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Flaneuse - Envisioning a City for All

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The city is a wonderfully dizzying reminder of how infinite are our ways of being, of the incredible multiplicity of ways to live. This is how and why cities have long been spaces of liberation, agitation, the avant-garde. And how to flâner - the French word meaning to stroll, meander, wander, saunter - is a particular embodied, kaleidoscopic experience where we feel our selves in the city as we fill the city, as we are filled by the fullness of our experience, as we watch from a state of immersion. We are part of what we see.

The gaze goes both ways. We walk to see and to be seen; or, whether we want it or not; our presence is registered. We see and are seen.

The city exists in layers. Layers of architecture, layers of streets laid down on the terrain, layers of society, beliefs, dreams, that float above and intermingle with the physicality of the space. So too do beliefs and normativities lay upon people, impressed through glances, sneers, comments, violence, aggression, harassment, and also the internalized voices of repression. Voices, whether they come from neighbors, pedestrians, parents, or our own mind, tell us what it means to be a woman, to be a heroine, who we ought to be. When this is misaligned with our own experience, we exist in a constant state of battle--conscious or not. We press against these ideas that negate us. We are here, but not here. How to be here, then, just as ourselves? How to fill the city with our presence, with our fullness?

This publication is an attempt to do that. It is situated at the intersection of what we experience and what we imagine. It is grounded in multiplicity and multiple modalities of being and expressing. Writers, artists, scholars and activists envision a city for everyone, and they do so in their own voices and modes.

The publication is commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Abuja office (HBS), a German organisation affiliated to the German Green Party working with activists, thinkers and networkers in civil society, business and politics to stimulate public debate and action for a socially just and sustainable Nigeria, and actualized by the Lagos Urban Development Initiative (LUDI), an organisation that advocates for a more inclusive, livable, and sustainable Lagos. Deconstructing gendered power structures to achieve gender equality and gender democracy is a pillar of both HBS and LUDI’s work.

We open with Oluwatamilore Oni’s essay, which situates us in the present moment with a wide-ranging overview of the state of gender discrimination, particularly against women, in Nigeria and Lagos today. Artists Chidinma Chinke and Nengi Nelson illustrate this with their works interrogating and exposing the travails many women face moving through the city. Writer Alithnayn Abdulkareem contextualizes their artistic projects in the wider context of violence against women in public transport in Nigeria.

With Salimat Bakare we slide between dreamscapes and reality for a future-tense reverie of what the city might become; her woven narrative highlights architectural projects commissioned by HBS and LUDI for the Gender Perspective in Urban Planning and Design Labs in 2020 and 2021.

Victoria Okoye, a Ph.D. researcher at Sheffield University and Nigerian Diasporic writer working in Ghana, shares reflections from her own journey toward recognizing the contemporary coloniality that infuses much current scholarship and the evolution of her articulation of other ways of being, learning, sharing, and researching, grounded in Black, African and Diasporic theory. Her essay includes a reading list for anyone interested to go further, and her piece reminds us to continually reflect and question how we can disrupt imperialism and center alterity in every moment, and as we ponder urban spaces.

Ebunoluwa Akinbo probes normativities of heroism and centers her own definitions of nobility and strong character in her self-portrait series Ode to Heroines; an essay by Abdulkareem probes the radicalism embedded in this revolutionary self-assertion.

Portraits and stories from the intersex community posit Lagos as a space of relative freedom, in comparison to the tighter communities in rural villages. The series both celebrates and calls for broader acceptance of gender fluidity in our societies.

We hope that this publication will encourage readers to drive a public conversation about the potential of ignored citizens from all spheres to re-imagine their city and to effect changes that will be for the benefit of all. It complements the efforts of an all-female community research team, supported by the HBS Abuja office under its “Inclusive Megacity Lagos” program, who identified sustainable and inclusive solutions for their challenges, and enthusiastic young girls on Lagos Island who were eager to learn how to ride bicycles to enable them to change the power relations in the streets of their neighborhood.

We hope you wander freely through our offerings and share your own dreams and inspirations for a Lagos where everyone thrives.

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