The Aerotropolis: Will the Cities of the Future be Giant Airports?

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The Utopianist dislikes The Aerotropolis:

To most people, building an entire city around an airport probably seems like a terrible idea. First of all, airports just aren’t fun — especially in the US, they’re irritating places and filled with never-ending lines, over-priced food, and irascible TSA agents. And that’s to say nothing of the pat downs. Second of all, they’re usually sprawling, aesthetically offensive, and loud — most cities go to good lengths to relegate its airport to the outskirts for a reason.

So why does John D. Kasarda, a University of North Carolina business-school professor, author and consultant, think that the cities of the future will be built around airports? Why does Kasarda insist that today’s successful metropolises will become tomorrow’s aerotropolises?

It really boils down to a single idea: he believes that cities with major airports and air-shipping capacity will become the next great port cities in coming years, and that cities can flourish if they’re built with the aim of producing and moving air freight. Kasarda describes his vision in an upcoming book, Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. According to Metropolis magazine (which reviews the book here), an aerotropolis goes something like this:

It’s a city that’s built around an airport, the bigger the better, with factories and/or traders, both dependent on air freight, close by, followed by a ring of malls and hotels, followed by a ring of residential neighborhoods. The airport isn’t an annoyance, located as far out of the way as possible, but the city’s heart, its raison d’être.

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I think some cities will be airport based, but not too many. The advantages are few when most people fly once or twice a year. Even for those who fly more frequently, there is little need for it to be the center of the region (since the number of people flying into and out of downtown before and after work is quite small). Freight gains little advantage from centrality, where local streets are likely to be highly congested. The airport could easily be at the edge of the region, where the externalities are minimized. Further, cities could easily have multiple airports if demand is high enough, and the economies of scale small enough.

2 Comments

This book has also been reviewed by the Economist.

Agree that the aerotropolis idea is overblown. I looked at this issue in February 2010:

http://melbourneurbanist.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/is-this-the-way-we%E2%80%99ll-live-next/

David Levinson

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on May 9, 2011 10:25 AM.

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