Predecessors of Airport City Concepts
Worth exploring is the question if the spatial concepts of the many aerotropoli concepts might have predecessors. The perfect layout of new greenfield airports and airport cities surprise with their highly geometric forms and idealized gestalt. Architectural renderings show picture-perfect, streamlined buildings within neat parks and outdoor spaces that are inhabited by a precariously balanced racial mix of business entourage.
These renderings and the underlying airport city plans are reminiscent in their spatial clarity and expression of the Italian ideal city of the Renaissance: Just as with new airport cities, no historic considerations or geographical idiosyncrasies had to be taken into account in their planning. Still they were rooted in and influenced by the architectural language of their time, newly found urban planning principles, and technological advances of their culture.
The ideal city of Palmanova in the Northeast of Italy serves as a good example. Starting out as fortifications against outside aggressors, the plan for Palmanova features a city wall, ravelins, and moats for exterior defense. Three city gates puncture this ring and grant access to the city’s interior. Here a total of 18 radial streets and four circumferential roads create a highly symmetrical ensemble of smaller parcels with individual building blocks. The radial roads lead to a central place with a tower at its heart. Six smaller, square plazas can be found at some of the intersections of radial and circumferential streets. Whereas within Palmanova the buildings are highly detailed and suggestive of their various uses, the land outside the city is completely ignored.
A geometrically driven layout and a holistic, all encompassing design approach are features of both, airport cities and ideal cities. Both are projections into a future and depict cultural desires and ideal social states that depart from or smooth over the complexities of the current social and spatial realties. They therefore even have a socio-economic utopian notion: unattainable, yet worth striving for. Just as ideal cities were often fortified and surrounded by a city wall, airport cites are often planned as a gated, controlled entities, especially if planned on the platform (the land) of the airport itself. The medieval city walls have given way to the airport fence. Both concepts try to create a safe environment within with restricted access via entry and exit points. In their city hearts, the ideal city typically features a market place or a central building where people come together and do trade. The airport terminal is the modern interpretation of this centrality and is bestowed with the same spatial importance for human and also commercial interaction.
Whereas only a few ideal cities were actually realized, airport cities conceptions are now being build worldwide demonstrating that their cross-disciplinary planning has matured.
Whereas the Italian ideal city stands out as a model for airport cities, there are other planning models that influences nowadays airport city conceptions. Another important predecessor is the so-called edge city. Edge cities are dense, multifunctional sub city centers around the traditional core of cities that sprouted since the 1980’s in the metropolitan region of North American cities. Located in easily accessible areas along highways, they represent a new type of ad hoc city fabric with a critical and self-sustainable mass of commercial, residential, and administrative buildings that facilitate an autarkic way of living for its inhabitants that in their daily routines are independent from the old city core. The benefit of short walkable distances, a safe, controlled environment, and appealing choices for personal and professional life add to the attraction of these areas. Connected by highways, they reform the traditional city concept and its focus on a center into a polycentric urban landscape layered around the old core. American author and journalist Joel Garreau invented the edge city concept in response to these exurban phenomena.
Conway and the City of Tomorrow
A closer look at the discussed six aerotropoli concepts (click http://wp.me/p1CY5B-2p for more information on the individual concepts) shows that they all – with the exception of the Aviopolis – lean to varying degrees on 20th century urban planning principles. Modernist urban design ideas a la Le Corbusier’s “City of Tomorrow” that advocated for a separation of functions within the city organism and an emphasis on infrastructural, automobile access and connectivity are evident in the concept of Conway’s Airport City.
In his plans, the airport is centrally located and surrounded by ring roads and radial highways leading to “satellite cities.” Concentric commuter rail lines also ring the airport and a main rail line connects to the airport (Conway favored the connection to high-speed rail lines). The area within the first ring road is divided into parts of different uses including office and hotel districts and cargo and industrial areas. It also leaves areas for future expansions.
On a larger scale, Conway offers another more abstract model for his urban ideas. Here the airport city is divided into three concentrically arranged major zones. A red zone (2000-4000 hectares) in the middle immediately around the airport with uses solely for aircraft operation purposes (“runways, navigational aids, taxiways, aircraft parking aprons, fuel and service facilities as well as passenger terminals” – Conway, 1993, 47); a blue zone of 4000 to 8000 hectares for aviation related uses (industrial and office parks, hotel and utility zones feeding into the primary airport operation) surrounding the central red zone; and a green zone at the perimeter, an area not further defined by Conway other than that it is reserved for “other uses”. Both concept maps supposedly supplement each other.
Conway and the Garden City
It could be argued that Conway next to modernist urban planning principles also deployed garden city ideas in his schemes, especially for the small scale “fly-in” communities that he also envisioned (next to his Airport Cities) as quasi-autarkic residential city islands grouped around a central airfield. These communities would be buffered by a green belt from surroundings areas. Freestanding “distinct houses with lush landscaping” (Conway, 1993, 23) would feature garages for private planes and would be connected by a network of taxiways to a central runway.
