FUTURE LAGOS | Part 2: Resilient Cities; are we ready to live on water?

“I have visited Makoko a number of times I still do not know my way through the meandering narrow maze of footpaths”

As part of the living on water series, this article explores Makoko, a community disowned by its city, as the answer to coastal cities preparing for climate change.

 future lagos logo

by Olamide Udoma

Read Part 1: How to live and work with water in the future city

The Disowned City

Makoko is a water and shoreline settlement that is situated on Lagos mainland, in Nigeria. It is a large informal settlement with half the population on water and half on land.

From Apollo Street, Lagos Lagoon is invisible. The only slight hints that you are near a water body are the ladies selling fish. Even though I have visited Makoko a number of times I still do not know my way through the meandering narrow maze of footpaths from Apollo Street to the boat stop. From the boat stop you can climb down on to a small wooden canoe. A young boy, using a long bamboo stick pushing against the lagoon bed, will take you anywhere within the community for a small price.

Aerial view of Makoko

According to literature Makoko was established in the 18th Century. The houses on water are built from hardwood, supported by wood stilts driven deep into the waterbed. Each house usually houses between six to ten people and a high percentage are rental properties. While water meandering through the water settlement like streets in between houses are on average five feet deep. These ‘streets’ act as a road system, where you can find canoes carrying children to school and people to their places of work. As well as a form of transportation, canoes are used for fishing and act as points of sale; where women sell food, water and household goods.  

The baale (chief of the community) on land estimates that there are approximately 400,000 people living in Makoko (water and land), the World Bank estimates the population (on land) to be just over 85,000. The majority of the residents come from the Egun tribe of Benin Republic and Badagry, a coastal town in Lagos State that borders Benin.

Ever since it’s existence Makoko has been under alert, awaiting the day they will be evacuated from their homes. At the latest eviction made by Lagos State Government, in July 2012, more than 200 people were made homeless due to the alleged dangers of the residents due to electricity cables running above the community as well as the deplorable living conditions.

The rejection of Makoko as a liveable space by Lagos State Government exposes their lack of appreciation of the benefits of the way the Makoko community have created a living environment on water.

Sunset and Makoko

With the majority of Lagos 2 meters under sea level, the confluence of inland rivers, the continuous reclamation of land and sea level rising, Lagos State Government needs to start considering the future of Lagos and building a smart city that is prepared for environmental changes. Though Makoko continues to expand further into the Lagos Lagoon due to the high cost of land and construction, the community are the only few ready for what could be Lagos’s future.

On the problem of flooding though, the people of Makoko may be living on the answer. Flooding damages infrastructure and architecture if it is inappropriately constructed and is not flexible enough. In Makoko residents have  learned to live with the ambiguous character of the water.

Olanrewaju Fagbohun and Ona Osanakpo in How Vulnerability and Fragility can turn into Strength: Makoko is the Solution  


Climate Change

In the past five years we have seen an increase in the number of people affected by rising sea levels, increased precipitation, inland floods, more frequent and stronger cyclones and storms, and periods of more extreme heat and cold. With over 90% of coastal areas being urban, cities are exceptionally vulnerable to climate change. Hurricane Sandy is a clear example of how climate change can cause unexpected damage to coastal cities. The hurricane also showed how unprepared cities are for environmental disasters that are likely to become more frequent. Even cities like Lagos, that are not located in environmental disaster zones, are feeling the consequence of sea level rise and heavier and more frequent rainfall. Imploring the importance of fighting climate change the previous Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola said at the 5th Lagos Climate Change Summit,

…it is a war we need to fight together and I am sure that if we fight together, the human civilization will win, climate change is not new, what is new is our knowledge about it and what we do about it.

Babatunde Fashola,  Lagos State Governor (2007-2015)

Flooded streets in Lagos

The damage from climate change is not solely physical and infrastructural but also financial. Unexpected expenditure can lead to disruptions in business, government budgets and even cause uncertainty in the stock market.

The gravity of the situation is being felt all over the world with international organisation pushing for cities to become more climate change aware and to plan and build to mitigate the effects of the changing climate. It is estimated that in our lifetime the planet could become 2ºC warmer and by the end of the century 4ºC warmer without global action.

The scientists tell us that if the world warms by 2°C – warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years – that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat-waves, and more intense cyclones.

Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President, World Bank video.


Mitigation and Adaptation

The promoted solutions are two fold; mitigation and adaption. Mitigation focuses on the source, reducing or preventing heat-trapping greenhouse emissions. Adaptation mechanisms are interventions created to adapt to climate change are already in the pipeline. Individual cities have taken the lead on the fight against climate change but in addition international networks have been created to focus on climate change. The US Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, the EU’s Covenant of Mayors, the Climate Neutral Business Network, the carbonn Cities Climate Registry, and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group all set high goals, give support and create collaborations to cities to combat climate change.

