An online conference, ‘Think Deep Naija – a multi-disciplinary approach to planning’, held last week [Thursday 9 April] and organised by the Tunnelling Association Nigeria, attracted 100 attendees from around the world.
Attendees heard presentations from Antonia Cornaro and Han Admiraal, joint chairs of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Associations’ (ITA’s) ITACUS committee, and from Marilu Melo, a human geographer who leads ITACUS’ work on urban integration. Vince Rono, head of planning, publicity and events at the Tunnelling Association of Kenya spoke about how tunnelling professionals could contribute in times of crisis and Haruna Ladan Gimba, an executive council member of the Tunnelling Association Nigeria, spoke about the association’s work to raise the profile of underground solutions in the country.
Abidemi Agwor, president of the Tunnelling Association Nigeria, who organised and chaired the conference opened by speaking about the opportunities for emerging cities in Africa and other countries to do things differently. Cornaro, who is a planning and business development specialist at Amberg and a lecturer on underground space at ETH Zurich, spoke about the environmental and social benefits of moving utilities and activities underground to free up space above ground for green spaces and circulation.
“Quality of life is now higher rated than economic power in cities rankings world-wide,” she told the conference. “All cities are striving to attain or regain quality of life.”
Cornaro referenced Singapore’s multi-layered approach to underground planning with the various depths below ground assigned to specific uses. She also mentioned London’s Project Iceberg which is looking to map how the city’s underground space is populated.
Admiraal, an urban strategist and managing director of Enprodes Management Consultancy in the Netherlands, spoke of the need to use underground spaces for multiple purposes, citing the example of Switzerland’s planned Cargo Sous Terrain which would accommodate the transport of goods, data transfer and pipelines. He also pointed out that a focus on GDP and economic growth should not be considered the mark of a successful city.
“We seem to think that GDP is the only metric we have,” he said. “We need to start thinking in a different way.” The answer was to look to a circular economy approach, he suggested, showing delegates Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics approach to sustainable development.
Melo, who is a lecturer in human geography at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, spoke about the need to address environmental, social and financial aspects at the earliest stages of planning.
“We need to expand our understanding of risk to take into account less human-centric proposition of risk, for example global warming, climate change, water resources,” she said. “That requires a wider perspective of what we could do underground.”
Rono spoke about how the skills and methods used for planning tunnelling projects could be transferred into helping manage emergency situations such as the Covid-19 crisis. Kenya is in the early stages of the virus, said Rono, with 179 confirmed cases and six deaths as of 8 April 2020.
“My thought is that many of us in the tunnelling industry can present ourselves to be stand-by individuals to be called upon whenever the need arises,” he said.
Gimba spoke of the Tunnelling Association of Nigeria’s plans to develop capacity and competency in underground construction. By 2027, the association, through training and events, wants to create the capacity to deliver a $50-to-$100m programme of works.
Agwor spoke of the difficulties in connecting with decision-makers at a national level to talk about the potential benefits of underground space. “Trying to get stakeholders, especially government and decision makers on your path is like trying to break a rock on your head,” he said.
During a panel discussion, Admiraal assured Agwor and others that lobbying governments in developed countries was just as arduous. “It’s no different in the part of the world I am from,” he said. “On average it takes 25, 30 years or longer if you want to build a new motorway. We have to convince the policy makers that if something is going to change, it needs to happen quite fast.
“You have to keep on fighting and find a voice, find support from the public and say: ‘We just cannot continue like this anymore’.”