This brilliant and eye-opening look at the new phenomenon called the aerotropolis gives us a glimpse of the way we will live in the near future—and the way we will do business too.
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.
This is the aerotropolis: a combination of giant airport, planned city, shipping facility, and business hub. The aerotropolis approach to urban living is now reshaping life in Seoul and Amsterdam, in China and India, in Dallas and Washington, D.C. 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 instant 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 exploit 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.
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Greg Lindsay
Q: In a few sentences, what's the central message of your book?
A: Successful cities have always been founded because of trade--from Ur to New York, these are places where people exchange goods, money and ideas. Meanwhile, the shape of cities has always been defined by transportation. Boston was built around its docks;,Chicago around the railroads, and Los Angeles around the car. And the world is poised to build literally hundreds of new cities as 3 billion 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 a global economy, where trillions of dollars in goods and billions of people follow digital bits around the world, sooner or later we would end up building cities defined by their airports, because the only geography that matters vis economic geography. It sounds like science fiction, but it's always been this way.
Q: It seems like airports have been on people's minds lately: in movies like Up in the Air, in books like A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton, and, of course, all over the news, thanks to the A-380 Superjumbo Jet and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Was this the right time for this book?
A: The right time would have been 1962, when Eero Sarrinen's swooping TWA Flight Center was unveiled at New York's JFK and everyone was in love with the tantalizing speed jets offered. Air travel promised to change the world, and it has--albeit in ways that are so central to our daily lives they're all-but invisible to us. Today, the great wonder is one-click shopping from our iPhones, even though overnight delivery is only made possible by the enormous hubs of FedEx and UPS and nearly a thousand planes between them. Today, I listened to the CEO of FedEx lament that aviation is "taken for granted," and he's right. But it's only been in the last decade or so that air travel has really started to change the world--most of all because hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian passengers have just begun to fly. China added the equivalent of Great Britian's air traffic during the previous decade--and they have not yet begun to fly. The world's newest frequent fliers will reshape the world--or, some worry, will destroy it.
Q: How does the vision of Aerotropolis fit in with books like Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, or Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class, which talk a lot about the free exchange and flow of goods, ideas, and people?
A: People reading Friedman get the impression--whether correctly or not--that what we call globalization started with the Internet. Really, it began with the jet. As for Richard Florida, today he talks about "megaregions"--huge groupings of cities--competing on a global basis for the best talent and opportunities. He's right. In Chicago, the outgoing mayor Richard M. Daley talks about Saó Paul and Mumbai as Chicago's closest competitors, not St. Louis and Milwaukee. And that's why Daley is desperate to expand O'Hare--because international connections are what make it a global city. That's led to the area around O'Hare becoming the second-largest business district in the Midwest, behind the Loop, and also to the Loop's resurgence as the home of the highly-paid white collar employees of the multinational firms who have set up shop in Chicago over the last 20 years. You need a good airport to both attract talent on a worldwide basis, and also to project that talent across the country or around the world.
Q: Do you think there will be a limited capacity for the new aerotropolis -- can the world handle only so many Dubais and Memphises? For example, what about cities like Wilmington, Ohio, which until recently was the hub of Airborne Express and DHL and is now looking for a buyer for the airport?
A: The future won't look like the Jetsons, that's for sure. One of the book's messages is that cities rise-and-fall, usurp dying ones and are eventually replaced by the next great ones, and that this pattern has been defined through history by trade routes and transportations. One of the reasons China, India, and the 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 the way from Beijing to Johannesburg. It isn't a literal road--it's made up of air routes. And one thing about the New Silk Road is that it has nothing to do with America. It's about rewiring the global economy so that it runs through the East, not the West. That's what I mean when I describe the aerotropolis as a "weapon"--the world is in midst of what is seen as a zero-sum, winner-take-all battle to corner the market on prosperity. Many places will build one; by definition, only a few will succeed. I'm not endorsing it, but this is what it looks like on a ground when you read newspaper stories about the U.S. and China tussling over exchange rates--it's about who get to manufacture the iPad, and where, to keep those jobs.
Q: You write that aesthetics are not one of the aerotropolis's strong suits. Will people really want to live there? Or will they not have a choice?
A: Humanity is officially an urban species. More than half of all people live in cities now, whether those are downtowns, suburbs, or (increasingly) slums. According to one report I've seen, the urban footprint of Earth is expected to double in just 19 years. No matter what we build, aesthetics aren't likely to be cities' strong suits--at least not in places like the Chinese city of Chongqing, which is adding the equivalent of a Pittsburgh every year. One of the great luxuries of the 21st century will be a sense of place. The qualities of an aerotropolis being built in China — speed, efficiency, generic "world-class" architecture--are the qualities of the instant cities rising around the globe.
Q: What differentiates the aerotropolis from other commercially-centered visions of urban planning, like the suburban strip mall or Leavittown?
A: Those are examples of what you get when private developers are driving the agenda, which has been the case in American since post-WWII suburbia, at least. The places that are consciously looking to develop (or redevelop) the areas around their airports, like Detroit, or Amsterdam, or Beijing, have done a much better job about thinking regionally, about bringing public and private interests together, and trying to build something that makes sense from both an economic and urban planning standpoint, rather than just make a quick buck. A great example is Amsterdam, which built an entirely new business district called the Zuidas on its southern border with towers expressly designed for the Netherlands' largest banks and other companies, along with housing, all centered on a train station that is six minutes from the airport. It's a lot better than the alternative--exurbs lying forty miles from Phoenix, Arizona.