Charging station in France

Cities are becoming more critical and are reacting to the needs of not just their city but to the world by adapting for climate change. Recently, Beijing announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants and cities like London have begun wide-scale retrofitting of their existing buildings, installing LED lighting and heating and cooling systems that draw energy from the earth beneath the building. Some cities have invested in fuel-efficient taxi fleets, electric busses and electronic vehicle charging stations. In just eight years New York has been able to reduce their carbon footprint by 19 percent by encouraging building owners to paint their roofs white to save on cooling costs.

In fact, climate change may be the first global problem where success will depend on how municipal services such as energy, water, and transportation are delivered to citizens.

Michael Bloomberg (2015)

In a recent article by Michael Bloomberg he brings together the idea of reducing carbon pollution and economic growth. Creating conditions that attract people to live (good schools, clean air, family-friendly beautiful parks and mass transit) will attract business and investment. The catastrophes caused by climate change will do the opposite; economic instability. To already poverty stricken communities, climate change will threaten livelihoods, destroy homes and intrench poverty further.

Being more aware of the link between poverty reduction and climate change mitigation, African cities are becoming more engaged with adaption and mitigation methods.  

While awareness is rising, constructing smart and sustainable cities is a challenge. Building and modernising infrastructure to deliver energy, water and transportation needs is costly. Policies and government buy-in also needed to ensure there is a robust and sustainable push towards becoming a climate change resilient city. Despite these challenges there are pockets within cities where climate change resilient communities already exist, like Makoko, Lagos, Luanda, Angola; Ganvié, Benin; Cape Town, South Africa; and Nzulezu, Ghana. However, these communities are rarely looked at as examples of city futures.

Nzulenzu, Ghana

A year and a half after the 2012 summer demolition the Makoko community with support from experts submitted a regeneration plan to the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development. The regeneration plan aims to appease the needs of Lagos State Government by proposing a world class urban regeneration effort that includes the provision of basic infrastructure, economic empowerment, land tenure, housing, recreation, energy, waste and tourism.

Makoko/Iwaya Regeneration Plan



A new waterfront experience with wetlands, trees and plants, fish ponds and community gardens



Neighbourhood Hotspot

The document takes you through the variety of stages from concept and policy recommendations to construction, maintenance and sustainability. Even though the plan is still going through the due processes in Alausa, construction started on a pilot in April 2015 on a section of the plan called Neighbourhood Hotspots that includes energy generation. At in interview in June this year, Monika Ummuna of Heinrich Boll Foundation, Lagos, the logistic support of the regeneration plan described the Hotspot as

a building to teach the people how they could build more sustainably in the way they are doing but using more advanced yet simple technologies.


Water Cities

In Africa, Lagos is not the only coastal city that is vulnerable to rising seas, there are at least 20 cities, including Cairo, Egypt; Cape Town, South Africa; and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. With man’s constant struggle to live with water, Nlé, a collaborative architectural practice with a focus on developing cities, is changing the discourse through The African Water Cities project. The project is a research and documentation project that focuses on adapting coastal cities to the impact of urbanisation, resource shortages and climate change. To date the project has moved away from just research and documentation to also architectural forms. These have been realised in the award winning Makoko Floating School in Lagos, Nigeria and more recently the Chicoco Radio in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and the Chicago Lakefront Kiosk, USA.

Chicoco Radio, a floating media platform being built with and for the residents of Port Harcourt’s waterfront community in Nigeria.


ROCK, Chicago Lakefront Kiosk: a pop-up pavilion – a public sculpture – composed from the raw and historic limestone blocks that once protected the city’s shoreline.

Kunle Adeyemi, founder and principal Nlé, is pushing for the appreciation and knowledge exchange of environments where people live with the environment and managed to be responsible and economical about the way they use resources and materials. In Lagos and the majority of world, living on water is not the norm. The settlements on water are usually low-income and blighted communities and Kunle is turning this on its head and saying

looking at urban developments, how do you bring water in, create more water ways, basically allow water to be much more integrated in to the environment and not constantly fighting it?

The discourse Kunle has kicked off is a start to recognising the learnings urbanists and governments can take from cities on water, whether informal or not to help build climate change resilient cities.


  1. Image: Nlé
  2. Image: amazist.com
  3. Image: www.theafropolitan.me
  4. Image: theeagleonline.com.ng
  5. Image: europe.autonews.com
  6. Image: ghanaspinelli.wordpress.com
  7. Image: Fabulous Urban
  8. Image: Fabulous Urban
  9. Image: Fabulous Urban
  10. Image: Nlé
  11. Image: Nlé

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.