The Gentrification of Lagos Island

By Tuesday, August 16, 2016 0 , , , , Permalink 12

Lagos Island is like a gold mine being sat on. It can be the focal point for promoting our history and culture, raking in major revenue through tourism for the government and private sector; this can be a plausible solution to the Naira hyper inflation…

Once I met a group of French, Brazilian and English artists in Lisbon, each one of them had either moved from the country they lived or were visiting to see if they could live in Lisbon. When I asked why, their responses were uniform; the cities they previously lived had grown too ‘touristy’ and too expensive.

Lisbon is slowly becoming an emerging art scene with more and more artists moving down. Gentrification usually begins with artists looking for a cheap place to live giving the neighborhood a bohemian flair. This hip environment then attracts yuppified people from different walks of life who want to live in such an atmosphere.

To gentrify is to recreate, to rebuild, to give a new face. Gentrification is usually associated with neighborhoods. For some reason a lot of people are averse to gentrification as they feel it displaces the residents who previously occupied the neighborhood, allows bigger businesses displace smaller businesses and generally causes an upward spiral in rent.

I could have used a less ‘offensive’ word such as the rebuilding of Lagos island rather than the gentrification of Lagos Island, however I believe that the gentrification process is not all bad. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated ‘everything changes and nothing stands still’ he also opined good change doesn’t happen overnight.

Travel to me is the best form of informal education, from learning new things by interacting with the locals, to garnering all the knowledge I can reading about a place before I embark on my travel and generally studying and being aware of my environment.

Naturally I gravitate towards the older artsy parts of cities I visit. I realized a lack of a communal neighborhood where artists and artisans can come together to draw inspiration from each other, express themselves and flourish in Lagos.

This kind of neighborhoods fast become the focal point of cities drawing interests of a varied range of people; people generally looking to have a good time, stylish people, quirky people, artsy folks and eventually tourists.

It is a good idea for the government to work closely with artists and investors in reclaiming a neighborhood because it gives it a natural aesthetics. Miami for instance, there’s more to Miami than the party scene and amazing beaches  it is famed for.

Miami has an art scene that draws visitors from all over the world annually for Art Basel. Every year, weeks before the Art Basel fair opens, hundreds of artist converge at what is now known as the Wynwood walls with spray paint to layer over last years work and transform Miami’s former garment district once again.

One of the most recognized of these projects is a building painted to look like a giant boombox created by Argentine artist Sonni in 2010.The Gentrification of Lagos Island by Tosin AshayeWynwood walls is the brainchild of developer, pioneer and arts visionary Tony Goldman, driven to restoring blighted urban neighbourhoods, ignite street life and create thriving global destinations. Before its gentrification, it was a blind spot on the map, an atrophied neighbourhood.

Tony Goldman saw it as a blank canvas for an art form he was really interested in to enrich both a culture and his real estate holdings. He then worked closely with carefully curated graffiti artists to legally transform these buildings and its walls to an outdoor museum that draws as many as 20,000 visitors.

These visitors wander around the streets to check out and photograph the murals, visit the growing number of galleries and restaurants. Recently it has become a hub for Miami’s creatives to hang out, work and do business. He was also instrumental in gentrifying NewYork’s Soho, revamping Miami’s South Beach to mention a few. All of these could not have been achieved without the support of the government who were able to project into the long term benefits.

My purpose of raising the idea of the gentrification of Lagos island and the governments support is firstly whether the government realizes it or not, there is a new generation of aesthetes and artisans coming up who are more art and culture inclined and have powered up a whole made in Nigeria movement.

This is a step in the right direction to shift focus of Nigeria’s mono economy to other means of generating revenue and further strengthen the new governments effort to turn Nigeria from an importing country to a producing one. It is important that neighborhoods where this movement can be promoted exists.

Also, the aesthetics and architecture of a lot of the buildings in Lagos island are very interesting. The grid like structure of the streets of Lagos island is reminiscent of a time when thought was put into planning and landscaping of buildings not randomly littering the streets with buildings.

I remember sitting outside a cafe around union square in NewYork having brunch with a Nigerian friend who asked where the area reminded me of in Lagos, Lagos Island came straight to mind around the Tinubu Square to be exact. I envisaged a Lagos Island were people could feel safe hanging outdoors.

The narrow lane roads and side streets causing heavy traffic would make perfect neighborhoods for restaurants with alfresco dining, cafes, coffee shops and gallery spaces if shut off partially or given regulated timings to cars. Also, a lot of the high rise buildings can be converted to inexpensive tastefully done residential lofts and studio apartments.

The high rise buildings around Tinubu Square remind me of Time square except in the night when it becomes brightly lit with billboards and advertisements. Time square is one of the worlds most visited tourist attractions with an estimated 50million visitors annually.

The unique landscape of Lagos island gives it the best of both worlds with a bit of time square and union square. Imagine the kind of business opportunities and revenue that can be generated if we take a cue from this and do it even better

Union Square, Brooklyn, Soho, Harlem and Bedstuyevant are a few neighbourhoods in NY that have been gentrified resulting in making the area cooler and more attractive to people. The dingy, grimy and dangerous Brooklyn I read about growing up was not the Brooklyn I met which was ultra cool, quirky and artsy.

