Age of Aerotropolis– City Centered Airport– Economic Driver of the Future: Global Business Imperative vs. Terrible Idea…

Aerotropolis is a large city centered on an airport… In its purest form, the aerotropolis is an economic hub that extends out from a large airport-city into a surrounding area that consists of– distribution centers, office buildings, light manufacturing firms, convention centers, hotels… all linked to the airport via roads, expressways (aerolinks), and rail lines (aerotrains). The business-centered version of aerotropolis is also called an air-commerce cluster or an airport cluster…

The word aerotropolis combines prefix aero- and the word metropolis, a large city. It’s also called an aviation city or an airport city. It’s a new urban form placing airports in the center with cities growing around them, connecting workers, suppliers, executives, goods to global marketplaces… According to Michael Brink; speedy delivery of goods is at center of  aerotropolis; a population and business center formed around an airport in the way that cities once formed around ports or crossroads…

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The term aerotropolis was made popular by Dr. John D. Kasarda based on his research on airport-driven economic development. According to Kasarda; airports have evolved as drivers of business location and urban development in the 21st century in the same way as did highways in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th century and seaports in the 18th century. As economies become increasingly globalized and dependent on electronic commerce, air commerce… the speed and agility they provide for the movement of people and goods is the new logistical backbone… According to Paul Romer; very few people realize how profoundly air transport is changing– cities, economies, social systems, systems of governance… But, according to Eno’s Schank; people don’t want live next to airport because it’s not a pleasant place. It looks industrial. It looks sprawled out. And they don’t want to work in a place like that… (developers) think humans are automatons and will just go where it’s most convenient. But will people pay a premium to live next door to an airport? I doubt it…

In the book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next by John D. Kasarda  and Greg Lindsay write: This concept of a new phenomenon called the aerotropolis gives us a glimpse at the way we will live in the near future– and the way we will do business, too. Currently, most airports are built near cities with roads connecting the one to the other. This pattern– the city in the center, the airport on the periphery– shaped life in the twentieth century from the central city to urban sprawl.

Today, ubiquity of jet travel, round-the-clock workdays, overnight shipping, and global business networks has turned the pattern inside out. Soon airports will be at the center and cities will be built around them… which keeps workers, suppliers, executives, goods… better  engaged with the global markets.  As more aviation-oriented businesses are drawn to airport cities and along transportation corridors radiating from them, a new urban form is emerging– the aerotropolis; stretching up to 20 miles (30 km) outward from some airports.

Analogous in shape to traditional metropolis made up of a central city and its rings of commuter-heavy suburbs, the aerotropolis will consist of an airport city and outlying corridors and clusters of aviation-linked businesses and associated residential development. A number of these clusters already exist, such as; Amsterdam’s Zuidas, Las Colinas, Texas, South Korea’s Songdo International Business District…

these airport edge-cities represent planned modern urban mega-development in the ‘age of aerotropolis’; the combination of giant airport, planned city, shipping facility, and business hub… Already the aerotropolis approach to urban living is reshaping life in many major international cities… and we urgently need to understand this changing world and our place in it…

In the article Aerotropolis: Key to a Prosperous, 21st Century City? by Barbara Porada writes: The rapid expansion of airport-linked commercial facilities is making today’s air gateways the anchors of 21st century metropolitan development– where distant travelers and locals alike can conduct– business, exchange knowledge, shop, eat, sleep, entertain without going more than 15 minutes from the airport. This functional and spatial evolution is transforming many city airports into airport-cities…

The aerotropolis, like a traditional city consists of central core with rings of development permeating outwards; but unlike a traditional city, the core is an airport– and all neighboring development supports and is supported by the airport industry. Several airports around the globe have organically evolved into these airport-dependent communities, generating huge economic profits and creating thousands of jobs… Looking back on city development, it quickly becomes clear that cities have almost always been an outcome of, and had a strong relationship with, the form of transportation that was relevant during the time of their establishments.

In the U.S. the first modern cities developed around seaports and then towns popped up along rivers and canals. Next the invention of railroad opened up previously hard-to-reach inland areas to manufacturing and distribution. In the 20th century, highways facilitated the greater dispersion of people and companies by creating suburbs… and, more recently the world’s airports have turned into– primary drivers of urban growth, international connectivity, economic success…

A nation’s airports are vital contributors to the economy: For example, Chicago‘s O’Hare International Airport is 2nd largest office market in the Midwest and Washington DC’s Dulles airport area has more retail sales than any other U.S. city besides Manhattan. While the aerotropolis vision is an economically enticing one and has already set many gears in motion around the globe, we need to stop and consider the bigger picture: How will this model change the way people live?

