still call them to come and get it.

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How the recycling programme of Chanja Datti works

Enroll directly on their portal here.

p.s: you do not need a smart phone to enroll.

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These are all the types of ‘wastes’ Chanja Datti and many recycling companies buy

2. The second type of people you can give are the cart pushers. See how they look like below. These people normally ransack you waste bins outside. They litter the whole place when they do this, unfortunately. So instead of allowing them to do that, inform them they can come to your house on a given day to get it.

3. The third people to give are the kunu and sobo If you watch the road while driving in Abuja, especially in Wuse 2, you will find women carrying sacks with PET bottles in them. They either wash it to sell their kunu in them or sell it to those who do it. Some of us know people who even do this. Or your neighbor knows who need them, then you can easily sell or donate to them.

4. The last part is to approach the recycling companies and sell to them. There is one along Ahmadu Bello Way after crossing the Banex Bridge on your way to Gwarimpa and another in Jabi, just after the motorpark (ask for Gidan Roba if you get there). They will buy your waste.

So if you are in Abuja, you can start being eco-friendly by separating your waste and selling or donating them. You increase their income, divert waste from dumpsite, water bodies and inevitably help save the environment.

Have you already started selling or donating your waste in Abuja or any part of the country? I would love to know. Don’t know how to position your new waste bins or looking for advices on how to do it best? I am just a comment away.

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How We Are Making Abuja Hotter

If you have been into a conversation with others or overheard people saying Abuja is so hot, here are the best reasons why it is so. We may all think heat and its presence is caused by nature, the sun or the hot dry winds of the Sahara Desert. But they aren’t the only reasons why.

The biggest heat source, the sun, emits as much heat as it wants to, but other factors limit how much of this heat gets into our cities, how much is retained and how much is emitted back or outside the city.

Whenever each of us builds a house, he or she increases the amount of heat in that area and generally, the city. Whenever the city councils builds a road, a percentage of heat will be added in your city. It’s a straightforward heat budget, the more concrete buildings,  asphaltic roads and developments we have in the city, the more heat that will be present in our city, especially at night.

Urban heat island (UHI), is a phenomenon in which urban areas have higher temperatures than nearby rural areas, due to human reasons. The phenomenon has been discovered about 50 years ago and is known to affect so many cities’ energy consumption, thermal comfort, air conditioning costs and human health . The more a city develops (puts up more buildings), the more heat island it builds.

I came to know about this phenomenon as a graduate student. My MSc thesis had chiefly investigated how to make our buildings cooler by using living green roofs (they inevitably cool the cities too). UHI is present in many cities in the world, albeit unwanted. Many cities are doing whatever they can to combat this effect. One major way is increase in vegetation; trees, green roofs, high albedo materials (materials with high solar reflectivity), water bodies and fountains, etc. So if we want to mitigate UHI, we need to combat it by growing vegetation.

What about Abuja?

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Let’s understand a little of the geography of Abuja. At an elevation above sea level of 864m, the capital of Nigeria sits higher than many Nigerian cities. The climate is a tropical savannah, with above average temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius, rocky terrain and a rainfall season that lasts for only 5 months. There are many hills around the city. About 4 million people live in the city during the day time, with only a quarter of a million estimated to be living in city at night. It’s like the Bay area in the US. Owning to high costs of apartments and rents, many people who work in the city during the day time travel for 20 to 50 kilometres to their homes in nearby areas.

These nearby areas aren’t flooded with all the cars, concrete and asphalt of Abuja. As I earlier mentioned, concrete and asphalt are the major reasons why we have UHI.

How?

Those materials and many others developers put, behave like heat sinks. During daytime, they absorb heat from the sun. When the night comes, instead of the city to be cooler, it is hot because the heat sinks emit this heat back in to the environment. As soon as the heating source disappears (they stop absorbing heat), they start re-emitting heat back.

If you really want to experience this, you should take a walk in your neighbourhood at night. You will feel the night is still warm, instead of it to be cool like the neighbouring rural areas with less built up areas. Placing your face very close to the road or interlocking blocks,  you will most likely feel a hotter air around that region than when standing. This heat, summed up from all heat sinks in the city, causes the UHI.

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Temperature profile of built up areas ompare with rural and suburban areas (credits: Wikimedia Commons)

So when you want to build tomorrow, ask your building engineer and architect to use non-heat sinks on your site. Don’t do interlocking blocks around your house, put grasses. Green vegetation, owning to their nature, do evapotranspiration. Evaporated water cools the microclimate around the house and ultimately, the city. It improves the thermal conditions of the city.

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Mitigating UHI in Abuja

Its sad when you drive in to so many estates in Abuja with little or no vegetation at all. The urban planning and building policies have inevitably increased UHI. The policies must change to push for developers to start using high albedo materials. I blogged about the plans of enforcing green building strategies in Abuja by the development control here. But we do not only need green building regulations,  we need city wide green regulations. More trees, more green areas, less concrete, less asphalt, more use of natural ventilation, more water bodies, etc. Building policies remain the biggest way to effect a big change on reducing the UHI present in our cities. As clients, developers and designers, we can equally be motivated by the need to make our city greener through the various ways we act.

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More green areas around buildings ensures cooler microclimate (source: tolet.com.ng)

Cooler cities meant cooler environments to live, less heat, less energy consumption, more energy costs savings, better health and thermal conditions etc. etc.

Has this piece broadened your horizon of how cities become hotter than rural areas? Do you wish to build a house or an estate and want to make it as green as possible? Why not get in contact with me.

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