Aerotropolis: Airport Centric Cities

Airports and the evolution of Aerotropolis Cities

The initial idea of Aerotropolis was presented in the November 1939 issue of Popular Science by Nicholas DeSantis. The airport-driven economic development of airport cities, was further taken forward by an air commerce researcher John D. Kasarda in 2000. According to him airports have influenced urban development in the 21st century. This influence is in the same way as  seaports in the 18th century, railroads in the 19th century and highways did in the 20th century. It is not how far, but how fast distant places can connect.

“Cities used to be almost exclusively destinations and airports solely places of departure. Now airports are becoming destinations and cities places of departure as their residents and workers increasingly travel to emerging airport cities around the world. John D. Kasarda”

With the world undergoing transformation post globalization and liberalization, the utility of an airport has also changed. From being a place meant for passenger and cargo transit(aeronautical income), it has now become a place which is trying to maximize its revenue through non-aeronautical income-like hotels, etc located within close proximity of the airport. Also, in 1970s the airport used to be under the control of state government for the purpose of defense but in the present times, the airports are either under state control or under public private partnership. The advantage of airport and air transport as the fastest, comfortable and highly accessible mode of travel has led to the development of the concept of ‘ Aerotropolis ’. The term was introduced by  Nicholas DeSantis and revived by John D Kasarda in 2000. Both of them emphasized on the importance of an airport as and comfortable mode of travel for the business class and time-deficient people. According to the latter, an aerotropolis is analogous in shape to the traditional metropolis made up of a central city and its rings of commuter-heavy suburb. The aerotropolis consists of an airport city core and outlying corridors and clusters of aviation-linked businesses and associated residential developments. The concept says that the traditional location of airport at the periphery of a city may now transform. The city will now develop all around the airport. The planning principles guide the location of various developments in and around the airport. The concept has been criticised owing to the fact that the current cities have grown organically and the applicability of the concept will be difficult. The concept and its applicability has been viewed in regard to 2 case studies- Schiphol and Hong Kong aerotropolis.

Cities in the past have grown around major transport hubs. The development in the 21st century is paving way for the cities to grow around the airports. This trend of airport centric development is not only increasing employment, but also giving shape to numerous metropolitan features. Aerotropolis meaning can be understood as airport centric development.  This dispersed airport related development is giving rise to a new urban form called Aerotropolis. These are no different from traditional cities in abstract sense (central city commercial core and commuter-linked suburbs), but the difference is just that the city core is the airport. The layout, infrastructure, and economy are centered on an airport which serves as a multi-modal “airport city” commercial core.

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Features of the airport central to an Aerotropolis

Airport is multi-modal commercial core of aerotropolis. It has accommodation, corporate suits, flex offices, business meetings, support services, retail and airline services. The terminal nexus is comprised of airline, shopping, dining, leisure and office accommodation. There is mixed use inside the airport fence. The connectivity in a aerotropolis is through airport expressway links (aerolanes) and airport express trains (aerotrains). The aerotropolis highway corridors and airport express trains effectively and efficiently connect the airport to downtown and major regional business and residential concentrations. Cluster rather than strip development is the key feature of development.

Components and key elements of an aerotropolis:

The services and elements which makes aerotropolis efficient and possible are listed below. Each component has a crucial role to play in the overall functioning.

  1. Smart infrastructure for Logistics and just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing that speeds the deliveries. These are spatially segregated from white-collar service facilities and airport passenger flows. It would result in increasing the efficiency and decreasing the ambiguity.
  2. Free trade zones (specific class of special economic zone) with minimal tax impositions so that the goods may be landed, stored, handled,and re-exported under customs regulation (and generally not subject to customs duty) for boosting exports.
  3. E-Commerce and Distribution that has a rapid response to customer orders due to the the increasing focus on “pure-click and brick-and-click channel system”. Advancements in technology has benefited all walks of commerce by increasing efficiency in a very short time span.
  4. Flex Tech for fast and reliable information technology consulting which is a basic source for economic activities involving assembling, repairing and shipping of things.
  5. Intermodal Freight Hub that reduces cargo handling, improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster. It is aimed to comprehensively bring airways, railways, roadways and waterways (if any), together.
  6. Office parks and office corridors on common grounds which are air travel intensive. The location of business centers is based upon the proximity to the airport based on their frequency of use. They connect executives and professionals quickly to distant markets more efficiently.
  7. Exhibitions and conference centers. They are also knowledge exchange magnets. Placemaking enhanced by thematic architectural features, public art, and iconic structures make developments interpretable, navigable, and welcoming.
  8. Hotels, entertainment and retail clusters which serve long distance travelers. They are also important for serving the local needs as well.
  9.  Medical and Wellness cluster for  provision of healthcare. It is to establish a network for developing and cementing relationships, sharing best practices to foster the development of the medical and wellness businesses. Also it serves the purpose of medical tourism.
  10.  Academic and research cluster for distinguished group of investigators with common academic interests, allowing for meaningful ways to foster interdisciplinary and community collaboration. The research work and education are supposed to go hand-in-hand.
  11.  Mix use residential areas are the major spots for serving and housing the aerotropolis population. It has easy commuting and is designed to human scale providing local services, urban amenities, and sense of neighborhood.

