Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
The world's population is on a vast urban migration to super-sized megalopolises. By 2050, an estimated 70% of the world's people will live in urban areas, up from the current 50% recorded in 2010. Developing the infrastructure to accommodate such huge populations and provide urbanization that is effective, adequate and sustainable is the task of city planners and engineers. At the 2011 ITA World Tunnel Congress in Helsinki the Association's Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS) staged the opening event of a global initiative to promote the use of underground space as a crucial element in the quest for building sustainable cities that are resilient to both the natural and man-induced disasters that are likely to confront them. TunnelTalk Editor Shani Wallis reflects on the ITACUS Open Session in Helsinki and looks ahead to Bangkok 2012 where the debate will continue.
Moment the tsunami hit Sendai, Japan
- An eyewitness report of the catastrophic aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that hit the east coast of Japan in March 2011 acted as a powerful focus for the purpose of the ITA WTC 2011 Global Perspective Open Session that discussed Urban Underground Space in a Changing World.
- Another contribution threw down the gauntlet to the tunnelling community. Helena Molin-Valdes, the Deputy Director of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR), challenged the association of tunnellers to join a mission to influence the design and development of modern cities that are capable of withstanding the consequences of natural and man-induced disasters as well as the threatening effects of climate change. After describing her visit to the iconic SMART stormwater management and road tunnel in Kuala Lumpur as an example of modern multi-purpose underground urban development, Molin-Valdes said: "We need you. Disasters are on the rise and these events lead to loss of life and livelihoods. We need you to engage with us to share knowledge and present the reality of tunnelling and underground space engineering as part of the solutions for developing resilient cities."
SMART has paid its cost in floods prevented
- Organised by the ITA's Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS), and presented under the 2011 theme of Delivering Better and Resilient Cities, these were two of five 'insight' presentations that established the framework on which discussion and forum participation was based. Han Admiraal, as Chairman of ITACUS, explained in his presentation that now is the time for the tunnelling industry to demonstrate to the world its importance in helping address the challenges that the planet is facing. He said: "We have to turn our passion for tunnelling and underground space into a global responsibility towards sustainability and resilient cities as a justification for the work we do."
- In advancing its Global Perspective, ITACUS will work with three international organisations that have the development of sustainable and resilient cities as their core concern. The first is the International Federation for Municipal Engineering (IFME), which joined the ITA Open Session in Helsinki. The Federation was formed in 1960 as part of the UNESCO organization, and today has more than 20 member nations. Through its mission of fostering continued improvement in the quality of public works and wider community services, the IFME and its members will contribute much to the Global Perspective Programme.
- The second partner organisation is the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP), which will join ITACUS for the Global Perspective 2012 Open Session in Bangkok in May 2012. In 2013, ICLEI, the Association for Local Governments for Sustainability, and its large membership of decision makers, will join ITACUS to discuss the programme theme Deciding Better and Resilient Cities in Geneva.
- In Helsinki Dan-Henrik Långström , President of the Finnish Association of Municipal Engineering, confirmed the involvement of the IFME and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ITACUS to seal its commitment to the Global Perspective Programme.
- Through its status as a registered non-governmental organisation of the United Nations (UN) since 1987, the ITA (International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association) has also entered into partnership with two UN bodies – the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the UNHabitat Human Settlements Programme.
- Both organisations share a mandate to address the global issue of mass migration to mega cities, urbanisation and the resilience of modern cities to cope with natural disasters and the affects of climate change. A principal aim of the three-year Global Perspective initiative is to present a policy document, which will be supported by the city planners, city governments and city engineers represented internationally through ISOCARP, ICLEI and IFME, and have that policy document adopted by the two UN partners.
Helena Molin-Valdes (right) Deputy Director of the UN-ISDR
said: "We need your help to develop resilient cities."
- Underground space realities
Guest speakers and presenters of the other insight presentations in Helsinki described how they encounter the use of underground space in their day-to-day professional lives.
- Hannu Penttilä, Deputy Mayor for City Planning in Helsinki, described the network of underground space beneath the streets of Helsinki and explained how more underground development is being planned in a city that is the first in the world to adopt an Underground Masterplan as part of its urban development policy. This is facilitated, he explained, by the fact that 60% of land in the city is owned by the local government and that the city is built on solid granite which is highly favourable for excavating cost-effective underground facilities.
- Jacques Besner, an independent consultant from Canada and former Secretary-General of the Associated Research Centres for the Urban Underground Space, was allied closely with the development of 32km of underground space in Montreal. Work that started in 1962 now links 62 buildings, and Bresner described how much of the network was financed by private finance through PPP (public private partnerships). He explained the importance of determining exactly who owns the environmental space of the project, describing how an incidence of surface settlement resulted in a court case to decide ownership of the subsurface space and the responsibility therefore to deal with the settlement damage on the street. He spoke about how a relatively minor initial situation became a much greater problem by being left unresolved for several months.