Unfortunately this caused displacement of businesses and a hike in rent prices for some; separate displacement from gentrification. I’m not proposing for the current inhabitants of Lagos island to lose their homes or properties, for instance the famous Eko market which adds color and cultural character to the area, I am simply proposing a clean up to make it more attractive to developers and investors for fresh ideas with the help of the government.

In London the Brick lane Sunday street market, in Barcelona Palo Alto street market see tourists fly  in from all over Europe on weekends for the experience. The car free thoroughfare give these markets a festival like vibe with people milling around the streets weaving animatedly through stalls buying vintage, art, fashion, home made products, sampling and buying street food, homemade bites from various cuisine and networking.

Its a beautiful experience and a great opportunity for small businesses to market merchandise, artists and artisans to display craft and families to generate extra income while having fun. On Sunday’s I drive around Lagos island and the neighborhood is quiet, most of the roads are shut off to cars, it’s a stark difference from Lagos island on weekdays.

It would be perfect for a Sunday street market that would attract an interesting variation of people from all over the world and put Lagos on the map positively. These markets can become a business hub for the whole of west Africa and generate revenue.

I however commend individuals who have carved a niche for themselves like the longest running monthly Mente De Moda flea market and exhibition in Lagos doing something similar and others that have taken initiative.

The grid like and narrow laned thoroughfares of Lagos island remind me of a number of gentrified neighborhoods, Valladolid, Mexico etc. Here I attended a cultural event, Fundacion de Artistas for artists and art enthusiasts; Valladolid is one of the oldest cities in Mexico.

It became a part of the Pueblo Mágico El Programa (magical villages programme), an initiative led by the Mexican tourism department to display influential towns in Mexico using their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance to the country to offer visitors a magical experience.

Another is Stone Town also an old part of Zanzibar in Tanzania which even though never ceased to be a commercial focus for the Spice Island became neglected and suffered severe deterioration. However, with new money created by the government’s 5-year policy of economic liberalization and technical assistance from the UN,  Zanzibar hopes to reverse the decay.

The government is trying to restore the district to its former glory through gentrification. The town is now used as a source to boost tourism and attract tourists from all over the world.

Obviously Nigerians believe in what Italians regard as La Dolce Vita and the French Joie De vivre spending money traveling to these destinations to experience ‘the good life’ where people have put energy and thought to preserving its aesthetics thus enriching their pockets.

There is a need to channel similar energy to cleaning up our cities. Then Nigerians would not be too inclined to go on vacation too often and people would generally be happier as scientists have proven that art and spending time outdoors lifts the spirit. While it’s nice new neighborhoods are springing up, Lagos island should not be left to fall to ruins as it plays a huge part in relating and representing vividly the cultural and historical story of Lagos and even Nigeria broadly.

The Gentrification of Lagos Island

In other countries, city squares are very colorful, full of life and bustling with energy. It would be a panorama of people relaxing, eating around in alfresco settings surrounding the square and people taking advantage of the large crowd around to show their talents and perhaps get scouted.

For this write up to ring of a truth based on personal experiences, I visited Lagos Island again and Tinubu Square which I had only seen in pictures. I was so discouraged about the deplorable state of some of the things I saw I abandoned writing for a while.

The Gentrification of Lagos Island

It was glaring that there was a lack of a maintenance culture, a lot of the magnificent architectures I had seen in old photos of Lagos were left in deplorable states. I noticed that some old buildings that should be open to the public for tours and viewings were shut, the few that were open to the public didn’t have any signs indicating this, a lack of buildings with rooftop access to the public to enjoy and view the city skyline even if for a fee.

I came across a photo of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos and the Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture Mr Folarin Coker with a renowned Curator of art Mr Azu Nwabogbu who I know has being doing a fantastic job giving Nigerian art centre stage home and abroad at the opening of an exhibition ‘dey your lane’ at the Bozar, Brussels and I felt an upsurge of the initial positivity I started writing with.

Clearly our Governor is in support of exporting our arts and tourism sector. The two major challenges I foresee are security which the government I noticed on my visits is already doing something about. There were visible police cars and foot police.

‘Ahhhh everywhere na police oh, this area no dey like before, police don clean the place’ chimed in Kabiru who was kind enough to take me round the area and electricity which still isn’t very encouraging. It is clear that there is a need to restore Lagos Island to its former glory and I see my generation striving to champion this cause for if we dare to perceive we can undauntedly achieve.

Thank you for reading!

Tosin Ashaye is the founder of Tatase Lagos.

Tatase is a fashion, art and culture curator with a vision of donning more and more women in Nigeria and abroad in wearable art pieces using beautiful textures against fabrics and appliqué sourced both locally and internationally to achieve a subtle yet fashionable and elegant look and support the awakening of made in Nigeria products whilst focusing on quality.

She is also a partner at Ivada Survey. Ivadasurvey.com is Nigeria’s first paid online survey platform that seeks to improve made in Nigeria products through feedback from consumers.

She can be reached at tataselagos@gmail.com.