By Kunle Owolabi
Cities all over the world acquire reputation of being visitors’ and tourists’ haven because of their beauties.
And cities are not just beautiful but are products of careful planning by the leaders or rulers of such cities.
Today, people celebrate Dubai. The city, in the heart of the Middle East, rose to prominence less than two decades ago.
That the city of Dubai now plays host to tourists, business men and women, world top sporting activities, political, economic and education summits is a testimony to the vision and planning virtuoso of one of the country’s greatest leader, Sheikh Rashid Makhtoum.
Not quite long ago, we used to hear the phrase: ‘See Paris and die’. It was nothing but the planned beauty of the French capital city.
So also for the outstanding recreational and aesthetic beauty of Orlando’s Disney World in Florida, United State, which attracts millions of tourists yearly from all over the world.
This is perhaps the motivational force that propelled the government of Osun to embark on total reconstruction and planning of some of its ancient cities for upward upgrade to modern cities that will attract visitors and tourists alike.
This turnaround of the ancient cities to modern ones is part of a massive Urban Renewal project of the Rauf Aregbesola administration in the last five years.
Nine cities were penciled down for renewal at a go, a massive and ambitious project indeed for a state like Osun.
This giant initiative has once been described as the biggest exercise in the whole of Nigeria since United Nations’ Habitat began a collaboration with states in Nigeria.
Under this programme, cities in Osun will witness a telling turnaround in planning, beautification, aesthetics, social facilities.
Today, Osogbo, the capital of the state is gradually shedding its ancient toga and metamorphosing into modern city.
To say that the city is undergoing noticeable change in a seamless fashion might just be an understatement.
Anybody who has not visited for some time now is bound to be taken aback by the consistent change the city now wears.
One huge area of change is the center point of the city. Called old garage, the place used to be an hideout for criminals and miscreants. Dirty, unkempt and haphazardly planned!
It was an eyesore of the city and unattractive to both towns’ people and visitors. But that was years gone bye.
The situation has changed dramatically that people, who have not visited couple of years now find it difficult to maneuver their ways round the city.
No longer the dirty Old Garage but newly beautified Nelson Mandela Freedom Park, this recreational arena has astoundingly changed the terrain and landscape of the city.
The usual dark, waterlogged, dark-alley, bloodshot-eyed hemp smoking youths pictorial views have all disappeared.
Days and nights are no longer easily distinguishable in this city center any time of the day one visits.
Pleasantly expansive, the whole Freedom Park has been tarred and street-lit. Equipped with a big hall for restaurants, events arena and a water fountain called the Atewogbeja Water
Fountain, there park seats for people to sit down and relax, enjoying the undiluted and pure air. The emerging scenery is arresting even at its stage nearing completion.
The park has also been landscaped with lush green grasses and trees to make it environmentally and healthily friendly.
The place is equally equipped with a garden and play ground for people around the area as well as visitors.
Besides, the park now serves as veritable venue for rallies, social and political events in the state – very large, accommodative and well equipped for such occasions. Indeed, the
Freedom Park has a hotel for visitors who want to spend their time entirely within this cosy environment.
It serves for other social purposes as motor park for travelers, who did not wich to go in their personal cars. Now it is easier for them to drive into the park and take tickets for the custody and security of their cars by the park management until they return.
And opposite the park is a motor park to wherever a commuter is going, make this a sort of business district while still performing the socio-recreational functions.
Beyond the intended renewal, beautification, recreation, the Freedom Park creatively attracts people and tourists and serve other commercial purposes that are expected to bring revenues to the coffers of government.
It is this new innovation that the government of Aregbesola intends to extend to other eight cities in the state so that wherever a visitor to the state finds him or herself, he or she feels comfortable and finds where to relax and rest.
This is a project to change the face of Osun State finally, transforming it into a modern city. Not one, not two, nine cities in the state!