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Port Harcourt, Alternatives for urban renewal

Port Harcourt, Alternatives for urban renewal, NIGERIA, february 2010

Port Harcourt Waterfront looking north over Aggrey Estate towards the State Secretariat

A new report from urban development specialists at the Max Lock Centre (University of Westminster) gives further reason for concern over Rivers State's plan for sweeping demolitions of slum housing.
The scale of the issue- up to 500,000 could be displaced by Port Harcourt demolitions - and its potential impact – remains obvious. If well developed, ideas from the report could support a renewal of southern Port Harcourt that would greatly exceed expectations and provide a much needed economic and social boost.

1. Executive summary

Purpose of study: The study outlines a long term, sustainable, urban plan-based solution to the current conflict of interest involving the Rivers State Government and residents of the Port Harcourt Waterfront communities whose neighbourhoods are under threat of demolition. It is intended to be the preliminary, scoping phase of a more extensive, in-depth main study to be undertaken in 2010, aimed at
meeting needs both of the government and the existing population.

Waterfront as a development opportunity:

In the regeneration of the Waterfront area, It is important to look at land development opportunities and redevelopment issues within the context of a careful consideration of both demand and supply side constraints, the broader human and physical development priorities of the city, and the current planning policy context. We argue in this report that neither wholesale demolition nor wholesale retention of the informal Waterfront settlements is viable when looked at in the context of the longer term planning issues facing the city.

A long-term planning approach: Whilst we respect and accept the evenhandedness of the UN Habitat Report which reports on the demolition policy in Port Harcourt, it is not our aim, in this report to comment on the legal aspects of this policy. A long-term planning approach to the sustainable regeneration of the Waterfront can contribute to helping defuse the current polarised situation as well as increase the land value of the waterfront, rehabilitate its degrading environment and allow all the residents of central Port Harcourt to integrate into the future prosperity and security of the regeneration of the Old City and its Waterfront. Key findings:Tackled correctly, the Waterfront Area offers a tremendous potential to restore the fast fading image of the Port Harcourt Garden City concept. A strategic urban regeneration plan, carried out across the Waterfront in a systematic and sequential manner, will not only enable Rivers State Government to realise the broader objectives of the 2009 Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan. It
is essential to the effective implementation of that plan. A revitalised Waterfront is also essential to the broader regeneration of the Old City and to the image that Port Harcourt presents to the world as a modern 21st century city.

Subject to a proper financial and technical appraisal, a policy of large scale reclamation of new Waterfront areas on ‘infill’ locations close to the city centre can offer multiple advantages. It can allow for the ordered relocation of existing informal Waterside settlements and the release of land for urban renewal, or permit a reduction in density and upgrading of those settlements to decent modern standards. It can facilitate major development – both commercial and lowincome – that can realise significant economies of scale, and provide a major boost to the local economy and employment.

Sustainable development: Not least, such a policy can be used as a lever for major investment in the sustainability of the Waterfront
Area. Large scale reclamation of mangrove areas immediately adjacent to the Old City offers the opportunity of providing long
term protection against flood and the uncertainties of climate change and rising sea levels. The remaining mangrove areas can become protected natural areas – maintaining a balance between traditional wetlands economic activities, providing a refuge for local flora and fauna and offering the possibility of ‘eco-tourism’ and the controlled development of ‘eco lodges’. Port Harcourt could establish itself at the international forefront of sustainable mangrove development in the face of the twin pressures of urban expansion and climate change, with a proposed new research
institute to monitor the impacts of change in the Niger River Delta.

Urban planning and development control: Development control is a pressing issue. Informal land reclamation and settlement is extending the area of unplanned development into the mangrove and creating an ever-larger population of settlers living in sub standard conditions. Ongoing informal development threatens destruction of the natural mangrove habitat which is an important natural asset that provides a refuge for wildlife and a source of rich local biodiversity. The mangroves provide a natural barrier against surge flooding, the dangers of which are likely to grow over time with predicted climate change and rising sea levels.

Achieving the MDGs: The UN Millennium Development Goals, under Goal 7 (‘Ensure environmental sustainability’) requires participating national states, including Nigeria, to work towards achieving a target of a ‘significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020’. According to this commitment, any plan for the regeneration of the Waterfront area needs to include policies that can contribute to improving the quality of life of the existing residents – whether or not they are relocated or remain where they are living at present.

