An Exploration of the Characteristics of the Indicators of a Sustainability Assessment Framework for Neighbourhood Developments in Metropolitan Lagos Nigeria

  • Ayomikun Solomon Adewumi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Rapid urban population growth possesses an ongoing and future sustainability challenge, as it is predicted that 68 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities by the year 2050. This means that the battle for sustainability will be won or lost in cities, further raising significant concerns on how to make urban areas sustainable. Some key efforts in addressing this challenge can be seen on two fronts. One is the recognition of the neighbourhoods, and the neighbourhood scale as a necessary building block of cities. Two is the acknowledgement that neighbourhoods can be viewed as products of a rational planning and decision-making process. These two understandings have converged and heralded Neighbourhood Sustainability Assessment Frameworks (NSAFs) which permit sustainability aspects to be integrated at the decision-making windows of a new development.

To date, whilst NSAFs have been developed and applied in western countries, areas such as Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) where urbanisation is rapidly expanding, have in contrast seen little empirical work towards their context-specific NSAFs. Yet the extent to which existing NSAFs designed for the western world, can be transferred to another context remains a significant question because the NSAFs are designed to suit a particular set of values, aspirations and needs. This is both a problem and a challenge, in terms of how urban areas in SSA contexts, can be systematically steered towards sustainability. This study has therefore been formulated to explore the characteristics of the indicator set of a NSAF that can be used in the decision-making process and development of neighbourhoods in metropolitan Lagos.

To acknowledge that the concept of sustainability in SSA may be subject to its own unique issues has led to the use of critical realism as a philosophical stance which allows the practical realities of the context to inform and shape the interpretations of findings. This is appropriate in this study to interpret data that is generated within a context, and its correct interpretation would only make sense when analysed and understood with a keen eye to the understandings and priorities within that local context. This suggested the embedded and convergent mix-method approach, involving both textual and numeric data, leading to inductive and deductive analysis respectively.

Findings from the study not only helped establish a set of probable indicators that may be applicable; but also unearthed a complexity in stakeholders’ understanding of what a sustainable neighbourhood means within the metropolitan Lagos as several definitions emerged. The stakeholders’ understanding suggests that such aspects like liveability is crucial in defining sustainability at the neighbourhood level. This tension between stakeholders’ reference to elements of sustainability and/or liveability, when trying to define sustainability at the neighbourhood scale, raises a challenge in the validity of NSAFs ability to capture and represent sustainability at that scale of application.

This study concludes that the indicators set of a NSAF cannot be transferred directly for use in another context without some empirical basis prior to its integration into the decision-making process of a new neighbourhood development. It calls for caution as to the extent to which the indicators can be balanced between what is essentially a reference to liveability, rather than sustainability from the perspective of resources flow. In terms of theory, the findings and insight further open the debate of the applicability of the indicator set, especially in other SSA cities, questioning to what extent true sustainability can be promoted through NSAFs. The empirically established set of sustainability indicators in metropolitan Lagos, provide a benchmark for more intense debate. In practice, stakeholders can now be better informed in selecting and prioritising indicators in the decision-making process of a new neighbourhood, as well as guard against the weaknesses of this approach.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorVincent Onyango (Supervisor), Dumiso Moyo (Supervisor) & Husam Al Waer (Supervisor)

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