With the realisation that there is more space below our feet than around us, the cities of the future may be developed downwards -- rather than sky-high. Ideally, all the important infrastructure needed to run a city will be happily tucked away below our feet, while leaving the surface for more natural structures.
"We have so much room underground," said Sam Ariaratnam, a professor at Arizona State University and the chairman of the International Society for Trenchless Technology. "That underground real estate -- people need to start looking at it. And they are starting to look at it."
The federal government has taken an interest, convening a panel of specialists under the banner of the National Academy of Engineering to produce a report, due out later this year, on the potential uses for America's underground space, and in particular its importance in building sustainable cities. The long-term vision is one in which the surface of the earth is reserved for the things we want to see and be around -- houses, schools, yards, parks -- while all the other facilities that are needed to make a city run, from water treatment plants to data banks to freight systems, hum away underground.
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