Bottom-up + Top-down Support = People Centred Urban Solutions

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By Olamide Udoma

CITIES is about to launch the book We Own This City. The book’s ambition is to: ‘understanding how traditionally ‘top-down’ players are changing their working processes to adapt to the current system in which a more active urban population is setting new rules and standards form the bottom-up’, examining 16 case studies in five major cities in the global north: Amsterdam, New York City, Hong Kong, Moscow and Taipei.

In conjunction with the book launch, CITIES has put it to bloggers to discuss, how top-down actors are enabling bottom-up community practice in urban planning and architecture using an example in their own city.




Within the Lagos context the top-down actors are Lagos State Government and large funding organisations (for example the World Bank) and bottom-up actors are non-profit organisations, community groups and unions.

In the past, these two actor groups rarely met – the government thought of the answers, whether right or wrong, and proceeded to work solo. However, during Babatunde Fashola’s terms as Governor of Lagos State, this is changing, more diverse models have been used. PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) and BOTs (Build Operate Transfers) are now the preferred model to build and develop infrastructure projects. The growth of such projects can be seen through the launch of the Lagos State PPP office in 2008, Lagos Urban Transport Project 1 & 2, and Eko Atlantic City.  However, these initiatives are still not bridging the gap between the government and bottom-up actors.

Blue Line Rail running along Lagos Badagry Expressway Image: Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority

Blue Line Rail running along Lagos Badagry Expressway
Image: Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority


Though, this is the case for the majority of projects undertaken by Lagos State Government, there are some bottom-up initiatives that have been able to harness the support of top-down actors, such as Wecyclers (a fleet of cyclists with specially designed bicycles ‘wecycles’ that act as a mobile recycling collection centre).

A Wecycler in Action Image: Wecylers

A Wecycler in Action
Image: Wecylers


With a population of up to 21 million people, Lagos has a number of infrastructural challenges. According to the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), in one day the city produces 10,000 metric tons of waste and the existing system appears to be incapable of coping with the mountain load of waste generated. With the majority of this population living in areas that are inaccessible to regular cars let alone large garbage trucks, this is the perfect environment for an innovative solution to waste management: Wecylers.

Lagos Rubbish Dump Image:

Lagos Rubbish Dump


Born and raised in Nigeria, Bilikiss Adebiyi, Wecylers Founder, enlightens us about why Wecyclers is needed in Lagos State, saying

Managing waste should not be left to the Government alone. We have discovered that over 70% of municipal solid waste can be subjected to further treatment like composting and anaerobic digestion, with about 18% recyclable.

Wecyclers Solution Image: Wecyclers

Wecyclers Solution
Image: Wecyclers


Wecycles are the icing on the cake, they have the ability to access narrow and uneven streets in low-income communities and by using incentives,community members are educated and compelled to recycle their household waste. Households are rewarded with redeemable points based on the volume and quality of recyclables that they provide. At present, there are 29 wecylces in action in Lagos, servicing close to 5,000 households.

Wecycles in Action Image: Wecyclers

Wecycles in Action
Image: Wecyclers


Wecyclers has not been alone on this journey to recycle the waste Lagos produces. They have been able to grow with the support of the private sector and one particular top-down actor, Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA).

Since its inception, LAWMA has partnered with numerous private sector and non-governmental organisations to develop various projects and programmes that manage the waste produced in Lagos, develop waste infrastructure, increase environmental knowledge and create jobs for the populace. Some recent innovative projects include a ‘waste-to-energy’ project at Ikosi Market (northern Lagos) and of course Wecyclers.

LAWMA has supported Wecylers by providing free use of all LAWMA sites and providing funding for wecyles as well as support with educating the communities on recycling and waste management. LAWMA is one government parastatal that has been able to remove the bureaucracy of red tape. There is a clear open door policy, which has created a more accessible and accountable government agency. The collaboration between Wecyclers and LAWMA has made the expansion of Wecyclers to more communities in Lagos easier and faster.

Wecyclers Recycling Image: Wecyclers

Wecyclers Recycling
Image: Wecyclers


When asked how the public sector can work with bottom-up actors and the private sector to manage waste and provide infrastructure? Adebiyi answered, saying,

I think we should see the government as an enabler to private sector and non-governmental participation. There is an opportunity for civic engagement and private sector involvement; I believe once there is full cooperation with government policy and active and thriving entrepreneurial activities in the waste sector, all barriers to waste management policy will be eliminated.

Adebiyi’s answer starts to unpack the necessary changes that need to be made in Lagos. By aligning government policy with ‘active and thriving entrepreneurial activities’ as well as the addition of long-term thinking, an enabling environment can be created for progressive and innovative urban solutions.




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.

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