The word ‘urban’ according to the UN means different things relative to the geographical location and the continent. In Africa, Urban areas can refer to an agglomeration of 5,000 or more inhabitants where 75% of the economic activity is not agriculture as in the case of Botswana, or it could be district centres and or localities with 300 dwellings or 1,500 inhabitants or more as in the case of Equatorial Guinea, or places with some form of local authority as is the case of South Africa.
In general, an urban area can be defined as a location which has a distinctive feature of having a high density in the human population and a relatively higher level of built infrastructure in comparison to the areas surrounding it. There will naturally be a competition for the natural resources in urban areas, more especially in the competition for land resources for accommodation, industrial, commercial and mixed uses. Greenspaces have been defined for several decades by several people. Frederick Law Olmsted called greenspaces (urban trees) the ‘lungs of a city’. Several urban utopian theorists emphasized the need for including green spaces into the urban scape. Good examples of these are the ‘phalansteries’ (Charles Fourier’s fantasy villages), ‘La ville verte’ (Le Corbusier’s – the Green city) and Edward Howard’s garden city models to mention a few.
The road to achieving this has been fraught with rocks and pebbles in the western world and more so in Africa. In spite of the fact that greenspaces are known to contribute immensely to the holistic improvement of mankind on environmental, economic and social fronts, (On the environmental front, they are known to reduce climate impact, improve air quality while binding soil particles firmly together so as to prevent erosion, not to mention aesthetic appeal of beautification. Economically, green spaces can create opportunities to benefit for tourism, business expansion, job creation, and increased property value among other things. Socially, it has value for recreation, health benefits, child development, research as well as cultural representation and social integration and cohesion.),there is a clear dearth of green spaces in Africa especially in the urban areas. Less than 10% coverage of greenspaces is found in the land area of many urban areas in countries like Nigeria, Egypt, Rwanda, Somalia, (Adjei Mensah, 2014, MaConnachie et. Al, 2008) the African Green city index puts the per capita green space of places like Alexandria and Cairo (Egypt), Luanda(Angola) below 1m2. The pressure of urbanization, urban sprawl, socio-economic and social political instability as well urban poverty in Africa has greatly affected the use of land for green space in the urban areas.
In Lagos, Nigeria, a city with a teeming population of multicultural ethnic groups in the country, the law of demand and supply greatly favor the former in the availability of land resources for housing, industrial and commercial purposes. It is therefore noteworthy to observe that most of the ‘parks’ and ’gardens’ in the state are found along the road side and are more in form of ‘visual scenic parks or gardens’. This is why finding a 30 hectare parcel of land dedicated to greenspaces and urban forestry in Lagos, about 45 minutes from the new booming and prestigious ‘Lekki residential area’ was an interesting find for me. This park which is situated in a choice location few km from the heart of the Lekki peninsula, untouched and unconverted is actually like sitting on a gold mine (in terms of cost of purchasing land in that area- it runs into billions of naira.) much so that I found it worthy of reportage. This find is the LUFASI PARK. LUFASI is short for ‘Lekki Urban Forest Animal Sanctuary Initiative’.
The park serves as a safe haven for animals, plants, trees and nature. An animal hospital, horse rescue center are currently being developed on site. A man- made lake is also created for aquatic animals.
The park has a playground, picnic, mule riding, and football, to entertain guests and give the park visitors some activities to engage in.
The founder or visionary of LUFASI Park is Mr. Desmond Majekodunmi, a man passionate about the environment. He likes to be called an environmentalist and a farmer with a thrust on sustainable practices. ‘LUFASI was born out of a desire to educate and persuade people on the necessity of Loving nature because nature provides us with everything we need. It is a tool for environmental education and awareness. It was also part of my passion to be able to be proud of my state and my nationality because i’ve seen what Lagos used to be and what other cities look like, so it was also motivated by this.’ These were his statements when I had an interview with him.
Lagos used to be a lush and green cities with a good number of parks and gardens. The deterioration of the state started in the mid-70s/80s when governance became more by the guns than by the ballot. This degradation and deterioration also continued with the increase in population and rural-urban migration which increased the demand for land. LUFASI started out as an agro forestry oil palm plantation about 22 years ago and later became strictly a park. It covers an area of about 30 hectares and has a total of 2,000 trees with about 1,000 palm trees and 1,000 natural savannah forest trees. Some animals have been rescued and tended to in this park, from monkeys, to rabbits, cats, horses, donkeys, etc. It is interesting to note that about 400 people visit the park monthly and in a city like Lagos which never sleeps, LUFASI serves as a place to influence many more to imbibe the culture and the desire to preserve nature.
There is a need for more urban green spaces which have functionality for social cohesion and relaxation as well as the appreciation of nature. One interesting thing about LUFASI is the fact that due to the will of the owner, choice land which could have been cut out into parcels for residential construction has been preserved and hopefully will continue to be preserved. The lesson is, irrespective of race and country, the desire to be the change that one wants to see in one’s state, nation or country will drive a positive change for development. If government who are the custodians of most things in the polity would desire to enforce existing laws on the preservation of greenspaces and allotment of outdoor green spaces in residential neighbourhoods, there will not only be a proliferation of urban green spaces but there would also be an unconscious, unspoken change in the attitude of the Lagos and indeed the Nigerian citizenry towards nature.
Adjei Mensah, 2014, NATURE AND CHALLENGES OF URBAN GREEN SPACES IN AFRICA, Centre for Urban & Regional Studies (Univ. of Birmingham, UK) & Dept. of Geography & Reg. Planning (Univ. of Cape Coast, Ghana)
McConnachie et al. 2010, THE PHOTOMETRIC PROPERTIES OF A VAST STELLAR SUBSTRUCTURE IN THE OUTSKIRTS OF M31 ApJ, 723, 1038