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Housing and Urbanization stretched beyond borders

Urbanization is an unavoidable global trend that has held sway since time immemorial. The situation is so intimidating that many governments are usually in a fix as to how to tackle its excesses.

Though Africa is reportedly a late starter in the urbanization race, it is urbanizing at such an alarming rate that predictions suggest Africa will enter the urban age around 2030 when half of Africans will live in urban areas. Nigeria is notably the most populous African nation and predicted to drive this population growth. At current growth rate, one of its cities, Lagos will be the third largest city in the world with a population of over 24m by 2020. Urbanization is driving the economies of most of the nations of the world especially developed nations. Living in cities offers individuals and families a variety of opportunities. It brings with it possibilities of improved access to jobs, goods and services for poor people in developing countries and beyond as globalization connects cities world-wide. Being hubs for civilizations and culture and with their unquestionable potential, they are expected to offer employment, shelter, stability, prosperity, security, social inclusion and more equitable access to the services. All these would make lives safer, healthier, sustainable and more convenient.

Several factors are responsible for urbanization. These include population dynamics, economic growth, legislative designation of new urban centers and increases in densities of rural trading centers. Early urbanization was attributed to the push and pull factors of rural-urban migration. Early migrants, usually males, went to the city in search of job and better life. Even in modern times, the lure of the city and the opportunities it should offer continue to be a major driving force of urbanization in many countries.

In Africa, most people move into the urban areas because they are pushed out by factors such as poverty, environmental degradation, religious strife, political persecution, food, insecurity and lack of basic infrastructure and services in the rural areas or because they are pulled into the urban areas by the advantages and opportunities of the city including education, electricity and water.

Over the years, it has been argued that urban growth is attributable to natural growth, identifies demographic trends especially declining mortality rates in most developing countries which have not been matched by a corresponding decline in fertility. Research indicates that natural increase can be responsible for about 60% of urban population growth in some developing countries. While acknowledging that urban populations are still growing in sub-Saharan Africa, in many cases rapidly, it concurs that such growth is largely attributable to natural increase as births exceed deaths in towns, especially among the poorest sections.

However, urbanization in developing countries has followed a different trajectory from the above premise, leaving many overwhelmed urban residents and their governments in frustration, despair and confusion. The physical manifestations of rapid urbanization in many developing countries like Nigeria are often chaotic and reflective of the profound and far-reaching demographic, social and economic transformations occurring in these countries. Unfortunately, the opportunities of urbanization are lost due to lack of adequate resources, basic infrastructure, services and well-conceived planning . Urbanization process in Africa has consequently been described as “pseudo-urbanization”.

Though thousands of housing units have been churned out by the Lagos State Government, it still suffers severe inadequate housing. Worse still there is no provision for low-income earners in the various housing projects instituted by the Lagos state government; their take home pay makes sure of that.

Were the low income earners ever part of the affordable housing equation?

Government by its actions and policies has done all within its jurisdiction to let us know unconsciously  that house ownership is neither for the lower class nor middle class income earners. I wonder how successful the projects will be if the lower and middle class income earners cannot key into the housing largesse.

While the Fashola government has done so much to ameliorate the over 5 million housing deficits in Lagos been one of the cardinal points of this present administration, still the population which has steadily continued to grow in geometrical proportion is almost reducing it to nothing.

To put it plainly, the provision of housing in Lagos in recent times has not kept pace with urban rapidly expanding populations leading to severe overcrowding and congestion in slums. In some areas of Lagos, the cost of living has forced residents to live in low quality slums and shanty houses.

Equally, amid the unabated pace of urbanization and urban growth in Lagos, the state government’s capacity to manage the consequences of undesirable urban trends is hampered by inadequate funding and institutional capacities even with the construction of various housing units in several locations of the state. This is evident in poor services delivery, lack of adequate and affordable housing, proliferation of slums, chaotic traffic conditions, poverty, social polarization, crime, violence, unemployment and dwindling job opportunities.

The social, economic and environmental effects of these failures fall heavily on the poor, who are excluded from the benefits of urban prosperity.

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