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Uncovering the city: Abuja

Photo by Samuel Osondu via Flickr


Wide avenues, extensive green areas and government buildings on a monumental axis. A typical scene of cities like Brasilia, Washington D.C. or Canberra, which were built from scratch to serve as new government headquarters. Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, also shares a similar story, but with a very different socioeconomic context.


The construction of Abuja began in the early 1970s and officially became the capital of Nigeria in December 1991, replacing the congested and overpopulated city of Lagos. Abuja was built for reasons similar to those of Brasilia, as both sought to move political power away from their original capitals. Additionally, Abuja has a strategic location in the centre of Nigeria and also houses the main centres of worship of the two main religions of the country: Christianity and Islam.


Master Plan of Abuja. Source: Nigerian Institute of Town Planners

Districts of Abuja: Source: Laboratorio de Urbanismo


27 years after the establishment as a national capital, Abuja has become the second largest metropolis in Nigeria, with a population close to three million inhabitants. A number that raises serious concerns, especially on how its urban planning can be adapted to the demand of population in one of the fastest growing countries in Africa.

With the help of Google Street View, we will explore Abuja and see how successful its planning has turned out and how far the similarities go with the other cities built from scratch.

Satelital image of Abuja. Source: Google Earth

The City Centre?

In traditional cities, it is easy to identify the central district by the greater density of buildings or by the presence of squares or parks of a larger scale. In Abuja it is difficult to define a central area under these premises. While there is a “Central Business District,” it is ironically one of the least consolidated areas of the city. Office buildings are distanced from each other by undeveloped land, while most of them are isolated from the street through walls and fences. Government buildings, meanwhile, are located even more distant, like palaces at the end of an esplanade. The absence of pedestrians is very evident.

Central District of Abuja. Image: Google Street View

Image: Google Street View

Image: Google Street View

Green and walls

There is something true in Abuja: green is everywhere. The city, in addition to having a beautiful natural environment dominated by Aso Rock, has parks and abundant green areas. However, at the same time that the streets and avenues are adorned with palms and tropical trees, walls with barbed wires are raised on both sides, limiting any interaction between the houses and the street. The result: desolate avenues unpleasant for the pedestrian.

Image: Google Street View

Image: Google Street View

Image: Google Street View

Contrasts

Clearly, compared to other capitals in West Africa, Abuja is considerably less chaotic and better planned. Aspects such as the city's road infrastructure and its new light rail make the capital of Nigeria a more advanced city in terms of management and mobility. This, however, does not make Abuja excluded from the social and economic problems suffered by Nigeria, a country where more than 80 million people live in conditions of extreme poverty and where radical groups dispute control of towns and regions. 

Housing estates ans slum in Garki District. Source: Google Earth
Slum in Gwarinpa Estate. Source: Google Earth

Thus, while Abuja may seem like an oasis for the upper and middle class of Nigeria, districts of misery continue to expand in the periphery and vacant lots of the city, mixing between planned residential areas, without having adequate access to public services. A contrasting picture very common in the African continent.

Sector of Gudu. Source: Google Earth

Source: Google Street View
Source: Google Street View


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