In 2014, Nigeria marks 100 years since it gained independence from the UK.
To mark that occasion, plans are afoot to build a centennial "smart city", following the design principles of biomimicry in everything from city planning to architecture to energy production and beyond.
If the video sales pitch below is anything to go by, there's plenty for environmentalists and new urbanists to get excited about—including:
- Prioritization of pedestrian and bike traffic
- Embedded mass transit infrastructure
- Clean energy generation
- Rainwater harvesting and biofiltered water flowing throughout the city
- Urban agriculture and food production
- A cell-like, self-organizing structure of neighborhoods (although exactly what this means is a little unclear to me right now)
- A focus on ethnic and cultural diversity
This will be, says the video, a city that functions like a "mature, vibrant ecosystem".
It's a grand vision for sure. But like many of the grand visions for "new green cities", from Abu Dhabi's Masdar to China's Dongtan, it must be recognized that these plans rely on the fickle and extremely resource intensive world of international trade and tourism for their survival.
As FDi Intelligence reports on the Nigerian Smart City initiative, only a small fraction of the new settlement is planned for residential purposes:
The construction of Abuja Centenary City, which will be located in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, will host a residential population of about 100,000 people, according to government estimates. But, with the city’s primary focus centred on attracting investors from multinational firms, Mr Anyim told the local press that only 20% of the city would be reserved for residential accommodation, with the remaining 80% serving Nigeria’s tourism, leisure, sports and commercial sectors.
Among the plans for leisure and tourism are museums, a sustainability institute, a world-class medical facility suitable for medical tourism, and possibly international polo too.
As someone who has benefitted from growing up in an industrialized Britain made rich by colonizing and oppressing places like Nigeria, who now lives on the other side of the world from many of his loved ones and flies regularly, and who makes a comfortable living in the Global economy, it would be hypocritical of me to criticize Nigeria for pursuing such a path out of poverty.
With African economies growing apace, and with technological innovation happening across the continent, it's inevitable that big new projects like this will be built. I am delighted that Nigeria is pursuing clean energy and sustainable design principles as it does so.
But if the human species is going to pursue biomimetic cities and high-tech sustainability as our path back from the precipice, then two daunting challenges remain: can we and how do we make economics itself biomimetic and self-sustaining, and what do we do about the massive ecological damage caused by global travel and trade?
I've never been comfortable with Western environmentalists telling the rest of the world it needs to avoid economic growth. But as that growth becomes evident in emerging economies, we all have to engage with whether and how it can be made compatible with our Earth's ecosystems. The ambitious sustainability claims being made by projects like this Smart City are a big contribution to that conversation—but they leave some important questions unanswered.