The number of people affected by the demolition policy: The total estimated population of the Waterside communities considered by this study is 481,900. Some 27,800 have already been affected in the Abonnema Wharf area demolitions. Of the remaining total, an estimated 71,100 live in
formally planned, GRA-type settlements, which we assume will not be threatened by the demolition policy. If the whole of Port Harcourt
Waterfront is considered the total may be much higher than this Study Area total of some 410,000 people, threatened to a greater or lesser extent
by the demolitions policy. We will examine this in more detail in any next stage.

Waterfront communities as an asset to Port Harcourt: Although largely engaged in informal economic activities, this population represents a substantial proportion of the city’s workforce and is therefore essential to its economic functioning.1 The city’s economy and Rivers State as a whole would undoubtedly be undermined should the population of the waterfront communities decide to ‘return to their villages’, which is the implied policy intention of a ‘compensate and demolish’ as opposed to an urban regeneration approach. Of course, this mass exodus will not happen. Instead, unless it is accompanied by a vast programme of planned relocation, mass eviction is likely to add enormously to the informal land development pressures on the city periphery, and to the friction delaying the implementation of the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan to the north of the city centre, possibly throwing it into disarray.

The options: Our study considers four separate alternatives to the current Rivers State Government (RSG) approach of demolition and clearance of the unplanned Waterfront areas without relocation and resettlement of the population, but with compensation paid to property owners. Depending upon location and local conditions, they may be used separately or in combination. These are:
a) Commercial redevelopment of appropriately and strategically located sites with remote off-site resettlement
b) Commercial redevelopment of appropriately and strategically located sites with land sharing/on site resettlement
c) Upgrading and improvements to existing low income, informal neighbourhoods
d) Mixed development on newly reclaimed infill areas: towards a new Garden City solution

Detailed examination and realisation of practical proposals for the first three alternatives will need to be carried out in the next phase since they will involve a detailed study of the individual communities and settlements where they might be used.

New Garden City development on reclaimed infill sites is examined in more detailed conceptual terms in this preliminary study, since it takes place on new land without disturbance to existing settlements and communities. Our recommendation is that, subject to further feasibility investigations, and in combination with the other alternatives outlined above where appropriate, it should form the main element of an future plan for regeneration of the Port Harcourt Waterfront.

The Garden City development would be sustainably planned around four complementary land use typologies:
a) Commercial, mixed use development
b) Educational and community uses
c) Medium density residential development
d) High density, mixed use development

Each Garden City settlement would incorporate landscaping and water features that would enhance the new development and provide buffer strips between the different zones as appropriate. Substantial flood and erosion control measures to address the long term climate change issues would form part of the new development.

In the study we identify about 360 hectares of infill land that could be reclaimed as a matter of priority. In the medium and high density development zones around 100,000 could be resettled in these new locations, if existing Waterfront owners and tenants were given some degree of priority in the allocations procedure.

A phased Waterfront urban regeneration plan would consist of a rolling programme of large scale Garden City infill developments and Waterfront urban renewal projects. In the second phase of this study we will carry out a more extensive survey to get a more accurate profile of the existing housing markets and the different niches within it. This will enable us to better match proposed supply to current and projected demand. It will provide the basis for a co-ordinated sequence of action plans for the Waterfront area.

It is important that the development of the Waterfront areas is addressed through appropriate forms of public-private partnership, as noted in the UN-HABITAT Mission Report. New development on a large scale on substantial infill sites within a protected and attractive Garden City setting is likely to attract the interest of major developers and investors. Substantial investment in basic infrastructure, including flood defences and land reclamation would be required and this could be funded, in whole or part, through commercial development. International development finance would be sought to support investment in flood-protection infrastructure. A Port Harcourt Urban Regeneration Partnership will be established to manage the implementation of the Urban Regeneration Strategy.

In considering re-settlement from the point of view of sustainability, our aim has been to replicate the existing low cost rental market in the new development through the ‘Tenant-Financed Housing Model’ rather than by providing the typical single-family ‘low-cost’ flat. At the same time, re-settlement should be achieved as part of a wellplanned and co-ordinated programme of large scale urban development and renewal, which would offer massive economies of scale and employment opportunities.