If you are part of the aviation industry, then you have most likely heard of the term: Aerotropolis. Repurposed by John D. Kasarda in 2000, the term is widely used across several fields, from economics to urban sociology and planning, and of course, aviation.
The basic premise is as such: because many businesses rely on distant products and customers, and because we live in an age of “instant gratification,” the airport will increasingly become the nucleus of economic activity, with land-use that connects local and global markets. In other words, the competitiveness of an aerotropolis is anchored upon aviation connectivity and its ability to move people and products rapidly around the world (Appold 2013; Hubbard 2017).
As Greg Lindsay writes in “Aerotropolis: How we will live next,” the aerotropolis represents the logic of globalization (2011). “The three rules of real estate have changed from location, location, location, to accessibility, accessibility, accessibility. There’s a new metric. It’s no longer space; it’s time and cost. And if you look closely at the aerotropolis, what appears to be sprawl is slowly evolving into a system reducing both.”
As population, air travel and resource consumption increases, Kasarda’s concept has never been more relevant. Indeed, history shows us that great cities were often built where commerce and transport flourished. From land to sea to air transport, the logic follows that the cities of tomorrow will be built on and around airports.
But the aerotropolis, that may have once seemed dystopic, is quickly becoming a reality. Examples of planned or organic aerotropolises can be found in or surrounding Amsterdam-Schiphol, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Dubai, Dusseldorf, Hong Kong, Incheon, Memphis, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Washington Dulles airports (Kasarda, 2015).
The lands around these airports have become magnets for a range of economic activities that thrive on long-distance connectivity, serving as “regional economic accelerators, crystalizing and driving business development outward for many miles (Kasarda, 2015).” This is turn has a multiplying effect; a potential to generate huge socio-economic returns to local and national economies.
For instance, South Africa’s aerotropolis around O.R. Tambo International Airport in Ekurhuleni, adjacent to Johannesburg, has been planned for tourism development to help improve the region’s economic distress and creation of local jobs away from the traditional economic base of mining and industry. The strengthening of tourism in Ekurhuleni offers the potential for contributing towards “inclusive development” goals (Rogerson, 2018). The metropolitan authority of Ekurhuleni is described to have a development strategy committed to providing benefits to the city’s poorer communities (Rogerson, 2018).
Airports have evolved from infrastructure providers to complex businesses that produce considerable commercial development within and well beyond their parameters. The quest to improve the passenger experience is one of the chief factors that have led the evolution of city airports into “airport cities” (Kasarda, 2015). Catering to the needs of passengers, particularly within the passenger-terminal through the offering of a wide-array of consumer services, has given the airport all the commercial functions of a metropolitan center.
And in addition to commercial centers, aerotropolises have become cooperate meeting hubs. Concourse-connected business class hotels and convention centers, in or surround airports, increasingly offer a full-range of business services. For instance, Hong Kong International Airport not only has one of the world’s largest terminal commercial lounges but is also strategically integrated with the AsiaWorld-Expo, one of Asia’s leading convention Centre. Fittingly, it is where ACI will hold its Annual General Assembly, Conference and Exhibition, from 2 to 4 April 2019, under the theme “What’s next for aviation? The future starts now.”
From the margins of cities to city centers in themselves, the rise of the aerotropolis brings airports into the limelight. Further development of the aerotropolis will be driven by increasing globalization and the need for quick connectivity, and it is up to governments, regulators, investors and airports to help shape how the aerotropolis will function. Vision, planning and coordinated action amongst difference stakeholders will be needed to seize opportunity and champion air travel growth in a safe, secure and sustainable manner.