Cities are people too

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In January this year I posted on my Facebook page asking: 'Who are your five favourite cities in the world?' Responses came en masse: Lagos, London, Mumbai, New York, Havana, Florence, Paris, Calabar, Dublin, San Francisco, Budapest, Venice, Delhi, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Barcelona, Ibadan, Chicago, Maputo, Perth ...

Chris Johnston cartoonAn interesting response came from Kabura Zakama; he mentioned his favourite cities as: Safiya, Aliyu, Ibrahim, Amina and Thlama. The names Kabura gave were not names of physical locations but of people — apparently these are loved ones.

What Kabura did was to connect to the intent of my question: that vision that cities are not mere settings, they are as well tangible and are at once personifications.

The responses didn't end there; a friend messaged me to say, 'David, cities are not "who".' It was easy to see that he meant a case for my grammatical use of 'who'. I replied: 'I chose "who" intentionally. For me, cities are people.'

The design, the functioning of a city has shown that a city becomes the fear and fantasy of its makers, users and dwellers. So it is important what understanding we make for places of birth, work, worship, food, fun, art, green and blue spaces, etc.

Whatever city development process is to be adopted, the spirit of community is key — landscape to networks to streets to public spaces to buildings. The approach ought to center on the fact that human needs and behaviours vary, and so cities automatically take the shape of the sensibilities of people.

This idea of cities as people is simply to widen development and its control into a participatory process, where every member of a city feels a sense of belonging. It is the creation of a lively, safe, sustainable and inclusive society — a society where bridges and buildings, closed and open spaces, goods and services altogether cater to all classes of flora and fauna.


"Jacob's favourite cities are peace, rainbow, jazz, cherubim and home. The deduction from this is that the making of peace and love is the same as the making of a city."


Back to the question I put: there was an interesting response from Jacob Jagaba. His favourite cities are peace, rainbow, jazz, cherubim and home. One immediately sees the symbols Jacob's seeking to making.

The deduction from this is that the making of peace and love is the same as the making of a city. Consequently, a city is no place for living or work if there are no possibilities for communication, coexistence, compassion and celebration.

I see this hypothesis of cities as people as a strong and sustainable intervention for the adverse conditions of our cities in Nigeria, where both government and citizens take towns as objects unimportant to the collective progress of the nation. Arguably, the wealth of a nation is in its unity. As crucial is the health of a people, and so the overall state of a city.

In the same way that there is time for everything, there is a place for everything and everyone — a living place, both social and structural. And just as Kabura mentioned his loved ones as cities, we would mention that our loved ones are those places that inspire us and stimulate our senses of self, imagination and security.

It was Jan Gehl who said: 'A good city is like a good party. People don't want to leave early.' So there, we can make very good parties in Nigeria.



David Ishaya OsuDavid Ishaya Osu is a Nigerian poet. His poems have appeared in: Atlas Poetica: A Journal of World Tanka, Birmingham Arts Journal, Tipton Poetry Journal, Watershed Review, The Missing Slate and elsewhere.

Topic tags: David Ishaya Osu, cities, urban planning, Nigeria



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Existing comments

Within cities there can be a huge disparity between rich and poor, between high rise and wide open spaces. Cities are people and it should come as no surprise that the wealth of people living in cities derives from connection, communication and creativity. It doesn't take (much) money to build those but it does take the whole city to contribute. And then we can party!
Pam | 30 April 2018


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