A drone view of a bridge bisecting a slum.

Makoko is called “The Venice of Slums” as most of the 300,000 residents or so live on stilted homes atop a fetid lagoon, carrying goods via canoe including fresh water. Nigeria is a wealthy country, blessed with abundant resources, but corruption and misallocation of resources mean that 112 million people live in poverty, and investment in health and education are shockingly low. This, as the country is projected to become the world’s third most populous by 2050, with over 420 million people. 

Lagos, Nigeria is one of the most populous cities in the world, with over 14 million people calling it home. While the city has seen tremendous economic growth in recent years, with a booming construction industry and a growing middle class, it also faces a stark reality of inequality. This inequality is particularly evident in the housing sector, where many residents struggle to access affordable housing and are forced to live in overcrowded, informal settlements.
The construction industry has played a major role in the growth of Lagos' economy, with new buildings and developments sprouting up all around the city. However, this construction boom has also led to gentrification in some areas, where low-income residents are displaced to make way for high-end developments. Additionally, the majority of new construction in Lagos caters to the upper classes, with a lack of focus on affordable housing options for low-income residents.

Lagos is constructed on a series of islands and wetlands at the mouth of a large lagoon (the word "Lagos" means "lakes" in Portuguese). This sprawling, gigantic mega-city, soon to become one of the largest cities in the world, is also at war with perennial flooding, infrastructure, and climate change challenges. The rapid pace of development, corruption, and a low development index means that any changes are coming too slowly to offset the huge migration to the city currently taking place. 

The Abari Cemetery in the middle of Lagos is packed with rows of concrete coffins, many of them decaying and without tops. The decrepit, overcrowded conditions here are in stark contrast to the expensive private cemeteries in other areas of Lagos. 

An aerial view of a floating slum, with houses and canoes.

Makoko, "The Venice of Slums".

Informal settlements pop up anywhere there's a void in the city's formal housing fabric. With soaring housing costs, and a gigantic population (~218 million), many of whom are migrating to cities for work, Lagos is awash with scenes like this. 

A market and communal bus station in the Ajegunle neighborhood.

According to a report by the World Bank, over 70% of Lagos residents live in informal settlements or slums, lacking access to basic services like clean water and sanitation. These settlements are often overcrowded, with families crammed into small spaces, and lack proper infrastructure and amenities. The lack of affordable housing is a major factor contributing to this situation, with many residents unable to afford the high cost of living in the city.
In addition to the lack of affordable housing, Lagos also faces challenges in terms of architecture and urban planning. The city is known for its sprawling, chaotic urban landscape, with little consideration for sustainability or the needs of residents. This has led to a situation where the city is poorly equipped to deal with issues like traffic congestion and waste management.
To address these challenges, there have been efforts to promote sustainable architecture and urban planning in Lagos. One example is the Eko Atlantic City project, a new development being built on reclaimed land off the coast of Lagos. The development is being designed with sustainability in mind, with features like green spaces, renewable energy, and efficient waste management systems.
Globally, the issue of inequality in cities is a growing concern. According to a report by Oxfam, the world's 26 richest people now own as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the global population. This inequality is particularly pronounced in cities, where the gap between rich and poor is often wider than in rural areas. The irony of Eko Atlantic is that its development has been spearheaded by one of Africa's richest men. 

There are no services in Makoko other than what residents provide. All clean water, fuel, food and goods get brought in by residents on canoes. There are also multiple "chiefs" who control different sectors of Makoko. To visit, you must get their blessing. 

An aerial view of Lagos, with a neighborhood next to a slum next to the beach.

Opportunity knocks: temporary informal housing appears wherever there is a vacancy in ownership. Sometimes this occurs near construction sites - this one in the heart of Victoria Island, Lagos' most wealthy district. 

Informality exists in the liminal zone between the ocean and the houses of Victoria Island. 

A drone view of a fence bisecting a beach club from a densely packed slum.

Wealthy Lagosians flock to beach clubs such as these on Victoria Island, the playground of the city (and the country's) super wealthy. On the day I arrived, the guard asked me for 20,000 naira to enter the beach club on the left, or approximately $46 at the official exchange rate - an astronomical sum to most Nigerians, where the majority make only slightly more than that per month

A drone view of a slum in Lagos next to a green middle class community.

Inequality in the Apapa neighborhood.

A drone view of a slum next to a green wetlands.

Makoko is separated from the Lagoon in part by a wetlands, which acts as a filter for some of the worst pollution from the informal area. 

Other African cities, like Cairo, Johannesburg, and Kinshasa, face similar challenges of inequality and housing shortages. These cities, like Lagos, are grappling with issues like informal settlements, gentrification, and inadequate infrastructure.
Looking ahead to the next 50 years, it is clear that these challenges will continue to be a pressing issue for African cities. As the population grows and urbanization continues, the demand for affordable housing and basic services will only increase. Additionally, the effects of climate change are likely to exacerbate these challenges, with more frequent natural disasters and rising sea levels affecting already vulnerable communities.
To address these challenges, there must be a concerted effort by governments, businesses, and communities to prioritize the needs of all residents, and work towards creating more equitable and sustainable urban environments. This will require innovative solutions that are tailored to the specific needs of each city, and a commitment to investing in infrastructure and basic services that benefit everyone.

Tenants are slowly coming to Eko Atlantic, like these hotels. Mostly though, it's an empty and heavily patrolled white elephant. 

A drone view of Eko Atlantic, an unifinished development in Lagos.

Eko Atlantic is one of the biggest development projects in Nigeria. Situated entirely on reclaimed land, the project is intended for an elite business district to emerge on the edge of Lagos' crowded Victoria Island.

There are no roads in Makoko. Everything - including fresh water - must arrive by canoe. 

A drone view of two neighborhoods in Lagos.

Middle class developments in the upscale Lekki neighborhood abut informal housing. 

Downtown Lagos, Victoria Island.

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