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In the article Aerotropolis by Sara writes: Using the airport as a model to build a city is a great idea in order to start thinking about– the city, its structure, and its infrastructure in terms of an open architectural model. A model that incorporates mobility into its day-to-day operations: The techniques of the airport, the harbor, the factory, the Internet… and the elasticity of their structure-formation should be considered as ways of thinking about the modern city and its formation…

However, considering these models would require the deconstruction of old rules, old ways of thinking and the embracing and developing a new reference system, a new set of rules… The concept of developing an urban plan in which the layout, infrastructure, and economy is centered around an airport is an interesting concept, in theory, but as I read more about John Kasarda’s ideas I began to question the logistics.

According to John Kasarda; the global business network has changed air travel in order to accommodate the demand for overnight shipping… however, most airports are built at the periphery of cities, which is an outdated model… John Kasarda believes that major airports are the key nodes in global production, enterprise systems… offering speed, agility, and connectivity. He boldly states that — ‘Aviation is the 21st century’s physical Internet’ supplying fast long-distance connectivity.

However, in my opinion, the major flaw in John Kasarda’s concept is that his development model relies exclusively on fossil fuel… He is not an urban planner so he is not providing a new model but relies on the same development patterns are already in use… its old thinking with a new twist…

In the article Aerotropolis by Diane Coyle writes: Cities are fundamentally shaped by transportation: The underlying premise is undeniable– the oldest were organized around water, a navigable river or port, Victorian cities were expanded and shaped by train lines, and since the early 20th century automobiles and major road networks redrew domestic trade and commuting routes, and enabled the spread of suburbs…

Aerotropolis argues that in age of globalization, air travel has altered choices about work, home locations, business location… and will only continue to do so. The question is whether urban authorities go about dealing with this in a haphazard way– as in London, where finding agreement about where and how to expand airport capacity seems impossible– or in a planned way with a sufficiently large international airport connected to residential areas by convenient public transport and with sensible mixed-use zoning nearby…

The economic benefits of physical connectivity are often underestimated– many people have certainly made the mistake of assuming that the information-communication technologies can substitute for face-to-face contact, when in fact they complement each other. It’s interesting to note that the highest-technology industries clock-up the most executive travel… trillions of ‘connections’ yield billions aloft– the more wired we are, the more we fly… The aerotropolis concept says that the airport is the center and the city is built around it… which is better for workers, suppliers, executives, goods… for being engaged with global market… The aerotropolis is a combination of giant airport, planned city, shipping facility, business hub…

According to Brian Merchant; for many people, building an entire city around an airport probably seems like a terrible idea– First, airports just aren’t fun– especially in the U.S.; they’re irritating places and filled with never-ending lines, over-priced food, irascible TSA agents… and that’s to say nothing of the pat-downs. Second, they’re usually sprawling, aesthetically offensive and loud, and most cities go to good lengths to relegate its airport to the outskirts of the city… For some planners, the concept of the aerotropolis is a solid, adequately ambitious vision for the cities of the future– yet, for others it’s a terrible idea…

Metropolis pokes a few holes in the economic theory behind the concept, pointing out that the aerotropolis is essentially a glorified company town, whose economy is pegged to the corporations that produce goods and ship them… If the industry is wired to the air freight infrastructure and it declines, then so does the city… According to Greg Lindsay; successful cities have always been founded because of trade– these are places where people exchange goods, money, ideas…

The world is poised to build literally hundreds of new cities as 3 billion people urbanize over the next forty years. So where would you put a new city today? And how would a city in western China– historically the middle of nowhere– connect to the world? The answer is the airport. In global economy, where trillions of dollars in goods and billions of people are following digital bits around the world, sooner or later we would end up building cities defined by their airports, because the only geography that matters is economic geography. It sounds like science fiction but it’s always been this way…

One of the reasons that China, India, petro-states of the Persian Gulf are sinking billions into their airports, airlines and new aircraft is because they’re trying to go from backwaters to global hubs practically overnight, creating a ‘New Silk Road’ running all way from Beijing to Johannesburg.  It isn’t a literal road– it’s made up of air routes: One thing about the New Silk Road is that it has nothing to do with the U.S. It’s about rewiring the global economy so that it runs through the East, not the West…