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Urban development and Inequality: How is it interpreted?

Urban development and Inequality: How is it interpreted?

          In the book Graceland by Chris Abani fear plays a specific role to the characters. In the story the reader learns about a man named Elvis. The novel moves back and forth between Elvis life in the slums of Lagos, and his past growing up in rural Afikpo. What is interesting about this story is the role of fear plays social class and politics. In the novel’s depiction of lagos is the poor and working class deal with inequality and urban development, while wealthy take advantage of the lower class through labor. Through urban development places in the city of Lagos are changing to attract more wealth. Politics in the city of Lagos are corrupt (178). Government officials are turning a blind eye to events or contribute to them. People who are trying to help change the city for the better are killed (302) or thrown in prison (291). This is all Elvis the character in the novel is surrounded by.

          Fear plays a large role with politics, social class, masculinity, and religion but we are only focusing on politics and social class . In the novel as Elvis progresses his fear increases with every choice he makes.

          In a recent article in The Guardian to the centrality of fear in Abani’s depiction of Lagos group of wealthy people specifically the Lebanese brother who run a financial empire called the Chagoury Group.

          The official story is a city in construction called Eko Atlantic, a city whose sole purpose is to supply clean energy, job opportunities, prosperity, new land, and safety from the impacts of climate change. According to the article “Sixty percent of Nigeria's population – almost 100 of 170 million people – live on less than a dollar a day”. How could Nigerians afford this if they are living off less than a dollar a day? This new city is obviously meant for wealthy Nigerians or outsiders not navie to the country. Luckas explains, “In places like Eko Atlantic the escape, a moral and social secession of the rich from those in their country”. Luckas adds on by say “Prepare for the elite, like never before, to use climate change to transform neighbourhoods, cities, even entire nations into heavily fortified islands”. This sound exactly like Operation Clean the City in Graceland (270). In Graceland the city of Lagos was under urban development and the results were that people become more influenced by American capitalism. Meaning wealthy people outside the country began to invest in areas of Lagos. Change in the book Graceland takes on many forms but the one that stood out was fear.

          Fear began to make the people of Lagos look away in certain situations. Fear made people in government corrupt, for instances the colonel he commits human trafficking. Fear began the crusade of urban development the goal to bring lagos to a more modern time but all it did was bring equality. The idea of fear just connected right there.

          In this article Urban Development: The Importance of Public Administration by Herbert H. Werlin, Werlin explains a theory called Political Elasticity (PE). PE suggests that as countries growing political power takes “rubber band” and “balloon” like characteristics. Growing political power is navie people of a country obtain wealth/funding from outside or unknown sources. Political power is able to be delegated in many different ways. Through political power politicians are able to affect predictably in behavior of subordinates and the general public. PE theory connects to urban development. When PE happens in a city these aspects are what someone would look out for (1):

(a) the mixing of soft and hard forms of political power

(b) the delegation and control of political power

(c) responsiveness to regulations

(d) equality of human relationships

(f) problem-solving capacity

          Werlin further explains that PE theory, politics will eventually transform into Social Energy. Social Energy is politics being manipulated by the wealthy. Political power falls farther away from the common man and stays close to the socially privileged (The Wealthy). Democracy would be meaningless or counterproductive. Corruption, greed, and lack of government causing people to take law into their own hands. Lastly decentralization is having a lack of faith in one's country. Everything that is explained is just the tip of the iceberg of far this theory goes. Werlin’s theory makes sense because in Graceland we see a lot of examples of this: (a) Sunday’s political campaign run (176-178), (b) Elvis being fired for no reason (73), (c) The colonel (119-123), (d) The king’s speech (155-156). Finally the role of “fear” is shown in Graceland because in the book when Sunday runs in political office his opponent using money to win over people and lies of improving the country to win. Sunday follows the traditional way of running for office he goes door to door, Sunday talks to people, while his opponent has a helicopter fly over people and rain money on them.

