Not so long ago, airports were built near cities, and roads connected 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 exurban sprawl. Today, the ubiquity of jet travel, round-the-clock workdays, overnight shipping, and global business networks has turned the pattern inside out. Soon the airport will be at the center and the city will be built around it, the better to keep workers, suppliers, executives, and goods in touch with the global market.
As more and more aviation-oriented businesses are being 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 kilometers) outward from some airports. Analogous in shape to the traditional metropolis made up of a central city and its rings of commuter-heavy suburbs, the Aerotropolis consists of an airport city and outlying corridors and clusters of aviation-linked businesses and associated residential development. A number of these clusters such as Amsterdam Zuidas, Las Colinas, Texas, and South Korea's Songdo International Business District have become globally significant airport edge-cities representing planned postmodern urban mega-development in the age of the Aerotropolis. This is the aerotropolis: a combination of giant airport, planned city, shipping facility, and business hub.
Already the aerotropolis approach to urban living is reshaping life in Beijing and Amsterdam, in China and Rwanda, in Dallas and the Washington, D.C., suburbs. The aerotropolis is the frontier of the next phase of globalization, whether we like it or not. John D. Kasarda defined the term "aerotropolis," and he is now sought after worldwide as an adviser. Working with Kasarda’s ideas and research, the gifted journalist Greg Lindsay gives us a vivid, at times disquieting look at these new cities in the making, the challenges they present to our environment and our usual ways of life, and the opportunities they offer to those who can adapt to them creatively. Aerotropolis is news from the near future—news we urgently need if we are to understand the changing world and our place in it.
About the AuthorJohn D. Kasarda, a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, has advised countries, cities, and companies about the aerotropolis and its implications. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Greg Lindsay has written for Time, BusinessWeek, and Fast Company. For one story he traveled around the world by airplane for three weeks, never leaving the airport while on the ground. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Walk to your aerotropolis
Roger Cohen (Globalist)At a dinner the other night an urban designer, Christopher Choa, was telling me about a project he’s involved in to build an “aerotropolis” next to Cairo airport.
19 May 2011, 7:17 PM
19 May 2011, 7:17 PM
It appears the aerotropolis – with production lines leading right into the belly of planes – is the next big thing.
Choa has been involved in other “aerotropoli,” including one at India’s Hyderabad airport where a hospital has been built between two runways. “If you fly to India for a heart operation you don’t want to fuss around with taxis and things,” he explained.
The aerotropolis is “glocal,” a place that draws on local competitive advantages (like cheap labour) even as it plugs into the planetary I-want-it-now faubourg. It is part of the universe dubbed “Airworld” by John Kasarda, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s business school, who also coined the phrase “the physical Internet” to describe the networks that ensure iPhones and winter cherries are always a click away.
In this speeded-up universe it makes sense to affix cities to airports on the model of the aerotropoli for those Airworld deities – Fedex and UPS – at Memphis and Louisville. Having begun life as an outlying curiosity, where planes taking off and landing were as wondrous as those in children’s picture books, the airport becomes the heaving heart of the metropolitan beast, its raison d’etre. As the temple was to the Roman city, so the runway is to the Tennessee aerotropolis. The gods have become noisier and more restless.
Kasarda and his amanuensis, Greg Lindsay, have produced a book called ‘Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next’ that sets out a hectic vision for the soon-to-be nine billion inhabitants of a small planet. As electronic connectivity demands its mirror image – the physical connectedness of human beings scrambling to keep pace with digital algorithms – the growth will be spurred that keeps us whole.
Already, Kasarda and Lindsay write, the numbers are compelling. While world GDP rose 154 per cent between 1975 and 2005, world trade grew 355 per cent. “Meanwhile, the value of air cargo climbed an astonishing 1,395 per cent. More than a third of all the goods traded in the world, some $3 trillion worth – but barely one per cent of its weight! – travels via air freight.”
Those numbers provide a useful image of a post-industrial world where air-freighted Chinese-made iPads, Ivory Coast sea bass and French foie gras satisfy the needs of the wealthy for instant gratification while those bound to defer gratification – like jobless workers of a de-industrialising middle America – scramble to get in the fast-lane to aerotropolis.
In a rosy view, Airworld serves the winners as it sets losers on an upwardly-mobile path with a basic wage. But I find a darker image insistent: of a frenzied world chasing its tail even as it devours scarce resources.
Choa sees in the aerotropolis a symbol of a city-dominated world. “In the 19th century you had the apotheosis of empire, in the 20th century of the nation, and today of cities,” he told me. “The Chinese are not remotely interested in what the UK thinks, but they are very interested in London.” New Songdo, an aerotropolis near Seoul, does business with Sao Paulo; the South Korean-Brazilian relationship is but a detail.
Self walked from London to New York – that is, he walked from central London out to Heathrow and from JFK into New York City – and found “Manhattan suddenly jammed into the Thames estuary, a continuous land mass forged from walking for two days.” In similar fashion he did a two-day trek from Dubai airport across the city and into the Empty Quarter – a traverse that found him alone among uprooted migrant workers of the ultimate Arab aerotropolis.
Before we commit headlong to Kasarda’s and Lindsay’s vision – what Self in a powerful critique of their work in the London Review of Books calls “the redeye flight to apocalypse” – I recommend that we all take a walk out from our old cities to our airports with their supplicant aerotropoli, the better to measure where we really are, who we are, and where we want to go.