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Who owns the space under cities? The attempt to map the earth beneath us

The Guardian: “…In London, a city with 150 years of trenching, digging and boring to its name, the chaos is reaching new depths. According to Newcastle University’s Global Urban Research Unit, more than 4,600 basements have been granted planning permission in the last decade – in just seven of London’s 32 boroughs. The space under London is now getting so busy that the Ordnance Survey, Future Cities Catapult and the British Geological Survey have joined forces to create a new initiative called Project Iceberg, which will attempt to aggregate cities’ subterranean data. In London it will include transport tunnel information, geological records and maps of 1.5m km (0.9m miles) of underground utilities and four million kilometres of telecommunications lines…The Ordnance Survey has suggested that £5.5bn ($7bn) is spent every year on exploratory excavation just to figure out what’s underground, and according to a 2013 Mayor of London report, £150m of damage is done every year to underground utilities because of a lack of information. Underground urban planning of an extension of a tube line, for instance, requires knowledge of where sewer and water systems, electricity and utility tunnels, bunkers, foundations, basements, cellars, vaults, passageways, archaeological remains, data centres, basements, and other transport tunnels are located. Most cities have a “dial before you dig” hotline because there is no central holding place for data about underground space.

Enter Project Iceberg. The goal is to serve as a framework for data on all of these underground elements, from which a comprehensive visualisation can be built. The resulting map would need to be an all-inclusive spatial database, but how volumetric cartography might look is not yet imagined. It could perhaps be something like Bruno Imbrizi’s real-time 3D tube map that went viral in 2013. Or the framework could feed an augmented reality engine, so that aiming a phone camera at the ground would reveal what is underneath…”

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