          Graceland illustrates how urban development keeps the poor on their feet literally moving one place to the next. The issue of population growth in both Lagos in Graceland and Lagos in the real world share this struggle of fighting corruption. In this article “Reclaiming Lagos”, by Will Connors explains how the city is more than people think. Connors start’s his article with a question “Where to house the 6,000 who move there every day?” Connors asked this question because urban development, always keeps the poor on there feet. Most people who are poor never really sleep in the same place twice every night. For example Elvis sleeps in many different locations: Redemptions house (123), Sunday’s house (252), and Bridge City (309). Due to a series of bad weather there are places in Lagos there are large pieces of land that wealthy businessmen buy and change to make a profit. These pieces of land are renamed as land-reclamation projects. The 6,000 people per day is important to remember because there contributing to Lagos’s population of 15 million to 18 million. According to Connors Lagos generates $85 million in revenue a month according to Government officials. But yet there are slums and people who can’t even stay in the same place twice. Where is this money going?. Shouldn’t there be publicly funded places where people can have a roof over their head. Most money that is generated goes to private spending people. Connors briefly talks about a man named Samuek Aiye Yemi “Samuel Aiye Yemi knows the government-controlled land his community lives on would bring those fantastic returns for developers. Yemi is the chairman of the neighborhood group that represents flood-affected shopkeepers like Grace Emah, and as he walks past fetid water and piles of garbage, pointing to where the drains used to be, he shrugs. "We are not against the megacity project. We embrace it. But we don't want the government to flush us out," he says.”. Connors shines light on this corrupt politician, who is trusted by his community to do right by them.

          Sunday and The King still live in an old period of time and the fighting to keep these traditional values alive. Sunday still has this old school mentality that a man’s name is everything, living in an era of honor and respect. A man’s honor is his life. While The King tries to remind people that we must stick together, help one another, and stop being divided. (155) To not let Capitalism control us, it only divides us and makes us weaker. But sadly as Elvis says “Things won’t go back to the way they were”(156). Sunday fear’s the idea of honor being worthless, it has no value because only the other elders respect him. “In dis place, it used to be dat all you had was your” (187). Other members of his family put that sense of honor in jeopardy. Plus Sunday has build his name from nothing as he describes “We were nobody”(187). “I built our name up with honor until it became a force to be reckoned with.” (187) “I have never had much money, but I had a name dat opened doors” (187). He was a servant that came from nothing and he had to fight for his family name to mean something but the times have changed. Honor is replaced but money. The role of fear for the king people subjecting themselves to capitalism, leting the role of money control their lives. Allowing American ideas splitting them up from traditional valves. As Werlin and Connor point out, money changes politics (179).

          Corruption continues to exist in Lagos, as it does in New York City and elsewhere. Corruption is defined as dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery. How this research is defining corruption as the course of dishonestly followed by fall of a government. Which then its people can not trust. In the book Graceland the King is talking about us and our way of life as corrupt (155). Income inequality, police brutality, profit over people, these are our corruptions. Yes, New York City like all other places in the world isn’t perfect. Yes there are people in Nigeria who fight against corrupt politics but so do New Yorkers. In this case the king brings up good points but as much as The King may dislike american ideology, american ideology is all for fighting corruption.

          Analyzing fear in Graceland and these articles has made me indifferent towards the wealthy. More importantly I learned that money and power change people. Fear is the product of corruption and once people fear you, it's hard to fight against it. Lastly urban development I never really knew what it meant but more important how land, a piece of space can be a foundation for change. As one area changes, another area transforms by it. It's a domino effect. Then the end game to make a product off other people and kick out the ones who can’t afford to keep up. Then life after begin kick out and demoted down the social ladder, it really makes you think. It all starts out as, we are just trying to help make things better.

                                                                           Work Cited

      Herbert, H. Werlin. "Urban Development: The Importance of Public Administration." The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies 35.4 (2010): 450-73.

          ProQuest. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. Luckas, Martin. "New, Privatized African City Heralds Climate Apartheid." The Guardian . N.p., 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

          Abani, Chris, Graceland New York, N.Y. , 2004

          Connors, Will. "Reclaiming Lagos." Time 172.10 (2008): 5-6. Military & Government Collection. Web. 11 Nov. 2015



I totally agree with this post. We see signs of corruption everywhere. I was recently reading the New York Times and spotted an article on politiical corruption. It was an article of our former Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver. He was inovlved in money-laundering for trading political favors. So as we can see capitalism is rampant among the world. I like your explanation of how governement offical and "elites" are turning a blind eye. 


I believe that people who think "How can government in poor nations have corruption," should give this post a read. It is because, over the years, I have met people who thinks that way about the government in poor nations. It is nice of you to point out that whether the nation is poor or not, the government can have corruption through the use of the New York City. Indeed, we do see corruptions in United States regarding politicians and police officers lately.