Pathways & Pitfalls to Better Sub-Urban Planning

“The vision is for Future Cities that live sustainably and in harmony with the ground they are built on. Relevant policy at local, national and trans-national scales will be needed to support this.» Dr Diarmad Campbell, Chair of COST Action TU 1206 Sub-Urban, BGS.

Opening up the subsurface for the cities of tomorrow - Summary report

TU1206-WG2.0-001 Opening up the subsurface for the cities of tomorrow


The subsurface is an important constituent of the physical environment of cities. We live on top of it; building and construction have to deal with the structure and properties of the subsurface, and occasionally with the hazards it presents; and we benefit from, and in some cases are dependent, on many of its ecosystem services. Cities not only expand outward and upward, but also downward. More and more, subsurface space is being used to relieve the increasingly crowded and congested urban surface. The more use we make of subsurface space, the more surface space we free up for the one function that cannot do without daylight and fresh air: living.


Read the Summary report TU1206-WG2.0-001 Opening up the subsurface for the cities of tomorrow.




Data Acquisition and Management

Read the TU1206-WG2.2-003 Data Acquisition & Management report here


City authorities and other stakeholders in urban environments produce and have access to a greater density of data than is often the case in lesser populated areas, however, it is often very difficult to collate all relevant information together in a useful and easily communicated manner. With such a wide spectrum of stakeholder groups, each with specialist requirements and differing levels of knowledge, it is extremely challenging to provide effective communication tools that disseminate geoscience data and models as useable information. Information about the subsurface needs to be made available in ways which are appropriate to each type of consumer, from a geotechnical engineer carrying out a site investigation to a member of the public wanting to know if their house is at risk of flooding.

Read more from the report TU1206-WG2.2-003 Data Acquisition & Management report 



the result of COST Action TU1206 Working Group 2, Work package 2.3, and focusses on 3D urban subsurface modelling and visualisation. The major aims of this report are: 1) evaluating current techniques and identify good practices / best efforts in 3D geological modelling and visualisation of the urban subsurface, based on case studies, and 2) co-developing (subsurface specialists & model users) requirements for optimal use of 3D geological modelling information in specific planning and policy contexts.

Read the report: 3D urban subsurface modelling and visualisation - a review of good practices and techniques to ensure optimal use of geological information in urban planning TU1206 WG2.3-004

Groundwater, Geothermal modelling and monitoring at city-scales – identifying good practice, and effective knowledge exchange

Down load the report TU1206-WG2.4-005 Groundwater, Geothermal modelling and monitoring at city scale

The need for cities to make more effective use of the subsurface on which they stand, is increasingly being recognised in Europe and further afield to be essential for future cities to be sustainable and more resilient [1,2]. However, city planning worldwide remains largely 2D, with very few cities having any substantial subsurface planning or Masterplans – the cities of Helsinki, Montreal, Singapore being rare exceptions [3,4]. The consequences of inadequate consideration and planning of the subsurface are far-reaching, in economic, environmental and social terms. Across Europe, poor understanding of ground conditions is recognised as the largest single cause of construction project delay and overspends [5].  Management of urban groundwater and shallow geothermal energy resources is becoming increasingly important as cities are increasingly looking to use these resources to meet current and future energy and heating and water needs.  Whilst these are, alongside potential underground building space, the two most important resources for future cities, the monitoring and regulation of these resource is widely variable across Europe.  



Sub-Urban Geochemistry - -A review of good practice and techniques in sub-urban geochemistry; to ensure optimal information use in urban planning

Read the Sub-urban geochemistry report TU1206-WG2.6-007

The main need of city planners in relation to the geochemical quality of soils and subsoils is to have reasonable and representative visualisation of the data in a form, which enables them to be used effectively, and in an integrated way with other datasets (socio-economic, health, etc.).



Cultural heritage

A review of good practices in cultural heritage management and the use of subsurface knowledge in urban areas




City growth threatens sustainable development - a pattern of growth in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment for present and future generations (The Brundtland Commision, 1987) - of cities. Over the past decades increased urbanization has created more pressure - not only on the suburban outskirts - but also in the inner core of the cities, putting important environmental issues, such as water management and cultural heritage, under stress. 

