SINGAPORE - AN UNDERGROUND city with shopping malls, research facilities and even cycling lanes.
This is worth exploring to make Singapore "even more exciting and liveable", said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on his blog on Tuesday, suggesting that the Government is considering an "underground" masterplan.
The current land use masterplan, last reviewed in 2008, sets out how much needs to be built to efficiently spread the population across the island.
"We are currently in the midst of updating our master- plan... In parallel, we are thinking about the possibility of developing an underground equivalent... to see how practical underground plans can complement the above-ground masterplan," revealed the minister.
Although expanding underground will be expensive compared with building on the surface, "we can try to push the boundary of usage - to experiment, to learn and to evolve practical, innovative solutions - so as to prepare for the future", he added.
Building underground is not a new concept here.
Already, about 12km of expressways and nearly 80km of train lines are below the surface. Once completed, Jurong Island's Rock Cavern, located at a depth of 130m, will also become Southeast Asia's first underground petrochemicals storage facility.
But Mr Khaw believes there is scope to do more, pointing to other cities which have exploited subterranean spaces well.
Montreal's underground city Reso, which is used by 500,000 people daily, has offices, hotels, cinemas and even universities. And in Scandinavia, swimming complexes and even concert halls and churches have been built underground.
With Singapore's population projected to grow from the current 5.3 million to more than six million by 2030 according to a recent White Paper, experts believe building downwards is a viable alternative.
This is especially since parts of Singapore, like Bukit Timah, are blessed with a foundation of hard rocks such as granite, which provides the needed structural support for underground structures, explained Mr Chong Kee Sen, vice-president of the Institution of Engineers.
He said building beneath the surface "essentially doubles the space you can have for development".
But the studies that are needed to see if a massive underground project is feasible, and the construction time involved, mean that any subterranean solution will take at least 20 years to see the light.
In his blog, Mr Khaw said the Government will not rush into going underground.
He added: "We will also not be able to formulate a comprehensive underground masterplan in our initial attempt. But the earlier we begin, the faster we will learn and the easier it would be for us to realise these plans."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.