Aerotropolis: the city of the future

 The Aerotropolis describes the future design of successful airport terminals worldwide.  The conceptual brainchild of John Kasarda, professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said airports are set to become “mega-malls” of the future. Kasarda gave a presentation expounding on the outlook of an aviation-driven infrastructure for airports last Friday. Kasarda also spoke of the potential for the Aerotropolis to transform Atlanta into a top ranking global metropolis.

The Aerotropolis might include high quality shopping, upscale restaurants and flourishing business districts contained within a mega-center. Though many airports today possess retail shops, restaurants and train stations, Kasarda believes they can offer far more services.

The Aerotropolis or “airport city” describes highly efficient and profitable commerce centers centrally located around major airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson International, which Kasarda and others envision in Atlanta’s future.

“You can be a top-tier city,” Kasarda said of Atlanta. “You have the trump card to do it.”

Kasarda explained that apartments, health care facilities, fitness centers, business conference rooms, grocery and drug stores – all within a stone’s throw of the airport terminal – would branch out of interconnected districts circling the airport. Businesses, commerce, tech industries, and even hospitals would be incorporated into the metropolises built around these airports. High-speed “aerotrains” and smart development would put these various districts within six minutes of most terminals.

Globalization, international travel and more connectivity have created a “physical Internet” Kasarda says, with airports acting as “routers” to connect people.

Kasarda added that the fusion of retail centers, business districts, ground transportation and residential areas will provide the foundation of the aeroptropolis. Careful planning and zoning requirements would ensure minimal disturbances to noise-sensitive “districts”.

Kasarda said that with business travelers flying into a city and often not staying more than a day, businesses increasingly hold their meetings at airports.

The Aerotropolis design would appeal to people stuck at an airport, regular travelers passing through and even those who aren’t flying anywhere. Kasarda said that the daily consumer population of most airports has grown larger than the populace of most mid-size cities (92 million annually, 250,000+ daily in Atlanta).

“Airports can capitalize on this, as well as many other types of business, service and industry-related companies,” Kasarda said.

Kasarda argued that, if planned properly, land development can put Atlanta on the global map and boost its economy. The design and implementation phase would happen over decades and would require coordination and governance from multiple counties and cities.

“It’s not for you, it’s for your grandchildren,” Kasarda said. “It will help make the city a central hub and will put it on the global map for the future.”

Inevitably, most large-scale airports will become aerotropolises in the future, Kasarda said. The differences would lie in whether their structure was highly organized into efficient centers of commerce, or simply a random mixture of “haphazard economic developments” near the airport. Most large airports today do have some forms of industry or business surrounding or in the vicinity of the airport.

“But we must act wisely,” Kasarda said.  “An efficient and profitable aerotropolis can be created through careful planning and investment.”

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