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“Grand ideas are good, but people need to survive”: Professor Lawanson Calls for Human-Centred Urban Development Approach

Professor Taibat Olaitan Lawanson has advocated for a rethink of the urban development approach in Africa from the western, market-oriented one to an Afro-centric, human-centred one.

The Inaugural Lecturer

With her lecture titled, “Alternative Urbanisms: Beyond Utopian Visions of the ‘Emerging’ African City”, the Professor of Urban Management and Governance highlighted the important roles that African cities play as places of dynamism, creativity, opportunity and vulnerability.

She narrowed down on the current predicament of African cities as places that are trapped between primordial proclivities, colonial legacies and current aspirations for ‘world class’ status.

“In many African cities, there is a disjuncture between the political aspirations of city leaders and the lived realities of majority of the inhabitants. While city governments often have utopian visions based on neoliberal ideologies and globalising narratives such as ‘Africa Rising’, the lived experience of many citizens is dystopian, resulting in a state of conflicting rationalities of development”, she submitted.

Cross Section of Audience
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ogunsola, OON giving her Address
Cross Section of Audience

Professor Lawanson, therefore called for a revisiting of urban visioning in Africa, as well as the fundamentals of African development dynamics – including development models, planning education, planning practice and knowledge production.

Her words: “Efforts that are currently made by African Governments to fit in to the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative have resulted in urban spaces becoming increasingly expensive, gentrified and out of the economic reach of local citizens. What we find at the juncture of this paradox is that African urban residents are navigating and (re)creating their cities in ways that suit their everyday realities, with urban informality lying at the cusp of these urban practices. We see, therefore, that the real African city is the one that is being built by the actions of everyday people. That reality is called Alternative Urbanism”.

Cross Section of the Audience
The Management
Cross Section of the Audience

The Inaugural Lecturer defined Alternative Urbanisms as the production of urbanization that is independent of conventional, mainstream models of land use classification, administration, and utilization; and went on to present evidence of counter-hegemonic forms of urban living, urban space reconfigurations, extended urban planning practices and hybrid infrastructures by everyday citizens in Lagos. She deployed Case Studies drawn from her over twenty-year journey as a hands-on scholar.

She concluded with recommendations that include: envisioning African urban futures that promote cities for all; recognising and leveraging the transformative power of people-led practices for sustainable urban development; practising urbanisation at scale; transiting urban planning from a technical to a social justice discipline; universities playing a catalytic role in promoting engaged scholarship and transdisciplinarity; and decolonising urban studies and praxis.

“Grand ideas are good, but people need to survive. It is only by dismantling colonial urban planning and design policies that do not reflect the present diversity of African people and places, and by building new alternative paradigms of creative placemaking that includes voices from local communities, that we will ultimately and finally transform our cities and public spaces to be truly African and indeed sustainable”.

The Procession
Husband of the Inaugural Lecturer
A Member of the Audience

Professor Taibat Olaitan Lawanson, who delivered the 21st Inaugural Lecture of the 2021/2022 Session of the University of Lagos, holds a holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning from the Federal University of Technology Akure (2011). She joined the services of the University of Lagos in April 2002 as an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, was promoted to Lecturer II in 2004, Lecturer I in 2008, Senior Lecturer in 2011 and Associate Professor in 2015. She was appointed Professor of Urban Management and Governance in October 2019.  

She is a registered Town Planner and a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. She is also a member of the International Society for City and Regional Planners and served as Vice President of the African Planners Institute (2021 – 2022).

REPORT: Isaiah Kumuyi

PHOTOGRAPHY: Ayo Oloyede

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