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.
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.
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.
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.