With around 5.6 million people in an area three-fifths the size of New York City, Singapore has been reclaiming land for decades. But rising sea levels put this process and Singapore’s many low-lying areas in jeopardy.
Train lines, malls, pedestrian walkways, five-lane roads, air-conditioning cooling pipes and fuel and ammunition stores have already been moved underground.
Yong Kwet Yew, a civil engineering scholar at the National University of Singapore, said as more resources were moved underground, there would be extra surface area for housing and recreation.
In 50 years, Singapore could have limited, shared autonomous vehicles and underground cities where people can escape the heat and rain. Urban farms could also flourish below ground, the professor added.
Yong said new legal and planning frameworks could allow more underground development and urged developers should not be deterred by heavy construction and maintenance costs.
No one involved with the study referred to the primordial human fear of the premature burial.
Ler Seng Ann of the Urban Redevelopment Authority explained: “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.
“Currently, our focus is on using underground space for utility, transport, storage and industrial facilities to free up surface land for housing, offices, community uses and greenery, to enhance livability,” he told the media.
A subterranean Singapore could have capsule transport of heavy cargo through pipelines. Stormwater and canals could be integrated into an underground irrigation system, while heavy industries or treatment stations that cause noise, air or odour pollution could be moved underground as well, the urban designers added.
The project would feature underground data centres, bus depots, sewerage system, warehousing and reservoirs.
Homes or offices were not listed as being moved below ground.
Peter Stones, an engineer from the consultancy Arup who contributed to the study, said other cities were thinking of moving underground.
“It’s lucky that we are at this timeline where we can still learn from other countries who are a little bit ahead in terms of engineering structure… to learn their best practices and to keep up with the game,” Stones said.
“Globally, underground spaces are still back of mind. It’s a wild west of development, with a first-come, first-served system.
“Singapore wants to look at it holistically and have a master plan so it can plan and manage the use of its underground space and avoid potential conflicts,” he said.
Crowded Singapore has often looked for new ways to boost space. Picture credit: Wikimedia