Digging deep: Singapore plans underground future

From its towering “supertree” vertical gardens to a Formula 1 night race, Singapore is known for many attractions; underground space is not one of them.
But that may soon change, as the city-state prepares to unveil an Underground Master Plan in 2019.
With some 5.6 million people in an area three-fifths the size of New York City – and with the population estimated to grow to 6.9 million by 2030 – the island nation is fast running out of space.
Singapore has been reclaiming land for decades, but that is increasingly unsustainable due to rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change. So the city is going underground.
Singapore has already moved some infrastructure and utilities below ground, including train lines, retail, pedestrian walkways, a five-lane highway and air-conditioning cooling pipes. It also stores fuel and ammunition underground.
Now, the city wants to go further.
“Given Singapore’s limited land, we need to make better use of our surface land and systematically consider how to tap our underground space for future needs,” said Ler Seng Ann, a group director at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
The Underground Master Plan will feature pilot areas, with ideas including data centres, utility plants, bus depots, a deep-tunnel sewerage system, warehousing and water reservoirs.
There are no plans to move homes or offices below ground.
Singapore joins a handful of cities that are mapping their subterranean space, said Peter Stones, a senior engineer with the consultancy Arup, which did a study for URA comparing its use of underground space to other cities. Helsinki and Montreal are considered leaders in underground urbanism, a movement focused on innovative ways to use underground spaces.
“With rising urban populations and demands for a better quality of life, there is a need to integrate the underground cityscape to keep our cities liveable,” said Wout Broere, an assistant professor at Holland’s Delft University of Technology.
The Underground Master Plan is part of the ‘Virtual Singapore’ plan, a 3D model that will be fed by big data, and could assist in everything from urban planning to disaster mitigation.
The launch of Singapore’s Underground Master Plan next year may be less glamorous, but no less significant.

Rina Chandran

— Thomson Reuters Foundation