Aerotropolis zoning of elements

Related: Primate City & Primacy | Relationship between city sizesHoyt Model or Sector Model

What triggered the growth of air travel and the need of aerotropolis

The competitive advantage of any city rests on a well planned physical and commercial infrastructure. Earlier the airways had the contribution just in terms of aeronautical share. But with changing time, non aeronautical share is increasing. Sometimes it is much greater than the aeronautical share because of the following reasons:

  1. Higher income of airline passengers
  2. Large volumes of passenger flow
  3. High retail sales
  4. Various schemes and policies aimed at providing faster commute, better connectivity and increased tourism.

Focus on Public Private Partnership (PPP) and increasing the non aeronautical share are the elementary steps towards a greater good. Rapidly growing commercial air travel and the booming economy act as catalysts in this process. It is a dynamic, forward-looking model that often reflects historic airport area development before air commerce played such an important economic role. An aerotropolis is supposed to grow in an intelligent manner, minimizing problems and benefiting its users, businesses, surrounding communities, and the larger region it serves.

Related: Central Place Theory (CPT) by Walter Christaller (1933), Galactic City Model

Making the Aerotropolis a reality

As mentioned, earlier major cities largely grew around seaports. Then urban development took place along rivers that formed the backbones of the industrial revolution in UK and US. Railroads opened up landlocked interiors of nations. Then, the expansion of suburban roadway systems created a fourth wave of urban development. Cities are now well into a fifth wave of transit-oriented development, where large commercial airports have become significant drivers of business location and urban economic growth. Four of the Fortune 500 and eight of the Fortune 1,000 world headquarters are located in Las Colinas, Texas, a suburb near Dallas airport. Also, Hong Kong International Airport sustains  Hong Kong Disneyland and Memphis International sustains New Songdo International Business District, both of which are sizable airport cities built from scratch over the last ten years. Furthermore in 2010, recognizing the reality and potential, efforts were led to develop feasibility assessments for an Aerotropolis concept around Brown Field Municipal Airport in San Diego County, California. Then in 2011, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in South Africa officially announced its intention to transform the municipality into a functioning Aerotropolis.

What makes “Aerotropolis” different and advantageous!

Aircraft are 21st century’s physical internet connecting people and products quickly worldwide. The Aerotropolises are advantageous for fast growing and globally networked economy. Time-cost accessibility between nodes is the primary aerotropolis planning metric, not the distance.

“The 20th century was about cities building airports. The 21st century will be about airports building cities.” John D. Kasarda

The concept of aerotropolis combines airport planning, urban planning, and business site planning to create a new sustainable urban form in a synergistic manner. Sufficient green space between clusters are not neglected. Airport area buildings, walkways, travel lanes, landscaping, and public space, each carry a unique identity. Aerotropolises are economically efficient, aesthetically pleasing, socially vibrant, and environmentally sustainable.

Zoning in Aerotropolis

Principles of Aerotropolis planning

  • Businesses should be located in proximity to the airport based on frequency of their use of the airport, reducing highway travel and congestion.
  • Establish design standards for airport area structures, travel lanes, and public spaces.
  • Mixed-use residential communities housing airport area workers should be located outside aircraft noise contours but offering short commutes and be designed to provide a sense of community along with basic institutional and consumer services
  • Airport area with goods-processing activities (manufacturing, warehousing, trucking) should be spatially segregated from white-collar service facilities and airport passenger flows.
  • Time-cost accessibility (airport city to be maximum 15 minute from airport) between key nodes should be the primary aerotropolis planning metric rather than distance.

The drawbacks and cons of Aerotropolis

Thought the concept of aerotropolis has defined the new era of urban development, yet some of the facts which revolve around it, can not be left behind. The first and foremost drawback of the aerotropolis is that, since the higher middle class and the high class can afford the air travel, hence such cities would be symbol of elitism. It’s not that that the cities would be made just for them; or, that the other classes are supposed not to take advantage of the related development. It’s just due the fact that, if in an aerotropolis is designed, the lower classes would automatically become isolated. Hence the very notion of creating the aerotropolis, to bring together people from around the globe, fails. It fails because it creates distance between the people already living together. And moreover, what is the significance of a city, when its majority of elements are utilized by a specific community or group of people. Adding to the list of drawbacks, there is one more aspect which needs to be taken into consideration before planning out aerotropolis. As mentioned earlier, making and sustaining cities around airports is a sign of fifth wave of transit oriented development (after sea ports, rivers, railroads and roads). Hence the concept is limited to a very few cities all over the world. There are many cities which are still struck on second or third step. Majority of cities have reached the fourth step though. But it does not necessarily means that they are ready to enter into the new era of development. No doubt, that this development will set great benchmarks for the urban development, but there are many more things to be taken into account before starting off with such projects. For instance, as mentioned earlier, the economic composition of the people is one such aspect. There are many such arguments as to what should be done. But without a proper itinerary, a new experiment is bound to do more bad than good.

 Read about: Urban Growth, Concentric Zone Model or Burgess Model Rural-urban continuum and causes of rural-urban continuum