Is this the way we’ll live next?

Wivenhoe Dam, Qld, at 197% capacity, Jan 2011

The centre of the city of the future will be the airport, according to a book by John D Kasarda of the University of Carolina and journalist Greg Lindsay to be published next month.

They say in Aerotropolis (subtitled, to emphasise its inevitability, The Way We’ll Live Next), that “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”. But things, they say, have changed:

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.

Soon the airport will be the centre of the city?!!! I am, to put it mildly, sceptical about this view of the future.

Yes, cities have almost always developed around transport infrastructure – first ports and rivers and more recently railheads and freeway nodes. Yes, local concentrations of economic activity have sprung up in various places to provide logistics services in close proximity to major airports, some of which are very large. And of course, as this preview of the book states, the share of high value freight carried by air is increasing at a much faster rate than trade generally.

Now if some marketer wants to start calling Melbourne airport and the surrounding area ‘Tullamarine Aerotropolis’ or something similar (‘Tullatropolis’?) that’s OK by me. It is after all one of the biggest concentrations of jobs in the suburbs of Melbourne and a fair number of those jobs are doubtless related in some way to aviation.

But arguing that the city of the future will “be built around the airport” is silly. Read the rest of this entry »