Gov Ambode Here is How a Sport Culture Can Save “Unlivable” Lagos (2)

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Last week, I wrote about how establishing a sports culture in Lagos can help it attract better quality visitors from around the world, both in terms of frequency of visits and length of stay. I was reacting to the recent ranking of as the second least livable city on the planet by The Economist magazine. It was a ranking waved aside by the government, but one I felt provided an opportunity for us to learn through introspection. Of the many reasons Lagos fell short of global standards, I focused on one: that the city was not friendly to sports and health-conscious people who are a growing population around the world. For instance, there are hardly any public spaces designed for people to freely exercise or roads to protect runners and joggers, while there are only a few community sports centers. I suggested that since the problem predated the current administration, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and his team may now have to commit state funds to buying private properties and converting them to public sports centers. The most livable cities in the world are very generous in providing for sports and the health conscious.

I also suggested that water was a platform for good sport and recreation, and that the lagoon was a goldmine that presented a significant opportunity for the government to capture the minds of the rich and adventurous. There’s plenty to do in the lagoon if the government can invest in cleaning up the waters and the surrounding areas. From deep water swimming challenges to fishing, snorkeling, boat racing and other sports and entertainment events, Lagos could become West Africa’s Monaco. I then ended by suggesting that I had a dangerous idea for a Lagos Central Park. I think a huge park would be great for the city, a bit like Hyde Park in London and Central Park in Manhattan.

For some reason successive administrations in Lagos have seemed incapable of saving spaces for real parks and public recreation. Even spaces planned for this purpose have often been converted to homes and offices. We do have a culture of covering every available land space with some building or the other. Every piece of land becomes an opportunity to earn an extra naira for some insatiable men and women with no care for the greater good. The result is a mangled city and one pretty tough to live in especially for foreigners.

Giant parks are valued in the world’s top cities. Consider that Hyde Park was founded in 1536 and made public in 1637. For 380 years, it has remained a public space, despite its location in one of the most expensive areas in the world. Central Park was established in 1857 and for 160 years has remained that way. These people are not stupid, these are the most civilized and business savvy societies in the world. Central Park alone attracted 40 million visitors in 2013, while Hyde Park attracted 12.4m in 2014.

In both parks sports and recreation are a staple. Hyde Park boasts several sporting facilities, including a number of football pitches and a Tennis centre. People go cycling and horse riding, while at the 2012 London Olympics the park hosted the triathlon, and the 10km open water swimming events. Central Park is heavily used by runners, joggers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and inline skaters. The New York City Marathon finishes in the park, while there are also numerous baseball fields as well as courts for volleyball, tennis, croquet and lawn bowling, among others.

For years now I have dreamed of a huge Lagos Park, and the best I have managed to come up with in terms of a location is where the Nigerian Police College is currently sited in Ikeja GRA. The idea of the Police College in GRA seems to have long outlived its usefulness. The school itself appears a shadow of what it once was. We have all been witnesses to the news of how rundown it has become. Today it looks quite a sight with a mammy market on the one side and a clash of architectural styles on the other. However, the people that designed it originally ensured they got a huge piece of land and plenty of space. So how about the state government buying it from the police or federal government? I imagine it would cost a good few billions with which the police can then build a brand new world class college somewhere else where land is cheap and distractions are few.

That space would be fantastic for a park. Close to the airport, surrounded by decent hotels, a teaching hospital, and a boundary connecting the well-heeled and the rest of society. I would wager that the impact of a park there would be huge enough to fractionally redistribute the population of Lagos and decongest the Ikoyi, V.I, Lekki axis, as some sports and health-conscious rich move its way. All the government needs to do is get celebrated international park designers, developers to come up with something truly world-class park.

While not of the size of parks in the major cities of the world, it would still be a giant space. There can be several football fields and tennis courts, with lots of space for a few other sports as well as other forms of recreation and entertainment.  You may even call it the Police Park for heritage reasons. The state can target two to five million visitors every year and that can translate to a lot in economic terms.

I am under no illusions about the chances of this ever happening, but let me at least dream. One thing Lagos surely does not need however, is another housing estate in a congested area. That I imagine would be the preference for some politicians and “real estate” mercenaries who buy up every space, build up every space and use the proceeds to live in the US and UK where they and their children can enjoy the benefits of more livable cities.