A HUB IN THE CITY
During ancient times, cities were built along waterways, such as rivers and oceans, for purposes of transportation, as well as sustaining life in the nearby communities. As civilization progressed, the major cities were located adjacent to roads, which connected them with other cities along the same route for purposes of trade and transport. During the late nineteenth century, railroads were the driving force in urban planning for a number of developed countries, in which glamorous terminals were built along the rail yards of major metropolitan areas. Enter the twenty first century and airports are now becoming the prime mover of urban development. During this blog, we'll follow the trend toward placing airports as both aviation and community hubs and determine possible advantages and disadvantages.
By definition, the aerotropolis is an urban form which is dependent upon an airport and its integrated surface transport network to quickly connect high-value, time-sensitive firms to their distant suppliers, customers and commerce partners. An aerotropolis is composed of a multimodal airport-based commercial zone with outlying corridors and clusters of aviation-linked businesses and related mixed-use commercial/residential developments, which feed off each other and their accessibility to the airport. While the concept of an airport city has been around for a number of years, it has shifted into high gear during the last twenty years. The aerotropolis philosophy incorporates traditional airport services along with a range of new non-aeronautical functions and revenue producers from developing real estate into commercial assets, while attracting aviation-related businesses to transforming their terminals into upscale shopping malls and family-oriented leisure and entertainment settings, to expanding their logistics and distribution chains.
However, the aerotropolis concept is not strictly a commercial land-use patchwork, but rather a planning and development strategy which harmonizes airport and ground transportation goals of ensuring the maximum access to the airport, as well as distant business sites at the lowest possible time and cost, in addition to meeting the business site and profitability objectives of firms making capital investments to the project. The aerotropolis must also meet the urban planning targets of livability, as well as environmentally sound and socially vibrant results. A comprehensive aerotropolis design strategy takes into consideration a number of factors, to include the development of mixed use residential and commercial communities housing aerotropolis workers and frequent air travelers within a close proximity to the airport, providing local services, urban conveniences, and a sense of neighborhood. The aerotropolis must also attract skilled labor and talent from which to maintain infrastructure and logistics improvements to increase its economic relevance on both the local and global scale. Dedicated airport express-
way links in the form of short-haul aircraft and airport express trains should efficiently connect airports to major regional business and residential concentrations. Cluster rather than strip development should be encouraged around airport transportation passages in order to group businesses with similar functions with sufficient green space between clusters for environmental and organizational purposes. Airport area manufacturing, trucking and warehousing operations should be situated away from the white-collar service facilities and airport passenger flows. Finally, noise and emission-sensitive commercial and residential developments should be placed outside high-intensity flight paths.
We must then ask ourselves what forces have transformed traditional airports on the edge of urban areas into the modern airport cities? A primary factor behind the trend to airport cities is the continued globalization of the economy. With the global economy constantly evolving, the role of the airport in regional and global economic development has rapidly expanded. Agility, connectivity and speed are prime movers making airports today's most efficient gateways for global trade and transformers of global growth. Increased competition is another force driving the growth of the aerotropolis. With increased global competition during the last ten years, more airports are joining the global economy to contend for both business and passengers. This rivalry has forced global airports to be more flexible, dynamic and enterprising. While enhancing the overall passenger experience is a long held goal of major airports for years, the competition has grown more intense over the last few years. With global airports offering increased levels of retail, transport and distribution, this competition has fueled the rise of targeted services provided in airports today. Even economic downturns have supported the aerotropolis concept. As aviation funding began to dry up, it forced airport owners and operators to consider other sources of revenue. Airports have now emphasized higher retail sales and alternative income streams in order to ensure their success in the future.
However, the aerotropolis model has not been without its critics, who address a number of social, environmental and technological issues, which could undermine the concept's long-term viability. Environmental issues are raised due to the loss of forests, farmland and other green space due to the urban sprawl resulting from the aerotropolis. On a human level, critics suggest a lack of neighborhood activities and atmosphere coupled with a lack of architectural decorum in the aerotropolis and its surrounding communities offer a monotonous street life. Aircraft noise is often cited as a factor reducing livability in the airport city. Recent technological advances in video conferencing and related telecommunications enhancements have the potential to diminish future business travel, as well as leisure air travel. The recent development of 3-D printing technologies could reduce the need for air shipments of time-critical parts, modules and finished products, decreasing the value of airport proximity. Advances in high-speed rail could erode efficiencies in air cargo shipments at distances up to 500 miles. The potential for densities of specialized urban clusters within or near the airport city could pose both traffic and congestion problems.
While the aerotropolis model has its share of drawbacks, it has attained a measure of success globally. For example, the Dulles Airport region in Washington, DC contains the second largest retail market in the U.S. Seoul's Incheon, Hong Kong International Airport and Memphis International are leading air cargo and logistics centers, with Hong Kong International and Incheon airports supporting Hong Kong Disneyland and New Songdo International Business District, a sizeable airport corridor city anew over the last ten years. Aviation and airports are creating new metropolitan dynamos in Asia and the Middle East, with the potential to displace New York, Tokyo and Frankfurt in capturing global business. Air connectivity has become so influential to the growth of the financial, commercial, logistics and leisure sectors of Dubai and Singapore that both places may be legitimately described as global aviation hubs with city-states attached. Perhaps, the chief merit of the aerotropolis is that it provides global business rapid connectivity on a massive scale, forming an efficient bridge between businesses and their suppliers. According to a recent Forbes survey, nearly fifty per cent of corporate headquarters in the United States are within ten miles of an airport.