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Time-Series Satellite Imagery Demonstrates the Progressive Failure of a City Master Plan to Control Urbanization in Abuja, Nigeria

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-12-03, 06:05 authored by Ibrahim A. Gumel, Paul Aplin, Christopher Marston, Jeremy Morley


Urbanization is a global phenomenon, but its negative effects are most pronounced in developing countries. While much urbanization in the global South is unplanned, there have been occasional attempts at strategic, large-scale urban planning. One example is Abuja, Nigeria, a new city with origins in a 1970s Master Plan. Here, we use multi-temporal remote sensing to investigate four decades of urbanization in Abuja, showing the extent to which urban development has matched original intentions. Seven Landsat images from 1975 to 2014 were selected to correspond with Master Plan milestones and turning points in Nigeria’s socio-political development. Land cover classification and change detection results show built-up land increasing rapidly, from 1,167 ha in 1975 to 18,623 ha in 2014, mostly converted from grassland, often via a pioneer bare soil class. Comparing image analysis against the Master Plan shows that, in the early years, Abuja’s development matched broad planning intentions fairly closely. 

Later, though, unplanned development proliferated, and the city’s resemblance to the Master Plan diminished progressively. Level of adherence to the Master Plan varied widely according to the system of government. Notably, after long-term military rule was replaced by a democratic government around the turn of the millennium, unplanned development increased sharply.