Read more about Cultural heritage in report TU1206-WG2.7-007 Cultural heritage 







City Case Studies

Cities that are partners in this Sub-Urban group has made a Case Study of their city are presented here. The list will continuously  be updated. 

out of sight out of mind? Summary Report 

The subsurface is an important constituent of the physical environment of cities. We live on top of it; building and construction have to deal with the structure and properties of the subsurface, and occasionally with the hazards it presents. Cities not only expand outward and upward, but also downward. More and more, subsurface space is used to relieve the increasingly crowded and congested urban surface, especially for networks (metros, tunnels, cables, sewage, drainage), storage (warehouses, cellars, parking lots, thermal energy), and exotic applications such as shelter and protection (nuclear bunkers, bank vaults, underground passageways in cities with harsh climates). The more use we make of subsurface space, the more surface space we free for the one function that cannot do without daylight and fresh air: living.

General lesson

In addition to the concrete results, COST Action Sub-Urban is successful in creating a community of practice between the geoscience and the planning communities, involving cities, universities and institutes. To some extent, the project is already improving the conditions for urban subsurface planning, especially where communication, mutual understanding and awareness raising are concerned. For better impact, however, this will have to be extended to decision makers and the general public.


City; urban planning; urban geology; subsurface; A Coruña; Bergen; Dublin; Glasgow; Hamburg; Helsinki; Ljubljana; Nantes; Novi Sad; Odense; Oslo; Rotterdam; Europe

Read the summary report TU1206-WG1-001 Out of sight out of mind?

basel city

The Basel region, which borders both Germany and France, is one of the most dynamic economic regions in Switzerland and acts as a vital regional as well as interregional traffic junction. Moreover, Basel has a variety of natural environments as well as highly vulnerable groundwater systems in river valleys and adjacent karstified areas. Environmental changes include the development of subsurface infrastructure (e.g., tunnel highways) and urban subsurface structures in general which permanently impact groundwater flow and thermal regimes. The existence of evaporites and mixtures of marl-bearing evaporites in the Triassic formations as well as the fact that Basel is located in the seismologically most active area of central Europe come along with the potential occurrence of geohazards. Some of these hazards are natural whereas others are triggered by human activities.

Read more in the City case study of Basel in report TU1206 WG1-017

Bergen City

In this report the case studies for Bergen city, western Norway, are described. We are presenting facts about the city, the administration and the role of  responsibility in the municipality with respect to planning and decision making. Furtheron the physical geography and geology of Bergen city area is described, providing the basis for the problems addressed in the case study of Bryggen in Bergen (ca. 2000-2015) and the newly started case study of the medieval city of Bergen, including Vågsbunnen and its appurtenant issues.
Here, the main emphasis is on describing the background of the ongoing sub-urban project in Bergen and the success story of Bryggen in Bergen. The issues to address in the future work are numerous. Laws and regulations will be evaluated during and because of this work. The aim is to build knowledge about the subsurface, to emphasise its role in urban planning and to develop a communication of data that is accessible for all parties who play a role in planning the urban area.

Read more in the City case study of Bergen in report TU1206-WG1-003

Dublin City

Dublin is Ireland’s capital and largest city with a population of 527,612 (2011) and it lies on the East coast of the Ireland (Fig1). The Dublin metropolitan area is Ireland’s financial and administrative centre. Dublin is the hub of Ireland’s transportation networks and a key gateway for international trade via air and sea. The Republic of Ireland has a total population of c. 4,588,000 and of that population c. 1,273,000 live in Co. Dublin making it the most densely populated part of the country.

Read more in the City case study of Dublin in report TU1206-WG1-004

Glasgow City

Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, lies along the River Clyde and its estuary in west central Scotland (Figure 1). The city grew rapidly in the 19th century, developing through industrialisation and trade to become the third largest city in Europe by the early 20th century. However, during the latter half of
the 20th century a decline in heavy industries such as ship building and mining led to population decline, dereliction of land and social deprivation. Since the early 1980’s, regeneration, restructuring and development have promoted an economic revival of the City. Regeneration of Glasgow’s economy, environment and social fabric through the promotion of sustainable development, social renewal and improvements in health continue to underpin the planning strategies for the development of the City.

