SubCity: future imaginaries of the city subsurface

2020-05-19

City planning i entering  a new era and society will need to significantly enhance its use of the subsurface volume below the city landscape

Underground shopping mall in Montreal, Canada.
Underground shopping mall in Montreal, Canada.

Magdalena Kuchler has received a planning grant for her project entitled "SubCity: Future imaginaries of the city subsurface”. The grant application was made from constellations within UUSI - Urban Sustainability and submitted to the Formas call on "Planning for transformation - stage 1". The purpose of grant is to contribute knowledge and solutions for developing Swedish spatial planning so that it creates the conditions to transform towards a sustainable society. In the coming months Magdalena develop the concept. In stage 2, which opens in autumn 2020, it is possible to apply for funding for up to 4-year projects with a total maximum budget of SEK 8 million per project. Co-applicant is Ari Tryggsvason, Senior Lecturer/Associate in Geophysics. (The entire project group is presented in the end of the article.)

Magdalena Kuchler, Associate senior lecturer/Assistant Professor at Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development
Magdalena Kuchler, Associate senior lecturer/Assistant Professor at the Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development. 

Explain a little about the importance of city subsurface?

- City subsurface means space below the surface of a city. Spatial development of urban zones has been predominantly viewed through the horizontal lens emphasizing the surface. In the project “SubCity: Future imaginaries of the city subsurface”, we want to turn our attention to how future cities can be imagined through the vertical lens, with emphasis on underground spatial planning.

Does that mean building housing or other facilities underground or is it strictly infrastructure?

- It's infrastructure like energy storage, transportation and public space like training facilities, concert halls and office space but even housing, so called earthscrapers, yes.

Whether it´s underground houses or so called earth ships depends on the context. For example, the geology in Scandinavia, like in Sweden and Finland, makes it easier to create underground structures. That's not the case in other countries with more challenging geologies. Earth ships are not necessarily applicable to more dense urban spaces. The point of imagining how city underground can be used is to provide more space on the ground, which is already scarce).

How should we think when planning for the future?

- The share of the world population living in urban settlements reached 55% in 2017. It is expected that the proportion will increase to 68% in 2050. There is little doubt that further urbanisation will continue around the world, including in Sweden’s largest urban agglomerations. Climate change and the necessity of rapid low-carbon transition will put additional pressure on the increasingly stretched metropolitan areas. To meet these challenges, society will need to significantly enhance its use of the subsurface volume below the city landscape. City planning is entering a new era that requires close attention to the long-term and sustainable development of urban subsurface.

What are the challenges in the future?

- Current urban planning, including actual major ongoing investments, is based upon concrete assumptions about which technical solutions for transport, energy, housing and other infrastructure will be relevant. It is vital to assess if the dominant visions of the future technical function of urban areas are the only real possibility, or if different development paths may be chosen. Major decisions and investments based on incorrect or incomplete planning visions may not only be economically highly ineffective but may also in practice build unfortunate social structures into the urban fabric. If so, knock-on effects between physical and social infrastructures may also significantly affect the urban social landscape, potentially offering new solutions to some growing problems.

Read more about our research in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development

An example of a futuristic construction underground in Mexico City. 

Helsinki's Master Plan is another example of imagining the city subsurface

Project Team for "SubCity: Future imaginaries of the city subsurface”

News from the Department of Earth Sciences