Mega-city, Mega-challenge

Lagos, one of the world’s 10 most populated cities and one of the top 3 fastest growing, faces a great challenge in providing housing for all its residents at prices they can afford. In the United States, homeownership is a basic component of the American Dream. Everyone has a right to shelter, and most everyone wants to own it. In Europe, housing policy reflects the same right to shelter, but cultural norms don’t require ownership of one’s home. Now, as developing countries grow and continue to urbanize at unprecedented rates, cities like Lagos have to find ways to provide this basic human right as well. Here, there is both a challenge and an opportunity – to learn from those mistakes made by industrialized countries.

It is encouraging to see that Lagos has recognized this opportunity – they are looking for solutions to their 5 million unit gap in housing supply not only through increasing units, but by treating those units as building blocks in its city service system. They envision housing as a dissemination point for energy, water, health, security, mobility, business services, and education. Together, this network can reduce costs to individuals and society through cross-subsidization of services.

[youtube] Sustainable, affordable, and innovative housing solutions on the scale needed in Lagos remain elusive. Nonetheless, a couple of small-scale innovative housing examples may be of interest. Another article from Japan for Sustainability notes a new “hybrid house” design, which will be powered with three power systems: photovoltaics, fuel cells, and secondary batteries. The designers estimate that homeowners could have zero utilities costs under this system, which creates enough power for such appliances as LCD televisions, refrigerators, and lighting – systems that could be pooled in Lagos’ case to achieve further economies of scale.


A second project is the result of a “solar decathlon” – a US Department of Energy-sponsored event to gather ideas from students across the world. While most of the prototype homes portray designs applicable in the US or developed country context, seeing them all together on the National Mall (see photo above) allows one to envision the great potential for dense, sustainable, solar-powered homes. Perhaps in future competitions, the judges could add “fits in the context of a dense, rapidly urbanizing city” to its criteria. For, due to these cities’ stage of development, these locations offer opportunities for the greatest environmental and sustainability gains.

-          Terra Curtis