Read more in the City case study of Glasgow in report TU1206-WG1-005

Hamburg City

Article 1 of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) lists as one of its purposes a contribution to “the provision of the sufficient supply of good quality surface water and groundwater as needed for sustainable, balanced and equitable water use “, as well as “a significant reduction in pollution of groundwater …”. Thus, in the light of the Directive, mapping of groundwater bodies as well as the assessment of water quality is crucial for the drinkingwater
supply in the City of Hamburg.
This case study wants to provide a picture of geological, hydrogeological and modelling data in Hamburg and the established workflow between BSU Geological Survey, BSU Water Management department and Hamburg Water, the state-owned public water supply company of Hamburg.

Read more in the City case study of Bergen in report TU1206-WG1-006

Helsinki City

City of Helsinki is the capital of Finland and one of the most densely populated areas in the country. Together with its surroundings it's called Greater Helsinki. It consists of metropolitan area including smaller urban Capital Region and commuter towns. These regions are located in the southern part of Finland, on the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland (Figure 1). The Capital region includes cities of Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo, and Kauniainen (Figure 2) and has a population of about one million.

Read more in the City case study of Helsinki in report TU1206-WG1-007


Lisbon, Western Europe’s oldest city is the capital of Portugal, the major touristic and economic center and has a very densely occupation. However if we analyze its history we see that the ancient occupation of the Lisbon territory was limited to a central core, benefiting from the privileged and strategic position along Tagus River as well as the rugged morphology that has provided natural conditions for the city defense over the centuries.

Many of the city’s buildings are centuries old, and infrastructure is likewise aging and though the city has strong technical expertise and political will to undertake upgrades, it also faces financial constraints from the global economic crisis.
The lack of space led to the expansion of the city to the suburbs as well as to the occupation of less favorable terrains, leading to cost increases.

The solution was the construction in the consolidated city, in height and depth, namely to promote better conditions to inhabitants (basements, underground parking and subway tunnels). However this implies detailed knowledge about subsurface characteristics, which was gathered through survey campaigns. Using this information Lisbon Municipality has been developing a geotechnical database to generate a 3D geological/geotechnical model, aiming cost reduction and new projects optimization.

Read more in the City case study of Lisbon in report TU1206-WG1-015


Ljubljana is the capital and largest city of Slovenia, population 282,994 (2012) with an area of 10,000 m2. It has a central geographic location within Slovenia. Green areas from the hinterland extend into the historical city centre via green wedges and riparian corridors giving Ljubljana its distinctly green identity.

From geological point of view is the area of Ljubljana part of Ljubljana Basin - tectonic depression, formed by tectonic subsidence and gradual filling with alluvial and lacustrine sediments. The sediments are composed of well permeable gravel and sand beds with lenses of conglomerate. Due to the great thickness and good permeability, this sandy-gravel aquifer contains significant quantities of groundwater which is main resource, exploited for the public water supply of the city Ljubljana mostly without any treatment.

The city’s main development objectives are defined in the Municipal Spatial Plan (2010). City development is directed mainly at regeneration and renewal of existing developed areas and is also committed to resolving issues concerning safeguarding and development of green and open spaces.  The most important objectives are to safeguard and manage the five green wedges in the city that link the city centre to the hinterland.

Read more in the City case study of Ljubljana in report TU1206-WG1-008

Nantes city

Nantes is the France’s sixth largest city. The conurbation (Nantes Métropole) comprises 600,000 inhabitants, and should reach the 700,000 mark by 2030. The Loire River, and the closeness of the Atlantic coast played a key role in the city's history and development. In the past, the economy was driven by the city's shipyards and maritime industry. Today, the city's industry and economy have undergone profound transformations that have provided an opportunity to redevelop large urban areas, especially in former industrial sites like in the Ile de Nantes, while protecting the fragile eco-systems of the Loire estuary.

