The Developing City - Lagos, Nigeria: A Case for a Stronger Master Plan


In 2017, a BBC report, A City That Won’t Stop Growing highlighted the seemingly endless population growth of Lagos, Nigeria. By 2050 Nigeria is projected to have twice the population it has today, more than half will live in cities, and about 60% of them will be under 25. If we do not intervene to solve the issues that overcrowding may cause, Lagos will be the 3rd largest city in the world with the least infrastructure than any other large cities of the world. 

Lagos, Nigeria has the potential to be an economic hub not only for Western Africa and the rest of the continent, but of the world - reaching ranks such as Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong, Paris and London.

My Limitations

What is preventing Lagos, Nigeria from greater socio-economic prosperity? First, I would admit that I have yet to take a trip to Lagos. However, my fascination with the world’s largest Black Urban area continues to peak my interest. I have limited knowledge on the city and I am researching the wealth disparity and how it is trickled down throughout society. Although, Lagos Is big in the technology, film, art and culture scene, the city’s global presence is very limited. I am on a quest to find out what is limited the city from establishing a foothold on the global stage.  Is it internal conflicts such as overcrowding, corruption and terrorism, i.e Boko Haram, or is it external forces such as global disinvestment that is keeping the city stagnant? In this two part blog series, I hope to raise awareness of this issue, explore greater solutions and understand the dynamics of urban planning in Africa, particularly Lagos, Nigeria.

Background: History Repeating Itself

Remember the saying “History repeats itself.” Many cities in developing countries are now experiencing similar dilemmas cities in the developed world had to overcome in the 18th to early 20th century. Overcrowding in many developing cities is synonymous with inadequate housing, inadequate infrastructure and inadequate transportation facilities. This issue contributes to low quality of life and slows economic growth. So what can developing cities, such as Lagos, Nigeria do to curb some of these issues and launch them onto the field of global competition with great eastern and western cities?

Western Cities and their Master Plans

For starters, these four cities have one thing that considers them amazing places to live work and play. Each of these cities has developed some sort of ambitious master plan. For the case of Paris, it has underwent a physical renovation period lead by Georges-Eugène Haussmann to modernize the city for generations to come and has inspired other cities to prepare physical plans and has launched the City Beautiful movement in America.

What is a Master Plan?

So what is a master plan? A master plan is a policy framework, in the form of a comprehensive document that envisions the physical, social and economic capacity of a city well into the future. Washington D.C’s physical master plan with its famous lattice grid, circle and squares was designed by the French engineer and planner Pierre L'enfant. The father of city planning, Daniel Burnham is considered the contributor of Chicago well planned city streets in the City’s Plan of 1909. New York City's Commissioners are known to have developed Manhattan’s famously strict and rigid grid in their 1811 plan.

Nowadays, much credit is given to city’s Master Plans for designating land uses and acting as a regulatory document to plan future development.  In most developed cities great parks, bars, restaurants, apartments, houses, entertainment centers and government institutions can be contributed to a comprehensive master plan.

The Need for Stronger Master Plans in Africa’s Developing Cities

On the contrary, many large cities in developing countries, particularly in Africa, seem to have weak master plans, mostly with western planning ideologies that do not seem to provide a detailed account of how their city should look and grow into the future, in regards to their economies, housing affordability and availability and public infrastructure. For example, there is a stereotype that Africa’s cities are not economic growth hubs, when in fact they are located in some of the fastest growing countries in the world. Their master plans/economic plans should reflect their economic potential to lure investors.

I took the opportunity to compare two of the continent’s city master plans: Kigali, Rwanda and Lagos, Nigeria. I created a hypothetical scenario where I have placed myself in the position of an expanding technology-based company level 1 associate in the marketing and development unit, where I was tasked to research which would be the next regional headquarters in Africa.   

According to this New York Times article, after 20 years of the horrific genocide, Kigali, Rwanda is emerging as a proud capitol city, known for its progressive start-ups, energetic art scene and great dining and coffee. A notable Singapore architecture and planning firm recently created an award winning master plan for their city which focused on sustainable transportation and housing.

Kigali’s Master Plan:

·         The plan is realistic and Spans from 2013-2040 (27 years)

·         The plan is colorful with graphs and has a clear vision

·         The plan is easily available on the government’s planning website

·         Transparent free trade zone and economic hubs within the city

·         Ambitious for a city its size

·         Focuses on decentralized nodes

·         A clear implementation plan

Lagos’ metropolitan area holds one of the world’s largest populations but bears many of its burdens from overcrowding including inadequate housing and transportation infrastructure. The government is starting to grasp the benefits of investing in the city’s technology sector. Many notable technology companies are beginning to look at city’s large general population and workforce as an asset for high supply and demand. However, the City’s Master Plan does not reflect the government’s effort in making Lagos a smart city for the future to lure investors.

Lagos State Development Plan

·         Not that many graphics, reads more like an essay, not engaging to its audience,.

·         The plan is less realistic and Spans from 2012 to 2025 (13 years)

·         The plan is not so easily available on the ministry of economic planning and budget website

·         Not transparent

·         Not very ambitious for a mega city

·         Suppose to focus on tech hubs and smart city initiatives but doesn’t have any technology related information.

·         Spelling errors

·         No clear implementation plan

The current development plan for Lagos is weak. It needs an ambitious comprehensive development/master plan backed by all levels of government to catapult the mega city into the future.


1.       Facilitate a global competition to attract well-known architecture and planning firms and companies to create an ambitious physical master plan framework.

2.       Release a RFP for global architecture and planning firms to BID on a contract to create an actual comprehensive document.

3.       Create an extensive public engagement process with workshops and charrettes.

4.       Create a more realistic timeline for planning and implementation.

5.       Engage in marketing for public support, stakeholders and investors.

If I was an investor, I would look towards investing or visiting Kigali based on its plan. Western nations have developed strong physical or master plans for their cities to thrive centuries into the future. It is time that developing cities on the African continent do the same but with the intentions to resolve problems with their own standards and metrics. Part 2 of this blog series will explore African Planning principles and how they can apply to the future development of Lagos, Nigeria.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you think Lagos has the potential to overcome its socio-economic issues related to poverty, overcrowding, slum housing and inadequate transportation to join the ranks as Tokyo, London and New York? If so, what are your recommendations?