As Hong Kong faces up to the reality of its acute land shortage, city officials are looking to solve the territory's housing problem with a truly novel idea - they're looking at building some public facilities underground in order to create more space for the city's rising population.
Hong Kong's limited space for real estate development has been a problem for some time, and Wired.com reports that officials have been considering putting some infrastructure underground ever since the 1980s. Now they're said to be getting serious about the idea however, following in the footsteps of similar projects in Norway and Kansas.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated and consequently, one of the most expensive cities in the world. The island territory now has a population of over 7 million, and is simply running out of space. Making matters worse, the city's economy is growing at a rate of 3.7 percent per year, enticing further population growth.
The problem is that housing developers simply don't have the space to build more homes for those who help to keep the city's economy ticking over. Additionally, they are being forced to navigate stiff building restrictions that make it harder to build more in developed areas.
"All the urban flat land in Hong Kong is already a built-up area," said Tony Ho, chief geotechnical engineer of the Hong Kong Special Administrative region's Civil Engineering and Development Department, in an interview with Wired.
The report does note that re-zoning and building in rural areas of Hong Kong might provide some temporary relief, however. As such, Hong Kong's government is also considering making more space above ground available, by moving some facilities such as water and sewage treatment plants, reservoirs and even some data centers underground.
"What we are thinking is, if we can best use the underground space resources, we can turn the constraint into an opportunity," Ho told Wired. Longer-term, the project could redefine public spaces in the region.
Hong Kong officials have already put aside some funds for feasibility studies on the matter. A 2017 study sponsored by the government has already pinpointed 48 caverns as possibilities for development, and has initiated six more studies.