TED Conversations

Josh Coulter

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Sunken Cities

This is an idea I've been tossing around for quite some time. I'll try to keep it brief, but the gist of my idea is that future cities are, essentially, built underground. Master-planned cities could be developed to be mainly underground, with open-air central areas built, much like an inverse skyscraper, to provide light and the like for the community.

Other aspects, such as housing, could branch off of this, underground. Mass transit would be built into the master plan, to reduce (or, hopefully, eliminate) the need for carbon-emitting vehicles. Exhaust from businesses or utilities would need to be reclaimed and recycled, in order to keep air clean in the further reaches of the community.

My proposed benefits:
- Reduction in land and forest destruction. Cities such as this would lessen the impact on the environment, animal habitats, and curb global warming by preventing the destruction of trees that absorb carbon.
- Focus on sustainability. Micro grids could be utiltized to power the cities by renewable energy sources. Energy use for heating and cool would be reduced due to the natural temperature regulating effects of being underground, and not being as susceptible to surface temperatures. Reclamation of exhaust would be necessary, forcing the advancement and innovation of such technology that could be used by legacy city systems.
- Community focus. These master-planned, underground cities would create an environment in which communal contact would be much more integral to the inhabitant's normal way of life. With this in mind, community centers would be a core focus of the development of the city.
- Natural parks. Since the surface wouldn't be destroyed for residential or commercial endeavors, it would remain in it's natural state. Building non-invasive walking paths and resting areas would give residents an easy-to-reach, natural sanctuary without having to travel far.

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    Nov 22 2012: Don't forget that "normal" construction relies heavily on the forces of gravity, weather, and exposure to sunlight. Also, lose the word "sunken", it conjures up negative images.
  • Nov 21 2012: I love this idea, but the organization of an underground city could only be done by a genius (or more likely a team of them). The aesthetic aspect of these cities would need to be as much a priority as the sustainability aspect. Otherwise it would be like living in a grave.
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    Nov 20 2012: Keep in mind that if you go more than a few stories down you need to run aircon. Half a kilometre underground the rock is over 40 degrees celcius and there's no ventilation. Even at 100m the rock is 30 degrees.
  • Nov 19 2012: Noah - thanks for the response! Your questions bring me to a whole new set of questions. If we were to build an above-ground city, how could we think about the layout and design of a city that would be fundamentally different, with the focus on eliminating as many emissions as possible and keeping the city as green as possible, in order to have a negligible impact on global warming?

    Some of my original thoughts still come to mind, including reliance on mass transit which is smartly built to provide service to as many residents as possible, and eliminate roads to keep cars out of the city.

    Also - how would the city be kept green? Larger, high-rise residential buildings that have gardens on the tops of the buildings, or, somehow, hanging gardens surrounding nearly the entire building?

    What other thoughts might you (and others) have in regard to building green (and that's more than just sustainable-green, but definitely sustainable) cities?
  • Nov 19 2012: I think this sounds like an interesting idea. The biggest question would probably have to deal with the cost. Would be more expensive to build this city? It seems like it. I think this option will become much more viable if the population was in desperate need of housing. It almost seems like the resources spent on the underground city could build a slightly better above ground city.