While here spatially similarities with Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities model can be found, the social aspirations driving Howard’s ideas – quality living quarters for blue-collar workers – are replaced in Conway’s vision by affluent airline pilots that “commute via small aircraft to their jobs in major cities where they step into the cockpits of big jets” (Conway, 1993, 23).
Kasarda and Modernist Planning Principles
Kasarda’s Aerotropolis is strikingly similar in its setup to the Airport City. It also places the airport as the most important city element in the center. In closest proximity to the terminals and runways are offices and hotels, shopping destinations and air cargo facilities. Just as in Conway’s graphic, a ring road circles this area. So-called “aerolanes” venture out from this loop, connect as radials to regional expressways and emphasize the airport as the center of a new city arrangement. They grand access to a multitude of other functions all related to the airport and all supporting its operation. These are grouped into different areas. One “office corridor” captures hospitality functions as hotels, convention centers, and exhibition halls. An entertainment district offers retail, outlet stores, and merchandise marts. A “technology corridor” features a university, medical facilities, and an R&D park. An intermodal freight hub and an “aerotrain” connects the airport to train services and is part of the free trade zone with industrial and logistic parks. Furthermore, there is an area for warehouse and distribution centers and a mixed-use area for commercial and residential uses. This segregation of functions clearly follows modernist planning principles. Just as modernists, Kasarda sees his Aerotropolis as a machine. In this case an “urban machine not for living but for competition (…)” (Kasarda, 2011, 360)
Kasarda and the Edge City
Just as Conway, Kasarda provides an overall scale for the Aerotropolis: “An aerotropolis is basically an airport-integrated region, extending as far as sixty miles from the inner clusters of hotels, offices, distribution and logistics facilities.” (Kasarda, J. D. / Lindsay, G., 2011, 174). What exactly is part of this greater zone remains fairly unclear in Kasarda’s vision. In contrast to his vast Aerotropolis, Kasarda uses the term “airport city” for all uses immediately adjacent to the airport. It is in this spatial area where Kasarda’s ideas are founded on Garreau’s edge city. The airport in particular becomes an edge city of sorts: Just as edge cities, it is a new part within the city fabric on a neuralgic infrastructural knot off an existing city core. For him, “the airport city is really the urban core of the more geographically expansive aerotropolis.” (Airport Cities & the Aerotropolis, Kasarda, 108) Kasarda however takes his concept a step further than Garreau. He envisions that the Aerotropolis will develop a higher degree of importance than the traditional city center and replace it not only as economic, but also cultural and residential center of the city. Kasarda’s concept is more concrete than Conway’s and accommodates and locates many of the important uses around today’s airports.
The huge overall scale of the Aerotropolis and its heavy reliance on highways and byways combined with a relatively low density of uses suggests that the area outside the immediately airport nucleus is characterized by a sprawling suburbanization as it’s typical for many American city perimeters. Kasarda’s spatial approach combines the segregation of functions of the modernist movement with the American post-war sprawl and low-density ideals of American suburbs. However, it should be added that the Aerotropolis has foremost to be understood as a business model. Its spatial reading is an underdeveloped, crude one only used to visualize an economic idea.
Airport Corridor and Edge City
The Airport Corridor is primarily used and developed as a spatial and socio-economic system by Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and its protagonist Martin Schaafsma. The corridor is an axial zone of development and business opportunity between the airport and the city. The corridor subsumes the airport city not as an individual, featured development, but as one of the many edge city components of the Airport Corridor. Thus the focus is not on the airport city itself (as with Conway’s or Kasarda’s concepts) but rather on a larger metropolitan area. The master plan and infrastructural plan for the Airport Corridor try to balance aviation and non-aviation needs to achieve an alignment of interests between local authorities, the business community, airlines and airport. Overall goal is a competitive city region and an airport that can thrive in a competitive global business setting.
Exemplified in the city of Amsterdam, the corridor concept could be applied to other cities and regions as well. It unifies two seemingly contrary urban planning processes that of the North American, exurban edge city and that of the European compact city which strives for re-urbanization.
Spatially, the Airport Corridor is a series of edge city developments along a prominent infrastructural spine between the airport (also including its airport city) and its respective city center. Whereas the Aerotropolis encompasses all areas related to an airport, the Airport Corridor only includes areas that are on an axis connecting with the city center. On a spatial level, a focus on intermodal connectivity and ease of use of transport means to both, airport and city distinguish the Airport Corridor. Here the importance of this corridor to the city center becomes visible: While the edge cities of the corridor share characteristics with the edge cities as described above, they differ in the sense that they have a clear connection and relationship with the city center and are not autarkic entities severed from their downtown areas. The airport city therefore stands in a dialectic position between airport and city, a mediator with interests in both areas. Here a substantial difference is visible to the more self-centered Aerotropolis and the Airport City.
