Friday 8 February 2013

London’s status as a pre-eminent world city is in danger of weakening as other nations develop Aerotropolises and embrace the notion of ‘survival of the fastest’.

That is according to John Kasarda, Director for Air Commerce at the University of North Carolina, speaking to a packed audience at NLA this morning. Kasarda, an authority in the concept of the Aerotropolis – where airports are at the centre of commercial, residential, retail and industrial development, said that the foundations of the traditional hierarchy of the main world cities – New York, London and Tokyo, are being weakened. This is mainly through failures to improve their infrastructure, with London facing tough decisions over its aviation policy. On the one hand, said Kasarda, fresh from a meeting with London mayor Boris Johnson to discuss the issue on Thursday, a green-field solution would be ideal, but the millions of pounds of investment that has gone into airport provision to the west of the capital must not be forgotten.

‘The Aerotropolis is the physical manifestation of bringing the local and the global together’, said Kasarda, stressing that the modern city is shifting to enhancing metropolitan competitiveness, based on economic efficiency, aesthetics and sustainability - both social and economic.

In the modern world, he went on, companies do not compete against other companies, their suppliers compete against their rivals’ suppliers, with items such as the iPhone 5 being a global operation in terms of manufacture and assembly.

The so-called ‘fifth wave’ of development we are now living in – preceded by first seaport-based development, then by river and canal-based development, the railroads and then the highways – is a 21st century city developed around airports. And the basic drivers of the wave are large jet aircraft, globalisation, speed, agility, connectivity, perishability and tourism. ‘Today is not the big eating the small, it’s the fast eating the slow’, said Kasarda. ‘It’s the survival of the fastest. You have to be agile and flexible.’

Other airports around the world are embracing the notion of the Aerotropolis, such as New Songdo City in Korea, ‘an instant city’ of the kind China needs 500 of, said Kasarda, while new concepts include airports adopting the civic plaza or central square, as at Indianapolis. Increasingly, too, businesses are drawn to relocate their headquarters near to airports, such as KPMG, six minutes’ walk away from check-in at Frankfurt, and hotels at airports are changing to become business hubs first, places to stay second. The ‘granddaddy’ airport city of them al is Schiphol, with its multimodal urban core, while Washington Dulles has seen the creation of a million new jobs in its environs since 1985.

For London, said Kasarda, international tourism and business travel will be key. ‘Connectibility is crucial for maintaining world city status’, he said, pointing to the $250bn that China is investing in new airports in the next five years, and $100bn the Middle East is spending. This is a ‘wake-up call’ - they view such infrastructure as assets, while Europe tends to look on airports as nuisances, he added. ‘It hasn’t hit yet the neglect of your aviation and surface infrastructure…I think London will no longer be the global city that it is. You need the connectivity and the 21st century airports that meet 21st century global realities. You can’t stop globalisation. It will just march forward. Rather than fighting it, the Aerotropolis leverages it.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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