ALPhA

The Informal Appropriation of Public Space for Leisure Physical Activity in Lagos and Yaoundé

The ALPhA study explores ways that public space is being appropriated for physical activity, or exercise in Lagos, Nigeria and Yaoundé, Cameroon. Over 2 years, the project aims to understand the types of ALPhA spaces that exist, the experiences of people who use these ALPhA spaces, and air pollution, safety and injury risks. The interdisciplinary team members come from across fields – urban planning, public health, chemistry, engineering and economics are all represented.

Africa is experiencing rapid urbanisation alongside poorly governed infrastructure development and increasing unhealthy living. These factors contribute to an increased burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. These NCDs also contribute to premature death disproportionately affecting the economically active and jeopardizing development. The built environment is a critical determinant of physical activity (PA), a risk factor for NCDs, but due to unmet need for the necessary infrastructure for exercise, public spaces in African cities are increasingly appropriated for leisure physical activity (LPA) under hazardous conditions such as toxic air pollution, another NCD risk-factor. As a result of a lack of surveillance data, the health risks of exercise in public spaces are unknown. 

Methods

The study, being conducted in Lagos and Yaoundé, works at the interface of public health, urban infrastructure, urban planning, environmental engineering, and atmospheric science.

Using participatory approaches, we are investigating exercise in public space to re-imagine urban space for healthy, safe exercise in Lagos, Nigeria and Yaoundé, Cameroon, countries with similar demographic and NCD risk profile.

We take an asset-based approach, learning from people who are claiming public space for exercise (we call them ALPhAs!), to understand the experiences of these ALPhAs, and to measure the injury risk and air pollution exposures which may negate exercise benefits. Engaging with multisectoral actors, results from this study will inform urban infrastructure development strategies and the co-design of public space interventions that support equitable access to healthy safe physical activity opportunities in Africa’s cities.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we extended this project to conduct opinion analyses of public space leisure physical activity in Lagos. In particular, using social media analyses, we will explore public perceptions of government lockdown restrictions (and enforcement), and the impact of these lockdown measures on the perceptions, nature and frequency of exercise in public spaces. Our findings will inform development of context-aware public health messaging that safely encourages physical activity in the short term and health foresight interventions to reduce vulnerability to future health emergencies long-term.

Want to get involved?

Join us as a citizen scientist to re-imagine urban space

Do you live in Lagos or Yaoundé? And have you noticed people exercising in public spaces near you? Or do you exercise in public spaces?

Then you can join us as a citizen scientist to re-imagine urban space for healthy, safe exercise. Whether you exercise in public spaces or have just observed people exercising or have even just noticed any public spaces that you think would be a good spot for exercise, we are inviting the public to work with us to identify as many of these public spaces used for exercise as possible (e.g. aerobics, football, walking, jogging, cycling, etc.) in Lagos and Yaoundé. This includes public spaces like road intersections, open streets, below bridges, car parks, sidewalks, etc.

Here’s what you can expect:

1. We will soon start collecting data for this study. To participate, whenever you are at a public space used for exercise: use the link provided to take a photo and record the location (coming soon…); tell us about the space and the type of exercise that usually happens there
2. Your responses will help us make recommendations on making public spaces healthier and safer for all

We’ll keep you updated:

Follow us on Twitter:

Read the team’s commentary on physical activity under COVID lockdown in Lagos:

Project outputs
air pollution

The urban environment and leisure physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic: a view from Lagos

In this commentary, we highlight five aspects of the ordinary – known interactions between urban environments and physical activity – that are amplified by the extraordinary – an unprecedented societal response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Using Lagos, Nigeria as a case study, we illustrate the possibility of re-thinking urban development and the potential for urban (re)form to address health inequalities in African megacities in the context of post-COVID-19 pandemic.

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The urban environment and leisure physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic: a view from Lagos

In this commentary, we highlight five aspects of the ordinary – known interactions between urban environments and physical activity – that are amplified by the extraordinary – an unprecedented societal response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Using Lagos, Nigeria as a case study, we illustrate the possibility of re-thinking urban development and the potential for urban (re)form to address health inequalities in African megacities in the context of post-COVID-19 pandemic.

The LIRA project (2018–2020) team, led by Tolullah Oni
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