- Andis Kublacovs, Manager of the Northern Transport Corridor Project for the City Council of Riga in Latvia described the development of €1 billion city ring road highway project, and how an immersed tube is being developed for the river crossing instead of a less costly high level bridge. This is in order to preserve the landscape of the city, which is largest of UNESCO's World Heritage sites. At another part of the project, a bored tunnel, although 40% more expensive than a surface alignment, has been supported by a citizens' vote to avoid splitting the community. The alignment goes deep beneath a cemetery, and although there has been understandable concern about the potential damage construction of a tunnel might cause in such a sacred place, local residents have seen fit to trust the tunnelling industry.
Bridge shelved in favour of an immersed tube crossing in Riga
- "Latvia has no expertise or experience in building tunnels and visiting experts have assured us that there will be no affect at all on the cemetery," said Kublacovs. "We must trust them."
- It was the presentation by Prof Tetsuya Hanamura (retired) of Okayama University in Japan, however, that gripped the attention. The devastation suffered by the city of Sendai and the 20 other towns and cities along a 600km stretch of Japan's east coast after the devastating earthquake and tsunami was described after his own visit to the stricken area. Prof Hanamura (who is also a member of the ITACUS Steering Board) explained that 25,000 people died or are missing as a result of the disaster but that it was the tsunami that caused most destruction.
- "Although a very large magnitude 9 event, earthquake damage was small compared to the wreckage of the tsunami. Most loss of life was due to drowning and while many surface buildings were swept away by a wall of water, with run-up heights of 10m and 15m at the highest, there was little or no structural damage to underground infrastructure."
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- He reported that liquefaction had caused damage to the Sendai sewage treatment plant, but that damage to utility tunnels was minimal and that both water supply and sewerage systems were either unaffected or restored quickly.
- Electricity and shallow gas supply lines were damaged badly but the underground LNG (liquefied natural gas) storage facilities were safe. "There was no damage to the subway or railway tunnels in the area, at all, and the road tunnel at the Sendai Airport was only flooded."
- The gravest consequence of the disaster has been the meltdown of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A tsunami wave of 15m swept over the 5.7m seawall and completely flooded the plant.
- The loss of electricity knocked out the cooling seawater systems for the reactors, which then overheated, failed and released disastrous radiation into the atmosphere. Prof Hanamura raised the suggestion that all of this might have been avoided had the power plants been built underground. "Approximately 2,000 nuclear test explosions have been conducted underground and apart from some incidents in the early stages, no significant escape of radiation material has occurred as a result," he said.
- Considering the prospect of locating nuclear power plants underground in Japan, he said that mountain locations for such underground facilities are not possible in Japan. These require large reservoirs of cooling water, and large dams to create such reservoirs are not permitted in Japan due to the possibility of dam failure by earthquake activity. Cooling water would also be released into the local rivers, which would include water contaminated by any potential incident. That would be unacceptable due to large populations living downstream. The possibility of building underground nuclear power plants close to the sea would need greater fail-safe design considerations to address the potential of earthquake and tsunami events. "Maybe after the current disaster recovery, the option for building underground nuclear power plants can begin."
During the open discussion period, cost, funding and procurement of underground facilities was a central topic.
Signed agreement with IFME (from left) Helsinki Deputy Mayor, Hannu Penttilä; ITACUS Chairman, Han Admiraal; President of the Finnish IFME Dan-Henrik Långström; and ITA President, In Mo Lee
- Jacques Besner explained how the PPP model of delivery had come under much criticism. How to oblige private companies to integrate the underground space and connect it all together was another of his concerns. "In one instance in Montreal the City had to rent the public space back from the developer to keep it open and maintain access to the metro station for the full operation time of the metro. So it was not a case of selling off public space but of renting it back. There were also issues of deciding who is responsible for maintenance of the structures; the developer or the municipality."
- Several agreed that, for the most part, the general public is unaware of being underground when in the subsurface public malls and shopping arcades, providing the spaces were well lit and clean. In Montreal the City has organised art exhibitions in its underground space, and an annual half marathon through the network of pedestrian corridors attracts the public to a vibrant part of the city.
- In Riga Andis Kublacovs said that the general public are in favour of tunnels but have asked questions about rising sea levels and other safety issues. "Communication to allay the fears and worries of a community new to tunnels and underground space environments is a key issue," he said.
- Another call by Harold Wagner of Austria was for traffic segregation into inner cities with a network of small-diameter TBM tunnels built to transport freight in and waste out using remote controlled trains. "This would reduce the time and energy wasted in traffic congestion on the surface and would save about 15c/km on current delivery methods. This might not sound like much but it would add up and provide a return on investment very quickly," he suggested.
