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The Megacity
December 11, 2007 1:09 PM   Subscribe

"The really disturbing thing about Lagos’s pickers and venders is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours. They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics. They are, in the harsh terms of globalization, superfluous." The Megacity, George Packer in Lagos.
posted by afu (25 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Via
posted by afu at 1:14 PM on December 11, 2007


A tragic tale indeed, but you don't have to look farther for similar types of stories than the good old US of A.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:23 PM on December 11, 2007


The place sounds primed for the invisible hand to sweep-in all those jobs from the overpaid Mumbai workers.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:28 PM on December 11, 2007


"This is Lagos"

Excellent reading - I paged through it after the earlier askmefi, too.
posted by jquinby at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2007


Interesting piece. Although I wish the New Yorker would try and say things in less than 10,000 words sometimes.
posted by rhymer at 2:06 PM on December 11, 2007


Fascinating essay.
posted by Spacelegoman at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2007


And maybe a bit of numerical care too. There are 6 billion people on the face of the planet. In one paragraph, we hear "around a billion people live in slums" and that they are about to double from 2.5 to 5 billion (wow, they just had a 250% explosion right there) and then "nearly a quarter of the world's popluation -- more than 2 billion people --" WTF? The global population is bouncing around, making me dizzy.
posted by fcummins at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2007


A good point to reference the United Nation's Population Fund - State of the World Population, 2007.
posted by iamck at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2007


The first few pages were interesting, but eventually I was paging ahead just to read the cartoons.

This reminds me, the Insitute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) recently had a feature on megacities in their general-interest publication. New York City, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tokyo, and Sao Paolo were profiled. Lagos was briefly described in an article titled How Not to Make a Megacity.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:13 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well that's a long way from Things Fall Apart.

Isale Eko is the oldest and densest part of Lagos Island. Every square foot is claimed by someone—for selling, for washing, even for sleeping—and there is almost no privacy. Many residents sleep outdoors.


This sounds like a scene straight out of Soylent Green.
posted by XMLicious at 3:34 PM on December 11, 2007


The bridge is easy to pick out on Google Earth - you can clearly see the floating logs near the mainland side of the bridge. A goodly number of Panoramio pictures, too.
posted by jquinby at 4:38 PM on December 11, 2007


Thanks for the link--that was an incredibly interesting read. A number of XOs are in Nigeria right now, and I can't help picturing some kind of William Gibson-esque dystopia of high technology and abject destitution if they make it down to Lagos in large numbers.

I'd also like to point out that Rem Koolhaas is an incredible asshole. Just incredible.
posted by postcommunism at 5:50 PM on December 11, 2007


fcummins: They're different numbers, I think. Still reading the article, but the first number of one billion is the number of people living in slums, the second one, set to increase from 2.5 billion to 5 billion, is the total urban population of the world.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:13 PM on December 11, 2007


Awesome post.
posted by rollbiz at 6:20 PM on December 11, 2007


I don't know if anyone else got this far but the author actually got an in-person offer of the "Nigerian prince needs help transferring money" spam.
posted by XMLicious at 7:46 PM on December 11, 2007


XMl, I got there. What was also interesting was the requesting party's response and the reaction to it.
posted by rollbiz at 7:56 PM on December 11, 2007


A tragic tale indeed, but you don't have to look farther for similar types of stories than the good old US of A.

Someday, in some bright future, someone will make a MetaFilter post about poverty or hardship in Africa without anyone feeling the burning need to point out that there is also poverty and hardship in the United States. It happens virtually every time, and it seems to reflect an odd cultural bias, as if the commenter is indicating that we shouldn't necessarily be looking at or talking about "third world" poverty as long as there's poverty in the US. It's a curiously twisted variant of "USA! Number 1!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:58 PM on December 11, 2007


From the article: "'Everywhere is market,' Stephen Omojoro said as we drove around. “There’s no dull area at all.” It’s hard to decide if the extravagant ugliness of the cityscape is a sign of vigor or of disease—a life force or an impending apocalypse."

As I read this, the first thing that sprang to my mind was cancer. The unchecked growth, the incredible effort expended by each individual with no gain to the whole or to themselves, the fact that the entire enterprise is constantly growing due to faulty information. Lagos sounds like a giant, social malignancy - driven by the urge of its residents to increase their individual wealth with no thought to the general good or even the actual likelihood of their own success.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:59 PM on December 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


Drokk!
posted by Artw at 8:41 PM on December 11, 2007


They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics. They are, in the harsh terms of globalization, superfluous.

Isn't that true of almost all of us, though? If I snuff it tomorrow, the world is going to carry on without a hitch.

Nonetheless, it's hella better to have my life than a Lagosian's. What a brutal, crushing existence.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:25 PM on December 11, 2007


A short piece on Lagos by Mariana Von Zeller for Current, via BoingBoing.
posted by ooga_booga at 11:31 PM on December 11, 2007


Every square foot is claimed by someone—for selling, for washing, even for sleeping—and there is almost no privacy. Many residents sleep outdoors.

This sounds like a scene straight out of Soylent Green.


Just as a sort of lateral example, I lived for a year in India, and one of the most indelible images in a nation overflowing with them was of the road crews on the Grand Trunk Road headed north out of Delhi. I figure we were probably just beyond Gurgaon (now an outsourcing hub) on a night bus to the mountains, and I was watching it all pass chaotically by when I noticed there was some sort of . . . lumpiness recurring intermittently on the median. On maybe the third brief flash in the bus' headlights, I figured out what it was: bodies. The road crews were sleeping on the median strip, lined up like logs, perpendicular to the road. The median was about a foot wider than a tall Indian, so their heads were maybe two feet at most from the grinding wheels, the belching exhaust pipes, the roar of the engines and shriek of horns.

To be able to sleep in those conditions. To be that exhausted. I think about that quite often. I should probably be ashamed of how grateful I am to not be one of those road workers.
posted by gompa at 12:33 AM on December 12, 2007 [4 favorites]


I stumbled across this pdf put together as a guide for Shell employees stationed in Lagos. The expat bubble is an interesting contrast with the conditions described in the article.
posted by pandaharma at 1:45 AM on December 12, 2007


What Thorzad said -- scavengers in Lagos are the beating heart of globalization. In a world with limited or no trade barriers, underemployed people are a richer natural resource than oil or copper or anything you could name. With a bit of reliable industrial infrastructure and reliable legal protections for property and contract, those scavengers can become an immense source of wealth, a meaningful portion of which will redound to their personal benefits (see the increased standards of living in India and China.)
posted by MattD at 7:10 AM on December 12, 2007


The expat bubble is an interesting contrast with the conditions described in the article.
Man alive, you're not kidding.

All I know is that 419eater.com doesn't seem nearly as funny to me now as it used to.
posted by jquinby at 8:18 AM on December 12, 2007


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