Aeropolises: how cities are built around airports

More recently, in the mid-zero, the word “aerotropolis” flashed on the pages of the press, which quickly became very fashionable. This word for a city built around an airport was coined by American professor John Casard of the University of North Carolina. Kazarda today is not just an armchair scientist and visionary, he is a global consultant traveling from continent to continent and explaining to all interested authorities how to build aerotropolises correctly.

Today in the world there are 24 functioning aerotropolis, about 50 more complexes around airports are on the way to this status. The concept of airport cities is brought to life by globalization. Modern companies can be much more closely connected with a partner overseas than with neighbors in the city or even along the street.

The era loves vanity

Over a centuries-old history, says Kazarda, access to transport opportunities has been a key factor in the emergence and growth of cities. If the products of local artisans are sold not only in the district, but also at distant lands, then the city is rapidly becoming richer. Initially, proximity to waterways (large rivers, convenient sea bays) gave transport advantages, then it was the turn of building roads, railways, and high-speed autobahns. Today, according to John Casarda, such advantages are provided by proximity to the centers of air transportation, and this has been facilitated by the changed structure of the economy. Today, only 1% of the total mass of goods is transported by air, but this percentage accounts for about 40% of the value of the mass of goods. An almost weightless tablet computer, the price of which is comparable to the cost of a couple of tons of grain, is, of course, more profitable to transport by air, because the faster this high-tech product arrives from the manufacturer to the seller, and from the seller to the consumer, the higher the chance to beat competitors. Today, companies do not compete, says Kazarda, but production cooperation networks, logistics chains, and transportation systems. In short, the closer to the airfield, the closer to success.

The most intensively developed aerotropolises are in the countries of the Far East and Southeast Asia, which indicates the growing economic power of the region. Several exemplary aerotropolises created in the USA, famous for their unique urbanistic culture.

In spite of spontaneity

I must say that long before the sonorous term “aerotropolis” appeared, large airports became a point of attraction for all kinds of economic activity. It is enough to drive around, say, Moscow Sheremetyev, by car, to make sure that on almost all sides the airfield is surrounded by hotels, offices of customs brokers and logistics companies and other organizations whose activities are somehow related to cargo and passenger air transportation. This process takes place naturally and mostly spontaneously, but spontaneity is contraindicated for aerotropolises. The essence of John Casarda’s idea lies precisely in the fact that the new type of cities emerging around airports must be carefully planned so as not to inherit the problems inherent in traditional megacities.

Dubai International Airport is one of the most impressive examples of urban infrastructure around a major aviation hub.

Nurse Mail

The "true" aerotropolis consists of two main parts. The first is the city, that is, the closest range of services directly related to servicing freight and passenger flows to the airport: passenger terminals with shops, restaurants, cinemas, hotels for transit passengers plus the infrastructure for sending and receiving goods. Around the "city" in a radius of 8-30 km, the city itself unfolds. It will find a place for offices and production facilities of companies that actively use air transportation in their business, residential complexes, where employees of all these companies will live, as well as educational and social infrastructure facilities. Thus, an aerotropolis should become a point of attraction for a high-tech business, the main priority of which is proximity to global supply chains. One example of an already operating aerotropolis is American Memphis. The local airport is one of the three world hubs of the FedEx postal corporation. With the development of electronic commerce, the industry of express delivery of goods has experienced a boom, because if you can order goods from an American web store on the Internet, then you can’t get it on the Internet. What is needed is the “physical Internet” (an expression of John Casarda), which aviation has become today. In Memphis, FedEx creates almost one in four jobs, and it is not surprising that a new type of city was formed around the local airport, where hundreds of aircraft with the FedEx logo on board take off and land around the clock. And it is interesting not only for the mail giant anymore - for example, Electrolux, a household appliance manufacturer, has been choosing a place for its new company in North America for a long time and, finally, it has settled on Memphis aerotropolis.


On the way to the aerotropolis

The emergence of a fully-functional aerotropolis at the Domodedovo Airport is a matter of the future, but the first steps have already been announced. Firstly, by 2020 there will be a major reconstruction of the airport itself. A new runway will be built, which will allow Domodedovo to perform 90 take-off and landing operations per hour under simple weather conditions. The area of ​​passenger terminals, taking into account new segments, will increase by nine times. The cargo terminal will also be expanded, the food service factory will be reconstructed, and a mini-CHP will be built. In the same period, the hotel complex, connected with the passenger terminal, and the cargo village, combining the cargo terminal with the office building, will go into operation.

Clusters and Trunks

The structure of the aerotropolis is predominantly cluster. Residential complexes, manufactures and warehouses, offices are separated from each other, preferably with the help of park areas. And the main thing is transport. A carefully thought-out transport system should save aerotropolises from the troubles of megacities, namely from the loss of time for traffic jams and the mixing of cargo and passenger flows. Firstly, the airport connects with the outskirts of the aerotropolis and the nearest major cities by high-speed railway. Secondly, highways penetrate reaching the center, that is, to the airfield, highways in which the lanes for passenger traffic are physically separated from the lanes for the transport of goods. The aerotropolis administration encourages companies to deploy their offices and facilities the closer to the airfield, the more actively they use air transportation services, and vice versa.

The classical scheme of an aerotropolis: in the center - adjacent to the city airdrome, on the periphery - residential, business and scientific-production "clusters" separated by park zones.

Goodbye village!

I must say that although the United States and Europe have many exemplary aerotropolises on their account, for example, around the airports of Memphis, Detroit or Amsterdam, the most impressive growth of this new type of settlement is observed in the "new industrial territories" - in China, South Korea, Thailand, the UAE . Having successfully integrated into the international distribution of labor, Asian states see the giant aerotropolises they create as an opportunity both to attract additional capital and technology to their countries, and to urbanize the excess rural population (this is mainly true for countries such as China and Thailand).

Last fall, with the participation of John Casarda himself, plans were announced to create the first Russian aerotropolis at the Domodedovo airport. Indeed, it is Domodedovo of the three Moscow airports that has the greatest potential for development and the most ambitious plans. If these plans are destined to be realized, then, in addition to the planned expansion of the Russian capital to the southwest, another impressive size urban “appendage” will arise in the southeast. The new satellite city will be built around the multimodal commercial core of City Airport Za Obrazheniye, and will provide about 1 million jobs in the future.

Do aerotropolises have a future in Russia? On the one hand, our country is neither a “world workshop”, as the countries of Southeast Asia, nor a base of transnational corporations like the USA, EU and Japan, nor a leader in world tourism. The only things that can be seriously discussed so far are attempts to reorient part of the cargo-passenger transit between Europe and Asia to Russian hubs. On the other hand, from the corridors of power, no, no, yes, and once again the idea will break through that it makes sense to gather the entire Russian population in a couple of dozen “agglomerations”, because it’s too expensive to create high-quality infrastructure for small settlements scattered over vast territories, and it’s impossible. If such a scenario is realized over time, then establishing intensive transport links between the agglomerations will become a priority, and aerotropolises, as one of the forms of a new wave of urbanization, will receive an impetus for development.

The article “On the Air Shores” was published in the magazine “Popular Mechanics” (No. 5, May 2012).

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