Montreal's underground system started with a few street underpasses
- In her video link from Geneva, Helena Molin-Valdes made the same point about the SMART tunnel in Kuala Lumpur. "The report was that in the three years since the tunnel opened, the project has been paid back in just the amount of non-losses of the flooding events that it has prevented. This is powerful data for us to use in the promotion of underground projects."
- Nick Barton, a professor of rock mechanics in Norway and Brazil, suggested that going deeper with longer tunnels into bedrock might be cheaper than selecting shorter shallower tunnels in softer overlying soils. "Deeper tunnels in rock can be a quarter or a third the price of a shallower tunnel excavation and up to 10 times faster to complete," he said. "The psychological barrier of taking people down to deep level spaces on flights of escalators or in high speed elevators needs to be overcome, but if you are lucky enough to have good rock under your cities and you go deeper to maximize the advantage, the budgets can stretch further."
- Martin Knights, Immediate Past President of the ITA, asked the panel of speakers if they could ever see a time when cities were forced by legislation to place public facilities underground.
- "In Riga it is not increasing density of the urban space that is the issue," said Kublacovs in reply. "The city is actually losing population, and is only 1.1 million any way. Development is needed to solve parking issues in certain areas but the preservation of the cityscape and the issue of liveability on the surface is driving the preference for tunnels at the moment."
- The same was true in Helsinki. "The city is the first in the world to adopt an Underground Masterplan for urban planning, but it is not forced," said Penttilä. "Rather education and awareness is the influencing factor. We are seeing that even in the suburbs, new housing developments are providing underground car parking facilities, for example, in order to save the green space on the surface. This is occurring without legislation."
- In Montreal, Besner explained that the current 32km of underground space started with a few small tunnels to provide underpass crossings of the street and has developed without legislation from there.
- In Japan, the underground is developed as part of the holistic approach to urban planning said Prof Hanamura. "The underground is designed at the same time as the above-ground structures." Speaking in reference to resilience of underground structures, he said that the deeper the better for withstanding the effects of earthquakes.
Bangkok, which also suffered extensive flooding in 2011, will host WTC2012
- The need for co-operation between the different professions involved in urban planning was also discussed. "We do not want engineers to become urban planners," said ITACUS Chairman Han Admiraal, "but co-operation has to be more efficient and effective for developing solutions."
- That is certainly evident in Riga, according to Kublacovs, who explained how it was only architects involved city planning in the Soviet times. "Today lawyers and engineers and planners and the citizens themselves are all involved in development plans."
- A significant point raised was that much of the discussion was about rich "pocket sized cities where we can do all that we want", said Penttilä of Helsinki. "The real challenge is in developing countries, where resources are scarce and where cities are growing fastest. We need really brilliant planning to solve those problems."
- Harvey Parker, a Former President of the ITA from the USA, raised two specific points. First the urgent need for training and education of the engineers and workers needed in the coming years to develop, design and build the many underground projects that will be needed by the world's mega cities in the immediate future; and secondly, that planning decisions must not be made on capital cost alone. "Life-cycle costs are as vital to the decision making processes as hard financial issues," he said. "There is going to be so much to do, we need to start planning right now."
- In response Admiraal explained that ITACUS is working with the other committees of the ITA as well as with the resources of the ITA Working Groups to fully capitalise on the power of the Association to bring real possibilities and contributions to the Global Perspective Programme.
- This is extended to its co-operation with the Programme's three global partners IFME, ISOCARP and ICLEI, and to its UN partners UN-HABITAT and UN-ISDR.
- In closing the session he said that two points were highlighted through the session for him. One, the need to bring professionals together to work together for optimum effect; and two, that "for the first time we tunnellers had a direct link into the UN and its operations. We heard how Ms Molin-Valdes of the UN-ISDR said 'we really need you to work with us'. That is a tremendous compliment to the ITA, to all of us as engineers, and a challenge for us to engage seriously and urgently in the big problems that this world is facing."
- He invited every one to join the next session of the Global Perspective Programme at the WTC in Bangkok from 18-23 May 2012 when the discussion will continue in conjunction with session partner ISOCARP and focus on the Planning of Better and Resilient Cities.
- A special day-rate registration for the Open Session Tuesday will again be offered to invite interested city planners, government agents and politicians to join in and contribute to the debate.
- Information on the Programme and the coming events is available from the ITA-AITES.org and the WTC2012.com websites.
Bangkok examines flood prevention measures - TunnelTalk, Dec 2011
Concerns and consequences of seismic devastation - TunnelTalk, March 2011
Santiago Metro survives massive earthquake - TunnelTalk, March 2010
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