Many cities have exploited underground spaces to enhance the quality of life of their residents. They have placed noisy and pollutive uses, such as utilities and transport systems (e.g. train lines and roads) underground. We have done the same.
But some cities have done much more.
In Canada and Japan, their major cities have extensive pedestrian passages, shopping malls and even offices underground. People shop, work and move around these spaces in comfort and safety, especially during their cold winter months.
The underground ‘city’ at Montreal’s RÉSO is one of the largest and most well-known. It comprises 32km of tunnels covering about 12km2 in downtown Montreal, linking a wide range of facilities such as offices, hotels, retail shops, cinemas, universities and train stations. It is easily accessible and half a million people use it every day.
In Scandinavia, thanks to an abundance of good rocks, cities there have made even more extensive use of underground space. These include sports and swimming complexes, utility plants, research and data storage facilities, and even concert halls and churches!
In Singapore, we have made good use of underground spaces. From Orchard Road to City Hall, Tanjong Pagar and Marina Bay, locals and visitors enjoy the air-con comfort and security of shopping and commuting underground. About 12 km of expressways and nearly 80 km of MRT lines are already underground. The Marina Coastal Expressway, which will be completed this year, is also mostly underground.
JTC’s Jurong Rock Caverns at Jurong Island has helped us push the boundary of underground usage. When it becomes operational, it will be South-East Asia’s first underground storage facility for oil and petrochemical products.
Still, there is scope to do much more.
Taking reference from other cities, there are possibilities of creating underground transport hubs, pedestrian links, cycling lanes, utility plants, storage and research facilities, industrial uses, shopping areas and other public spaces here. But such developments do cost more, especially if the cheaper alternative of using surface land is available.
Still, we can try to push the boundary of usage – to experiment, to learn and to evolve practical innovative solutions – so as to prepare for the future.
We are currently in the midst of updating our Master Plan and a draft will be put for public consultation via an exhibition soon. In parallel, we are thinking about the possibility of developing an underground equivalent of the Master Plan to see how practical underground plans can complement the above ground Master Plan to make our city even more exciting and liveable.
We will not rush to do this underground Master Plan. We will also not be able to formulate a comprehensive underground Master Plan in our initial attempt(s). But the earlier we begin this process, the faster we will learn and the easier it would be for us to realise these plans.
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