Preserving Paradise

26 March 2018

Whenever I hear about whatever the ITA Committee for Underground Space (ITACUS) is up to, I think about that Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi. In it, she sings about a future world where humanity has “paved over paradise and put up a parking lot”.

Mitchell might be surprised to learn the part that tunnelling has to play in preserving that paradise by undergrounding a parking lot.

Last month saw the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It is a conference that looks at development and sustainability – covering issues such as climate change, city planning/urban design, humanitarian and migration issues. In short, how we should be going forwards as a species. And underground space was firmly on the agenda.

During the event, the ITA booth was a focal point for many visiting the exhibition and out of more than 1,000 applicants, while ITACUS was one of those chosen host a side-event to talk about the contribution of underground space to the ‘New Urban Agenda’ and ‘Sustainable Development Goals’.

The workshop highlighted two of the tools currently being used by ITACUS to further its aims. These are the National Action Think Deep Programme and the Young Professionals Think Deep Programme.

On the Malaysian workshop, ITACUS chair Han Admiraal said, “More than 70 people attended the event. Given the general audience these would have been primarily city representatives, urban planners, urban designers, academics. What struck me most was how pleasantly surprised people were with the concept of underground space. One young architect told me ‘You really opened my eyes on this’. In general people are so receptive, it is just no one has ever told them about the use of underground space. People are not against it; they just miss the awareness.”

As well as the above, ITACUS is launching a new activity group on urban resilience. Resilience is one of the main urban issues that is challenging cities. Underground space can play a large role in determining how resilient a city is. For ITACUS, it is another vector to raise awareness and do advocacy.

Admiraal concludes, “Industry can help us most by supporting the work we do and appreciate that this is going to help the industry develop its markets. It will not happen overnight, but we are entering a new era in which the world is in transition, development of underground spaces and more importantly connectivity between underground development will be one of the urban themes. In this sense we are paving the way to the future for our industry in developing new ideas on the role and use of tunnels.”