Aerotropolis: The airport – and community – of the future

I just finished reading a magazine article that left me both surprised and thrilled. Published in Fast Company magazine, this article explains how cities around the world – especially in China, India, Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea – are not only building massive new airports, but they are surrounding the airports with commercial and industrial sectors and massive amounts of residential properties. And, those residential units are in the form of multistory apartment buildings.

Known as an Aerotropolis, the idea is that airports and aviation are what the rivers and railroads were years and years ago. In the beginning, cities developed where navigable rivers occurred or at points where those rivers and trains came together.

The communities developed with homes and businesses. They grew and prospered because they were able to move their goods and products, as well as travel to distant points, relatively easily. This also meant they could communicate with others down the river or at the other end of the train tracks.

Now, aviation has taken over from the rivers and trains as a major mover of products, goods and people. As a result, more and more businesses and industries have decided they need to be close to facilities where they can receive the raw products for their manufacturing entities and move the finished goods to market. This facility today is known as a major airport.

Hong Kong International Airport has residential towers that house thousands of people who live and work in the area. The high-rise structures are just minutes from the runways of the airport.

Near Bangkok, Thailand, a mega-airport is being completed that ultimately is expected to see 100 million passengers a year pass through its glass hallways. Experts predict that within 30 years there will be a city of more than 3 million people in the immediate airport vicinity.

John Kasard, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Business School, is a major factor in the growing Aerotropolis field. His vision of the future calls for locating new airports in the center of an area and building communities around them. The airports shouldn’t be banished to the hinterlands, he maintains in this article in Fast Company, but should be at the center of the communities.

In one corner of the world after another, new, huge airports are under construction with major industrial and residential developments in the neighborhood.

While I haven’t been predicting this type of growth movement, I know the interest in the U.S., Canada and several European countries for residential airparks has been growing dramatically in recent years. I now count more than 500 airparks on our online directory of residential airparks and there are at least a dozen others that are currently under construction. And, those are only the ones of which I am aware.

In the U.S. and Canada it seems there are always objections to airports of all kinds, particularly commercial ones. The residential airparks, while they see their share of opposition, don’t fare as badly as major public aviation facilities.

Perhaps it is time to take a look at the facilities going up around the world and recognize that if we build the airports, surround them with an industrial and business complex that supports a work force and develop the infrastructure that a community needs to support it, maybe we can have several positive things happen. First, we don’t need a lot of major highways because people will be close enough to walk, take a bike or travel by a quick bus or train trip. Without having to commute by cars, we’ll save on gas and possibly even reduce the greenhouse scenario that is reportedly making the world warmer.

Can that be done safely and efficiently and buildings and homes built in a manner so that the residents won’t be griping about noise and fumes? Of course it can! The only thing holding something like that back is the willingness to accomplish such goals. That means politically we have to make changes, too.

Get the jobs close at hand. Bring the commercial airliners and general aviation aircraft onto the same close-in fields. Bring homes close to the business and transportation hubs and we’ve got an entirely new future.

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