An article about the Eko Atlantic City project in Lagos, Nigeria
| Metropolises generally germinate from the seeds of villages and small towns, growing as the inhabitants and the greater sway of events decree, but sometimes a city as silver and pristine as a mirage of crystal appears in the minds of its creators and takes virtual shape and possesses its own unique skyline and atmosphere before a single foundation is laid. The partially constructed Nigeria International Commerce City, or Eko Atlantic City as it is generally referred to, is such a place. Widely hailed as “a city of the future” and described by its visionaries as an “efficient, forward thinking city”, it is envisioned as the new financial capital of Nigeria and all Sub-Saharan Africa as well as a magnet for international investors looking for opportunity on the African continent. But though seen by many as not only the next step on the yellow brick road of progress but also an environmental necessity, it is viewed by others as a multi-billion-dollar playground for the elite in a country where millions of people live in abject poverty.
Located on Victoria Island adjacent to Lagos, not only Nigeria’s largest city but also one of the fastest growing megacities in the world, Eko Atlantic City is being built entirely on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. The project that eventually evolved into the construction of the new city was originally aimed at protecting Victoria Island from the coastal erosion that had nibbled away at its shoreline for a century, causing flooding and the collapse of transportation infrastructure into the sea. In total, 10 million square meters of land will be reclaimed to serve as the foundation of Eko Atlantic City.
To keep the surging Atlantic at bay, a wall of titanic proportions known as The Great Wall of Lagos is being constructed along the reclaimed coastline of Eko Atlantic City. It will at completion consist of 12 layers of material, including countless tons of sand and locally quarried rock, polyester geotextile and 100,000 accropodes, 5-ton cement blocks resembling massive toy jacks, that are manufactured on the construction site and placed in interlocking patterns to form a strong primary armor section that will provide maximum protection from the ocean waves. The revetment is topped with a crest element, also called the wave wall, which brings the height of the wall to 8 meters above sea level. When completed The Great Wall of Lagos will stretch over eight kilometers around the perimeter of the city forming an immense barrier experts claim will withstand the most catastrophic storms the Atlantic can throw at it for a thousand years to come.
Though it is heartily supported by both the Lagos State Government and the Nigerian Federal Government, the Eko Atlantic project is privately funded by South Energyx Nigeria Limited as well as national and international investors. According to David Frame, the Managing Director of South Energyx Nigeria Limited, “…the most important thing is that we have the benefit of having a clean slate. We can design a city with all the benefits and knowledge of modern layouts and modern systems and design a city that is fit for purpose.” In keeping with this vision, Eko Atlantic is designed to be self-sufficient, a city with the state-of-the-art infrastructure that Lagos so desperately lacks encoded in its DNA at its inception. It will contain its own power plant and water and waste treatment plant as well as a road network paved with cement blocks rather than asphalt which is less durable and retains more heat. Lined with some of the over 100,000 trees that are to be planted in the environmentally-aware metropolis, the two kilometer, 60-meter-wide Central Boulevard, in size comparable to 5th Avenue in Manhattan, will sweep through the heart of the city.
The city is divided into ten posh districts: the Marina District, the Business district, Harbour Lights, Downtown, Eko Island, Avenues, Four Bridges, Eco Drive, East Side Marina and Ocean Front. It projected to accommodate over 250,000 residents as well 150,000 workers who will commute to the city every day. An International School that will include some 1,600 international students, the city’s own hospital and a shopping mall predicted to be the largest in West Africa further cement Eko Atlantic as the place to be in Lagos for those who can afford it.
But even “cities of the future” have to exist parallel to cities of the present, and Utopia sometimes springs up from the festering wound of the worst case scenario. Emerging as it is in the mega-city of Lagos where, according to the World Population Review, 66% of its 21 million residents live in garbage-choked slums, the Eko Atlantic project has drawn criticism, even being accused by The Guardian of “heralding climate apartheid”. The publication went on to describe Eko Atlantic City as “a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra-rich ringed by slums…”. The response of the local government as well as the Eko Atlantic planners is to contend that the multi-billion-dollar project is vital to the protection of the coastline of the financial center of Victoria Island.
And as Eko Atlantic rises like Atlantis in reverse its identity is truly in the eye of each beholder. It has been likened to Dubai, described as everything from Africa’s Hong Kong and a 21st century city to “a menacing allure”. In 2009 its visionaries, South Energyx Nigeria Limited, as well as the Lagos State Government received the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment Certificate for their commitment to “combatting the devastating effects of climate change…”. In 2015, thousands of Eko Atlantic workmen left the site to protest dangerous working conditions and unpaid salaries. As an example of world-building on a fantastic scale, it embodies the vision, ingenuity and initiative that forms reality from the glittering gauze of a dream; coexisting as it will within sight of human misery a million times compounded, it symbolizes the great gulf set between the lucky few and the desperate majority. But perhaps in the eyes of the stars, so far removed from the grip of life, Eko Atlantic can be only itself, a silver city on the threshold of tomorrow and the sea.