Systems approaches to urban underground space planning and management – a review

Loretta Von der Tann, Raymond Sterling, Yingxin Zhou, Nicole Metje

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
288 Downloads (Pure)


The necessity to recognize the subsurface or underground and all its current and potential uses as part of our urban environment, to integrate this into urban planning and governance, and to foster conscious allocation of subsurface space has been increasingly recognized over the last century. At the same time, systems thinking as a ‘buzz-word’ has gained relevance for approaching complex problem areas in all kinds of disciplines including those preoccupied with the subsurface. This paper reviews the literature about urban underground planning through a systems-lens. To set this in context, it is outlined how organizational principles for the urban subsurface have evolved, and the main aspects of systems thinking are introduced followed by a discussion of how this thinking could be applied to the urban underground. Strategies and tools presented in the recent literature in the field are then reviewed based on this perspective, asking how systemic the proposed strategies and tools are when the local geology as well as legal and institutional settings are accepted as a baseline for analysis or intervention. Systemic approaches built on this premise have the potential to capture existing and evolving complexities, foster a better understanding of the value of subsurface space for a city and ultimately enable an efficient and fair allocation of underground space. However, propositions for holistic solutions remain dispersed, interventions often remain based in an engineering mindset, and a shift in mind-set remains a challenge. More research in collaboration with local and regional administrations or authorities based on systems thinking frameworks could help to facilitate this shift.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages51
JournalUnderground Space
Early online date6 Apr 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Apr 2019


  • Systems thinking
  • Urban underground spac
  • Underground space governance
  • Subsurface planning and management


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