Urban Underground Spaces Contribute to New Urban Agenda


In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, participants from 173 countries gathered from in February 2018 for the ninth World Urban Forum (WUF9).

Over 25,000 people registered for WUF9, and during the event, some 470 organizations and representatives of Member States have come together to take part in nearly 560 official events. Out of over 1,000 applications, ITACUS – one of four permanent committees of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA), was chosen to host a side-event on “Underground Spaces for the Cities of the Future.”

An International Event Supported by the United Nations

The event aimed at showing not only the contribution of underground space to the new urban agenda and sustainable development goals, but also the practical tools that ITACUS has developed. Shipra Narang Suri of UN-Habitat stressed the importance of underground space in the urban context. The use of underground space can help cities remain compact, be energy efficient and find the space needed to include new functions in the existing city landscape, she said.

She also pointed out the need for dialogue between professionals: “Planning the underground space coupled with the development of legal frameworks will require planners and decision-makers to work together with new knowledge and understanding of the specific constraints and opportunities,” she said.

Her words were underlined by Ric Stephens, president of the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP). He specifically noted the way that ISOCARP and ITACUS have developed a collaboration over the years and how the awareness of urban planners is growing on the importance of underground space.

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Together with ISOCARP, ITACUS is running the Young Professionals Think Deep Program. The aim of this program is to help cities look at planning issues by enabling a dialogue between professionals who work together for a week, focusing on a concrete urban planning case. This tool not only helps cities because it generates multiple solutions, the awareness among professionals is raised on underground space. In that sense the tool is all about capacity building.

ITACUS activity group leader Petr Salak and ISOCARP vice-president of Young Planning Professionals (YPP) Zeynep Gunay shared their enthusiasm with the audience on this program.

The Think Deep Program: Global Action for Local Environment

A second tool is the ITACUS National Action Think Deep Program. Through the Member Nations of ITA, local Think Deep groups are started that discuss the use of underground space in their region. These groups are in a unique position as they can organize workshops on, for example, recommendations for changes in legislation. Although the concept of underground space is universal, application takes place in a local context. This is where National Think Deep groups can make a big difference. Petr Salak as co-founder of Think Deep UK and Abidemi Agwor of Think Deep Nija in Nigeria talked about the success of setting up these national groups.

Taking questions from the floor it became evident that there is an enthusiasm to look more at urban underground spaces. Although there are sometimes obstacles to be overcome, the tools that were shown and discussed could provide a valuable basis for this. The conclusion was that the role underground space can play in implementing the New Urban Agenda now has to permeate all levels of government.

An “Inclusive planning” is needed to develop resilient infrastructure that is needed for the cities of the future as just one example of how underground space can help implement the new urban agenda and contribute to sustainable development goals.

During WUF9, the ITA booth was a focal point for many visiting the exhibition. Awareness, advocacy and action applies as much to underground space as it does to the other issues being discussed at the world’s premier conference on cities.

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