An Activist Architect Advocating for Healthy Public Spaces

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On the 25th of September 2022, Lagos held its first ever Car-Free day. To commemorate this event, Cityzens4CleanAir Run Leaders organised and led a run through the streets of Lagos, using the opportunity to advocate for clean air and healthy public spaces.

We asked #UrbanBetter DisruptorOlasumbo Olaniyi, one of the Run Leaders, to share her motivation for participation in advocacy for clean air.

Here’s what she had to say:

What led you to get involved in this campaign for clean air and healthy public space?

I am Olasumbo Olaniyi and I am a Cityzens4CleanAir Run Leader with UrbanBetter, an organisation with the goal to improve the overall quality of public space and health in cities across Africa. In celebration of the first Lagos Car-Free day, I was joined by Run Leader teammates: Feyisola Quadri, Faith Onavweroho, and Waziri Mainasara.

We gathered to mark the first Car-Free Day, which we see as a call to imagine what Lagos would look like with fewer cars and what may be needed to make this achievable.

You may ask, how did I get involved in advocating for the environment? I will share a brief experience with you.

In the year 2020, I decided to personally impact my city. I was eager to make a difference. I volunteered for a non-governmental organization named “Slum Art Foundation”. On my first visit to one of our sites in Ijora Badia, I was appalled and surprised at the same time. Surprised because, I did not know that such space existed at the edge of burgeoning Lagos. On the other hand, appalled because, piles of refuse percolated the environment, sewage seeped through the shacks and open-air burning of refuse among many other practices. These acts broke my heart and heavily polluted the air. Instinctively, I quickly put on my nose mask not because of the fear of contracting COVID-19 but because of the difficulty I experienced in breathing properly.

This particular experience led me to ask questions with the hopes of finding an answer. In turn, I found UrbanBetter and was pleased to be selected as a Run Leader.

 

Why is this important to you?

The quality and state of the environment cannot be overstated. In 2018,  Lagos recorded about 12,000 deaths as a result of ambient air pollution (which is the highest number of premature deaths in West Africa) and over 500,000 attacks related to the ingestion of air pollutants such PM10, PM2.5, NO2. Medical conditions such as asthma, depression, pneumonia, tight chest, heart attacks, strokes and poor IQ have been strongly linked to air pollution.

As citizens of Lagos, we contribute largely to the state of our environment through most of our activities such as running generators, open-burning of waste and throwing dirt in canals. I believe that living greener will have at least the following benefits:

  1. Healthier people and environment: lower mortality rates, reduced spread of sickness and diseases and improved quality of life. You also cannot take away the health benefits of physical activities such as walking, running and cycling (for leisure and mobility) which have proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, stress, hypertension, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
  2. Financial savings: Clean Air will reduce health care costs and lower the estimated 2.1% loss in Lagos state’s GDP.
  3. Higher revenue generated by the government if more people use public facilities such as parks, gardens, and mass transit etc.
  4. Less demand for infrastructure by the public: in the case of transportation, fewer cars using the roads, and in the case of healthcare, fewer patients using hospitals.

 

How do you think the government can do more?

I must strongly commend the efforts of the state government. Advocacy, partnerships, acts and programs have been adopted successfully to achieve its climate action plan within the year 2020-2025; particularly encouraging youth participation. However, I believe the government can do the following:

  1. A car-free day call: Could the government expand the car-free days to more areas of Lagos and have these regularly; maybe monthly, or quarterly? For, example, Kigali and Addis Ababa have monthly car-free days so citizens know that every month there are streets they can go to work, exercise and play safely. Many cities across Africa, for example, Brazzaville and Cape Town have also had regular open streets days.
  2. Develop more youth-led initiatives to preserve the environment; the current youth bulge is a potential for socio-political and economic impact if explored.
  3. Create incentives for users of the public mass transit system. e.g ride five times and get one ride free, discounts; like the “9 Euro tickets” adopted by Germany which changed the face of transportation.
  4. Facilitate climate education programs for all target groups in Lagos. This would include modifying the modes of education to incorporate technology, social media and games.
  5. Create more awareness of the benefits of living greener.
  6. Provide more accessible infrastructure and affordable supporting facilities through public-private partnerships.

 

What would you say to Lagos residents interested in supporting efforts for a healthier Lagos?

There are two approaches I would suggest:

 

Firstly, Start with yourself and your network: learn more about public health, green options and climate action. Some of which include:

  • Opting for solar-powered electricity.
  • Opting for public transportation, walking, and shared-ride services.
  • Increasing fresh plant-based consumption i.e vegetables, nuts and fruits.
  • Reducing, Re-using and recycling your clothes, appliances and plastic bottles.
    • Respecting and protecting green spaces such as parks and gardens.
    • Sensitize your circle of the benefits of living green: it has been proven that conversations are a great way to spread ideas. So, I implore you to start positively talking!

 

Secondly, Contribute to broader societal efforts:

Be an active citizen, supporting relevant ministries such as LASEPA, LAMATA, LAWMA, Ministry of Health and others to identify air pollution risks in the public spaces and seek out public participation opportunities to have your voice heard.

One way to do this is to join a social movement like UrbanBetter’s Cityzen4CleanAir that focuses on environmental activities. There will be more opportunities to join our Clean Air advocacy in November in Lagos as part of the COP27 global climate meeting to show that clean air is critical for health and climate action. You can kindly follow “UrbanBetter” on all social media platforms for more information.

In conclusion, it is my desire that in the next 5 years, Lagos attains zero net emission and achieves its climate action plan. And with emphasis on reducing “car” numbers, such that each citizen will not need to own a car to survive but can choose from existing effective public options in the future. It begins now with you and I!

Read more about work by the Cityzens4CleanAir and from other #UrbanBetter Disruptors.

..And you can follow Sumbo’s journey on Instagram and Twitter.

You may also find this interesting:

Air Of Excitement 

In this blog #UrbanBetter Disruptor, Waziri Mainasara Abubakar writes about his recent visit to a park in Lagos and what he discovered about the air quality at the park. “We spoke and he’ll be more than delighted

Cambridge-Africa Alborada funding programme