In Nigeria, a vast majority of its population lives and works in rural areas, two thirds to be exact. These rural areas tend to offer huge land surfaces and agriculture serves as the mainstay of its local economy. In Nigeria, agriculture has the potential to create 65% of the country’s jobs. Yet rural areas have lacked consistent investments in agriculture by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers. As a result, per capita food production has barely grown since the advent of democracy in Nigeria, with agriculture only representing 40% of GDP as at 2012. It is not surprising then that over 60%of Nigeria’s people live in poverty and many flee to the cities, where they usually swell the ranks of the unemployed or the informal workforce.
Naturally, people prefer to live in cities because there are more opportunities, services and greater personal fulfilment. We are confronted with two widely believed myths: that successful business and economic development must stay focused on metropolitan locations to maximise transportation and labour costs; and that many of our small towns and villages are in distress and even though the unsettling of the countryside may be a national tragedy, it amounts to no more than a natural process that will continue to occur over the next century. Are these myths perception or reality and can they be changed?
Around the world, urbanisation is expected to become the defining trend over the next several decades as more than half of the world’s population will reside in cities. The development of cities will play a vital role in the ability of a nation to achieve sustainable growth and development. Cities are responsible for the bulk of production and consumption worldwide, and are primarily the engines of economic growth. However, rural areas will remain vital to the sustainability of cities. Rural areas are expected to be the modern centres of agricultural production for internal consumption and external export of high demand goods such as cocoa, maize and palm kernel. As such, it is important for a developing nation like Nigeria to consider innovative and efficient solutions countering the definition of rural environments.
One of these possible solutions is transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD is a development pattern that is focused on its proximity and reliance on high-frequency transit. TOD often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership while dissuading the ownership of automobiles. A TOD neighbourhood typically has a centre with a transit station or stop (train station, metro station, tram stop, or bus stop) surrounded by relatively high-density development with progressively lower-density development spreading outward from the centre. TODs generally are located within a radius of one-quarter to one-half mile (400m to 800m) from a transit stop, as this is considered to be an appropriate scale for pedestrians.
TOD is an efficient system that will be suitable for rural communities in Nigeria because it combines transportation infrastructure, housing and commercial development. It can turn vacant land or run-down neighbourhoods into vibrant communities that can also accommodate affordable housing. In addition, by providing access to public transit, it reduces the need for cars (which households that need affordable housing may not be able to afford), links residents to employment and vital services, and raises the value of land in the surrounding area.
Hong Kong provides a good example of TOD. Over the past four decades, the city added 1.4 million households in the New Territories, across the harbour from Hong Kong Island. Extensive railway networks connect the New Territories to the island and extend across the city: 43% of residents and 56% of jobs in Hong Kong are located within 500m of rail and metro stations, and 90% of all journeys take place on public transport.
The Mass Transit Railway Corporation builds, maintains, and operates the network without subsidies by generating around 50% of its revenue from developing and renting or selling commercial and residential property on developments around station areas. The residential property around the stations includes a sizable mix of affordable housing. While affordable housing continues to be an area of public debate in Hong Kong, its smart transit-oriented development strategy has been important to the city’s transition from a low-cost manufacturing location to an increasingly wealthy services-based economy ensuring development of rural areas to urban sustainable cities. Also, with the transport links provided by TOD, farmers in rural areas now have access to the larger market across new territories, thereby efficiently equating demand with supply and drastically reducing the need for and cost of storage.
TOD, therefore, holds great promise for successful rural development in Nigeria. It can create compact, dense, well-connected communities with mixed-use (residential and commercial) developments that are within walking distance of public transportation. Importantly, TOD can be largely self-funding. There is a strong link between transit infrastructure and property values, with prices rising 30% to 60% in neighbourhoods with new transit stations. Part of that incremental value can be captured to finance both the new infrastructure and provision of sustainable cities.
Contributing Author: Abdulhakeem Sadiq