Schlaak’s Airea and the Compact City
Johanna Schlaak’s concept of the Airea understands the airport as an interface between the global and the local. The communication of the many different stakeholders about airport and airport city development is according to Schlaak often compromised by their varying interests. The resulting mostly unregulated, uncoordinated and sprawling developments lead to “faceless business parks sprawling alongside traffic corridors and unstructured suburban residential areas” (Knippenberger, 2010, 113). These would then be called airport cities but actually lack the inherent qualities of cities in spatial, social, and cultural terms: urban density, city dweller heterogeneity, or traceable civic history and traditions. Schlaak’s Airea therefore advocates for a coordinated and coherent land use model for airport cities with a refocus on the relationship of the city to the airport instead of merely on the airport and its airport city. Generally, the Airea consists of “spatial, functional and governmental specific space(s)” (Knippenberger, 2010, 118) within the metropolitan region with a strong relationship to the airport. Schlaak’s schematic analysis of these Airea components by “program (function and use), physical form (framework and development pattern), [and] major stakeholders (public and private) (…) (Knippenberger, 2010, 121) maps concerted urban islands, visualizes their interaction and studies their impact on their metropolitan surroundings. The resulting Airea components form a synergetic, complex network with the airport. Schlaak differentiates between four types of interaction of airport and city: the symbiotic, the competitive, the parasitic, and the isolated. Unique in Schlaak’s theoretical approach and its focus on the airport and areas related to it is that it can forego any formal establishment of a defined airport city. The Airea is not planned – as airport cities nowadays are – but plans and generates itself in a bottom-up approach according to principles of spatial, infrastructural adjacencies, and pure economic needs.
The character of the Airea components and their implied revitalization and densification efforts shows Schlaak’s affinity to the compact city concept. The compact city stands in opposition to suburban ideas of sprawl and favors tightly knit urban communities with all necessary services and functions in close proximity to each other. Relatively high density, a mix of functions, well-established intermodal transport systems de-emphasizing automobile use, a socially balanced demography as well as a sustainable approach to planning are key characterizations of the compact city. The Airea therefore establishes a European understanding of the relationships of airports and their primary connections to city areas (similar to the Airport Corridor). Nevertheless, the examples she examines also include North American airports. Schlaak deviates from the compact city insofar as the Airea is not inclusive of the whole city organism, but split into smaller entities within a bigger metropolitan context. The Airea is therefore selective and not a schematic tool or spatial remedy for the whole city, but only for the parts that stand in close relationship to and exchange with the airport.
Schlaak’s Airea and the Network City
The concept of the Airea is also connected to the idea of a network of urban nodes around the core of a metropolis as it is visible e.g. in Japanese or Chinese cities. These nodes act as semi-autarkic, multifunctional sub-centers that complement the city center and alleviate some of its development and service pressures. On the one hand the Airea draws from and relies on its immediate surroundings, on the other hand it is tightly connected infrastructurally to other Aireas within the same city organism and establishes with them a network based on socio-economic needs. This support system strengthens Aireas amongst each other and secures their prosperity.
Airport cities and the Global City
This concept of a multi-core cityscape is an underlying basis for the Airea and the Airport Corridor. Next to a symbiotic network of city center components that leads to organizational and managerial structures within one city, there is also a network between cities.
Inherently with aviation as a globally operating system, all airport city concepts incorporate some notion and relation to the concept of the global city. They stress their spatial connectivity to the airport and through it to cities beyond and highlight their proximity to the traditional city center and airport facilities alike. Here airport cities have to portray themselves in a careful balance between two main aspects of identity: Firstly they have to set themselves apart from other developments and augment their individual characteristics: This in terms of their relationship to social parameters as in their connection to the local culture and people and the conduct of business; and also in terms of their spatial assimilation with their approach to architecture, city planning, connectivity to city and hinterland. Secondly airport cities have to tie into the network of global cities and feature competitive offers that are in line with the demands of the global business and leisure community. As Kasarda notes “The city no longer sees itself in competition with its suburbs (…), but with megacities half a world away (…) (Kasarda, 2011, 55). Just as the airport itself has to distinguish itself amongst its competitors as a place of identity and appeal to business and leisure travelers alike with tailored entertainment and business offers, the same is applicable for airport cities. This balancing act between local and global has the potential to leave airport cities in an awkward position in their need to cater to both poles. Given the fact that they are mostly artificial cities built ad hoc and missing a social and spatial history, their environments can lack elements typically found in the organically formed spaces they try to emulate or relate to. The design tool of providing themes that correlate and tie the airport city to the specific local city features can fail and generate a plastic-like, sterile and fake airport city. A lack of locality and local inception however can leave to soulless, interchangeable and unmemorable places (“non-places” as author Marc Augé coined them in his book of the same title) that the user cannot connect to a specifically branded airport city. The connection of airport cities to both, global and local networks is one of the crucial aspects in making them successful, accepted places and cities.
Augé, M. (1995): Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity | London: Verso
Conway H. M. (1993): Airport Cities 21: The New Global Transport Centers of the 21st Century | Conway Data
Garreau, J. (1991): Edge City: Life on the New Frontier | New York: Doubleday
Kasarda, J. D. (2011): Global Airport Cities | London: Insight Media Sovereign House
Kasarda, J. D. / Lindsay, G. (2011): Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next | New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Knippenberger, U. / Wall, A. (eds.) (2010): Airports in Cities and Regions: Research and Practise | Karlsruhe: KIT Scientific Publishing
Sassen, S. (2001): The Global City | Princeton: Princeton University Press