City of Impossibility


Not my line.  It was the title of a Harvard Design Magazine article (Winter/Spring 1997) by Michael Kirkland, focusing on how cities cope with massive growth.  I have no answer to the question yet, though George Packer seems to be on to something in his 2006 New Yorker article on the place.


As I drove across the lifeless but vast Leeki Lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge that links the north and south parts of this agglomeration of tin roofed shacks overlooking skyscrapers, lagoon towns on stilts next to McMansions built atop garbage, and mazes of highways, flyovers, and rutted avenues tightly lined with several decades of oil-boom and bust architecture, I found myself gasping in wonder at what these millions of lives in such close proximity are doing, and the speed at which everyone appears barely to be surviving.  11 to 15 million people, depending on your recent count, in a city whose sprawl sprawls, and yet it functions in many ways like a small African village:  frequent power outages throughout the day such that anyone who tries to function with the 21st century planet must have a sizeable generator for urban life, and at least one giant jacuzzi-sized diesel tub to keep it refuelled, and the property to house all this stuff.  I thought Sao Paolo was blade runner in the tropics.  Lagos takes the prize.


So far, it only feels overwhelming, and not terribly dangerous.  Though Seun Kuti joked with me this morning:  “Don’t come to Lagos if you don’t know anyone here.  I don’t care if you know all nine degrees of Shaolin Kung Fu.”  That comment’s  been tempered though by everyone’s warmth and their desire to make a good impression, making me, as one young man told me last night at the New Afrika Shrine, “a good ambassador for Nigeria” once I get back to America and tell them that all the bad things they’ve heard are just media hype.

And speaking of hype, what’s the deal with Red Bull?  It seems everytime I go somewhere, the uber-caffeine-loaded beverage has just been ramping up its marketing there.  First it was in the Sahara desert in Libya three years ago at the eclipse observation camp:  Red Bull had sponsored a tent there, was giving away product and schwag, and was pumping out appropriately-frantic house music into the peaceful night sky.  Now at the Shrine, not only was Red Bull donating two garish neon signs plugging the drink.  One of them got hung right next to a portrait of the late socialist president of Burkina Faso, Capt. Thomas Sankara.  What would Sankara think?  What riot would Fela incite?

A Shrine laborer from Benin City gets wiring ready for the Red Bull sign

A Shrine laborer from Benin City gets wiring ready for the Red Bull sign


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