Mapping 50 years of urban growth in Lagos

by Lindsay SawyerGrowth Map


This map shows the growth of the urban footprint of Lagos over the past 50 years. The footprints provide a window into the urbanisation of Lagos, illustrating the story of the social, economic, environmental and political factors that have reciprocally shaped the city. The footprints are gathered from various data sources.

Until around the 1940s the city of Lagos was still very much concentrated on the island of Isale Eko and Ikoyi, By 1960, urban development had become established on the mainland spurred by the planned colonial developments in the 1930s of Apapa GRA (Government Reserve Area, up until 1960 called European Reserve Area), Ikeja GRA, the Ebute Metta street grid aligned to the railway line, and on the other side of the tracks Surulere which was built to rehouse people from a hugely unsuccessful slum clearance on Isale Eko (the cleared land remains empty up until today). The railway line was an important defining factor for the growth of Lagos – stretching development northward and making important nodes of Ijora, Yaba, Ikeja and Agege.

By 1994 the population had increased tenfold due to the oil boom of the 1970s which drew people to the then-capital and the port. This period saw the construction of Lagos’s only social housing programme by governor Jakande. Even though the 1980s saw a tough period of rising unemployment, crime and disinvestment, people were still flocking to Lagos – increasing population density and expanding the informal sector. The city expanded and densified around the existing settlements, but also started to spread along the West African Highway and was significantly developed for the post-Independence show of modernity FESTAC ’77 with developments for culture, trade, housing and industry. Victoria Island had also been developed during this time as an elite residential area, motivating the clearance of Maroko informal settlement in 1990, which freed the development of the planned Lekki axis. The third mainland bridge was also finished in 1994, having a significant impact on mainland development.

Now the shape of the city is reaching and is defined by its geographical limits of the lagoon to the east, the marshland to the west and the rivers from the north. The city within these boundaries is increasingly dense, causing the city to expand far past Lagos state boundary into Ogun State and resulting in the growth of Ikorodu into a sprawling satellite city. There is intense competition for land and housing, and only the social and economic elite can afford homeownership. Public and private housing initiatives continue to serve this elite, particularly the Lekki axis, the GRAs and new highrises in Ikoyi. The vast majority of people are renting or rooming in unserviced one to three storey blocks. Transportation continues to shape urban development with the Lekki axis developing fast with the Lekki-Epe expressway, and the west axis towards Badagry is likely to do the same with the implementation of the first light rail line in the next year or so. The proposed 4th mainland bridge would also have a huge impact on the way Lagos is growing.


Lindsay Sawyer is a PhD researcher at the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore, the urban research lab of the Swiss University ETH Zurich. Her research focuses on ‘ordinary neighbourhoods’ of Lagos, looking at how the majority of people are living in and producing urban space in Lagos. This is part of a wider project of seven researchers comparing nine of the world’s biggest megacities: Tokyo, Hong Kong/ Shenzhen, Kolkata, Istanbul, Lagos, Paris, LA and Mexico City. The project hopes to build a new understanding of processes of urbanisation without relying on pregiven concepts. More information can be found at:

Lindsay has degrees in Architectural Design and Urban Studies from the University of Edinburgh. She has worked at architecture practices in Australia and the UK. Lindsay has been based in Singapore since 2011 and conducts regular fieldwork in Nigeria.

About FutureLagos

Olamide Udoma is a researcher, writer and filmmaker holding degrees in BSc Architecture, MA Design and MPhil Infrastructure Management. Olamide has worked in London, South Africa and Nigeria with various organisations focusing on transport management, slum upgrading and housing rights in urbanising African cities. At Our Future Cities NPO, she is the Lagos manager and editor.