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Colonizing the urban underground

December 1, 2009

Toronto PATH system

I’ve been thinking about how city dwellers are spending more and more time underground. Think about it: as you read this sentence, there are millions of people beneath our city streets. And they’re not just riding subways, or parking cars. They’re eating in restaurants, browsing in shopping malls, exercising in gyms, working in offices, going to classes, movies, concerts. Hundreds of thousands of people a day move through the vast pedestrian complexes beneath Montreal and Toronto. Paris has a multi-tiered complex beneath Les Halles. Berlin has a similar structure beneath Friedrichstrasse. Helsinki has over 400 buildings underground. Throughout Japan, China, Korea there are hundreds of underground concourses. The COEX Mall in Seoul accommodates 300,000 people day – that’s larger than the population of most regional cities. Many of these concourses are linked via subway or pedestrian tunnel, with the effect being a series of contiguous underground villages. But what if the whole world looked like that someday?

Montreal Underground City

With the way things are going, that image might just come true. We started building beneath our cities to save space on the surface, and because underground structures are more energy-efficient and sustainable. In the next few decades, urban populations are set to explode and the energy/climate crises will become more intractable. Look for our downward migration to continue.

So how will spending prolonged periods of time underground will affect the human race?

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