November 25, 2014

Dubai international airport

Dubai International Airport is a major hub for global travel and trade. Credit: Jason Mrachina / Flickr Creative Commons

Santa Claus has it easy. He can travel the globe without waiting in long security lines, squeezing into cramped seats, or paying for over-priced sandwiches mid-flight.
 
For the rest of us, the hassles of air travel are just part of the experience.

But while you're in the midst of holiday travel, think for a minute about how important airports have become in our lives.

Throughout history, cities that capitalized on the most modern forms of transportation thrived. It was New York’s large port that made it an ideal location during the age of shipping, says Daniel Brook, author of "A History of Future Cities." Many of the cities in the South and West of the U.S. wouldn't have prospered if it weren't for railroads, and then, later, the national highway system.
 
In this century, cities that put airports at their center are the ones climbing ahead of the pack, argues John Kasarda, the author of Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next.
 
The Dallas-Fort Worth area, he says, is “home of nine of the Fortune 1000 world corporate headquarters.” It's an example of an “aerotropolis” – a place with an airport at the center and an urban landscape that grows up around it.

The shift towards airport-centered cities is coming about largely because of convenience, explains Kasarda. It was only a matter of time before companies with executives flying multiple times a week decided to build office parks closer to the airport. And soon, those executives realized that living near the office also made their lives easier.

As other countries around the world develop their own aerotropoli, Kasarda worries that we may not be able to compete.

“They have a totally different view of aviation,” he says of many countries in Asia and the Middle East. “They view them as primary infrastructure to compete in a globally-connected, speed-driven economy.” He contrasts this with the U.S., where airports are often seen as “environmental or toxic threats that aren’t to be leveraged and grown, but to be controlled.”

And those who spend a lot of time in airports may see another downside to the increasing power of aviation. In an endless sea of Marriotts and Cheesecake Factories, each city might lose its distinctiveness. Kasarda admits that problems like these go hand in hand with the growth of the aerotropolis, but he also believes the benefits of a connected society far outweigh the costs.

Culture, cities, airports, airplanes, John Kasarda

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