Read the City case study of Nantes in report TU1206-WG1-009

Novi Sad City

The Novi Sad territory has been inhabited by humans since the Stone Age (about 4500 BC). A settlement was located on the right bank of the river Danube in the territory of present-day Petrovaradin. In antiquity, the region was inhabited by Illyrian, Thracian and Celtic tribes, especially by the Scordisci. Celts were present in the area already in the 4th century BC and founded the first fortress on the right bank of the Danube. Later, in the 1st century BC, the region was conquered by the Romans. During Roman rule, a larger fortress was built in the 1st century (Cusum) and was included in the Roman province of Pannonia.

Read more in the City case study of Novi Sad in report TU1206-WG1-010

Odense city

The City of Odense is under big pressure – from above: because annual mean precipitation has increased by around 100 mm since measurements started 140 years ago. In addition, extreme rainfall events are occurring more often and are becoming more intense. There is also pressure from surface water: because of flooding due to extreme runoff in the rivers through the city or flooding from the Odense Fjord. Sometimes both types of flooding occur
at the same time. Thirdly, there is pressure from the subsurface: due to a rise in groundwater level caused by increased recharge, diminishing needs for potable water / lesser water abstraction and the sealing of previous leaky sewers which hereby stop acting as drains.

Read more in the City case study of Odense in report TU1206-WG1-011

Oslo City

Oslo is the capital of Norway. It is a small town by global standards, but still a rapidly growing city. The population of Oslo is the fastest growing in Europe, a tendency giving both challenges and opportunities. The city will require large investments in communication systems, new dwellings and an integrated land use and transportation planning. Underground space is already widely used for transportation, storage, extraction of heat and for foundations of buildings and infrastructure. Due to the rapid growth of the city the underground use is expected to develop further. The city of Oslo also deals with geological
challenges such as deep horizons of organic-rich clay, quick clays and alum shales that
contain enhanced levels of radium and uranium.

Read more in the City case study of Oslo in report TU1206-WG1-012

Rotterdam City

Rotterdam is located in the western part of the Netherlands in the province of Zuid-Holland. Most of the country’s surface is flat and cultivated, and present-day sedimentation and erosion processes are almost everywhere influenced by man: rivers are contained within dikes and many streams are canalized;
swamps, lakes and large parts of an inland sea have been turned into polders and in many places dikes strengthen the coastline. Without dikes nearly the whole western part of the country would be flooded. To keep the reclaimed polder areas dry and fit for farming, pumping stations – formerly windmills – extract water continuously and transfer it to bordering water bodies. As a drawback, water extraction leads to compaction of soft soils and oxidation of shallow peat layers, resulting in a gradual lowering of the land surface.

Read more in the City case study of Rotterdam in report TU1206-WG1-013

Valletta City

Valletta is the capital city of Malta and serves as a governmental, a business and an administrative hub of the Maltese Islands. This fortified city is located between the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour. It includes numerous monuments and buildings which date back the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and which make Valletta a UNESCO World Heritage site. Amongst various monuments, the city has an extensive network of spaces below its surface. Most of these underground spaces were developed throughout the years for military and defensive purposes. However, the subterranean of Valletta has not been fully explored and requires further research, documentation and exposure.

Read more in the City case study of Valletta in report  TU1206-WG1-016

Vienna City

Vienna is the capital of Austria and its cultural, economic and political centre. It is composed of 23 districts. Famous for its classical music, classicist and modern architecture, Art Nouveau buildings, imperial palaces, the State Opera, theatres, the traditional Viennese coffee houses and the Lipizzaner horses, Vienna attracts up to 6 million tourists per year. It is the home of over 100 museums and 13 universities as well as the seat of several United Nations offices (e.g. OSCE, OPEC, UNIDO and IAEA). According to the statistics of the International Congress and Convention Association, Vienna is the second most popular congress location worldwide, hosting up to 200 international conferences annually. Regarding life quality, the city was ranked as the second most liveable city worldwide in several 2015 surveys. As a global smart city, it reached third place among European cities in a 2014 ranking.

Read more in the City case study of Vienna in report TU1206-WG1-014