The economic evidence is compelling, but is anyone measuring the carbon impact of Aerotropoli?

I recently watched Christopher Choa’s talk on Airport Cities on the Intelligence Squared network, and it got me thinking.

I have personally worked on three major airport city projects in my career so far, and researched several others in the process. In each instance, as exciting as the possibilities have been, at some level, I have been uncomfortable about the environmental implications of the radical new urban forms we are creating. True, there are very compelling economic arguments as Choa reveals in his talk (around the 17:30 mark), the most compellung being that airport cities generate 7 times more high value jobs than at Central Business District, and that each long haul flight creates 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.

But the fundamental basis for existence of the airport city is a critical mass of air traffic to and from the Airport City (the “hub”), and air travel is by far the most environmentally unfriendly way to travel. I’m not denying the phenomenal rise in levels of air travel that the world has seen over the last couple of decades – which of course, is the reason why airport cities are springing up around the world; I’m instead questioning the pace at which this development is being spurred on by us agents of development – architects, developers, planners and urbanists.

I’m part of this community, and I wonder if we shouldn’t just stop for a second and think about the long term impacts of these cities. Are they sustainable? If we are laying so much emphasis on sustainability in other urban developments, developments in our traditional cities and CBDs, should we not be doing the same for airport development – both in terms of micro development, as well as while deciding upon the scale and size of these developments?

The Thames Estuary airport and the furore it has caused is a case in point. There are several strong advantages, and then again, there are several cases to be made against, not least from the environmental damage point of view. I’m not yet taking sides, but I think the questions are pertinent and worth asking.


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