In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
Guest Host: Marc Fisher
Picture this: an airport not on the periphery of the city but in the center of it, with businesses, residences and ground transportation networks radiating outward. Some experts say global commerce and ubiquitous air travel will force us to redesign our urban layout, giving airports and airlines a more central spot. Kojo explores cities — from Washington to Seoul to Beijing — where this shift is already taking place.
- John Kasarda Professor, Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina; co-author with Greg Lindsay, "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next" (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2011)
- James Fallows National Correspondent, The Atlantic; author, "China Airborne" (Pantheon Books, 2012)
A spatially compressed model of the Aerotropolis showing its current and likely future evolution is illustrated below. No Aerotropolis will look exactly like this but most will eventually take on similar features, led by newer “greenfield” airports less constrained by decades of prior surrounding development. The Aerotropolis is thus much more of a dynamic, forward-looking model than a static, cross-sectional model reflecting historic airport-area development to date. Image courtesy of John Kasarda.
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, traditional airports are urban outliers placed out at the edge of suburbia to keep the noise of jet engines far away, often requiring a long cab ride into town to reach the heart of civic and business life. But as the world gets smaller and the economy goes global, some cities are rethinking airports.
MR. MARC FISHERIn an age when successful businesses need to move people and packages farther and faster, some planners say airports belong in the center of the action, right downtown offering quick access to the world. Across Asia and the Middle East, new airport-centered cities have runways at their core with businesses nearby and ground transportation radiating outward.
MR. MARC FISHERThe Dulles airport corridor is becoming an example of this new model with more job growth and business development near the airport than in the capital city it ostensibly serves. Joining me to talk about re-imagining the role of airports around the world are James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic and author of "China Airborne" and John Kasarda, director of the Kenan-Flagler Institute of Private Enterprise and a professor at the University of North Carolina Business School. He's the co-author of "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next" and he's joining us from studios at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
MR. MARC FISHERAnd John Kasarda the airport, the notion that airports and air travel are the centerpiece of cities and of the new economy seems counterintuitive. Hasn't the internet reduced the need for both people and products to travel this much?
DR. JOHN KASARDAAh Marc, it really has accelerated. As a matter of fact, every improvement we've seen in telecommunications technology over the centuries had led to more travel further and faster. I remember Alexander Graham Bell's first words over his newly minted telephone, Watson come here, I need you.
DR. JOHN KASARDAAnd even today with the social media and the internet, this is leading to connections where they rise into the trillions and if a very, very tiny percentage of people say, gee, we need to get together based on common interests, that's a trip that would not have happened.
FISHERAnd the title of your book, "Aerotropolis," what is an aerotropolis?
KASARDAAnd aerotropolis really is a city built around an airport where firms, suppliers, customers and enterprise partners around the world are just as important as those in its own region.
FISHERAnd Jim Fallows, you've spent a great deal of time reporting in China and flying in China as a pilot. Two thirds of the airports under construction in the world right now are in China. Are they following this model of reorienting cities around airports?
MR. JAMES FALLOWSThey're following this model and they're following the traditional model, too. I think one of the fascinating things about China is they're doing all of everything at once. So they're building a lot of just normal, remote from the cities airports to try to satisfy some of the just surging demand for travel of all kinds in China.
MR. JAMES FALLOWSBut there are a number of places that I came across and described in my book where you have these futurists and dreamers and boosters and real estate developers who are trying to start development in now under-populated areas by starting with a runway and hoping that around that all sorts of other activity will congregate.
FISHERAnd I guess China with its long-standing disregard may be too strong, but not strong regard for environmental and noise issues and that sort of thing, I guess it may be easier there to orient a city around an airport than it might be in a society like ours.
FALLOWSYes, any of those the NIMBY-type factors, not in my backyard, are easier to deal with in China, although it's interesting that in China anything environmental is a race between how terrible it is and how fast they're trying to deal with it. And that applies even in aerospace where they're really at the forefront in a number of environmental abatement efforts for air travel in general, aircraft, airport sitting and the rest.
FISHERYou can join our conversation about cities and the future of cities as it relates to airports by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a tweet to @kojoshow. And John Kasarda, there is in, as you travel around the world advising governments about how to construct a new type of airport-centered city, the idea that this would make it easier to move goods and people around the world and compete in a global economy. Are there places in the world that reluctant to adopt this model?
FISHERWe just heard about one where they're into that idea,. but are there places where it's just a non-starter?
KASARDAWell, I wouldn't say a non-starter, but I would say there are different resistances and James referred to a couple of them with respect to NIMBYs. We find that there is a different philosophy in the United States and Western Europe, at least I found in my travels, to those in the Middle East and Asia.
KASARDAWe, that is the U.S. and Western Europe, often view our airports as nuisances or toxic threats, environmental problems to be constrained rather than infrastructure assets to be leveraged. Whereas in China, much of Asia, the Middle East, they view their airports as primary infrastructure to compete in a globally-integrated speed-driven world.
FISHERAnd is that notion of the airport as the centerpiece or the economic engine of the city, are we talking primarily about cargo or is this true for the passenger world as well?
KASARDAIt's true for the passenger world. Cargo is fairly obvious given the global supply chains that we see. But to be a true global city, you're involved in what's called producer services, everything from finance, marketing, consulting and those that go into producing products or building infrastructure or otherwise goods oriented.
KASARDAAnd these people that are involved in producer services, particularly headquarters, are very mobile because business has been, is and will remain a contact sport. And then we see the tremendous rise in tourism not only in Asia, but around the world from emerging markets and the developed world.
KASARDAThe estimates of the world tourism organization is that by 2020, China will have over 100 million tourists travelling abroad, people travelling abroad and my goodness if a city can get just 1 percent of those, that's a million plus tourists coming in and they spend money. It's great for foreign exchange.
FISHERBut Jim Fallows, I mean, call me a skeptic, but if tourists are going to be coming into China, they don't want to see an airport. They don't want to be next to an airport. I mean, presumably they're going there because it's a different culture that they want to experience that is not just, you know, where you don't have to look at the signs to see that you're not in Dubai.
FALLOWSIt's true. But in fairness, in China at this moment, airports are sort of the least of the site blights and other sorts of environmental problems you need to deal with. I think it's worth mentioning there is a real difference in perspective between the U.S. and the rest of the world on this front.
FALLOWSWhere the U.S. is already so advanced and integrated and embedded in its aerospace culture that we take for granted how -- we often don’t realize how much a fabric of our life this is. For example, overnight delivery, many, many businesses just depend on that even in the internet age and that depends entirely on having this network of FedEx and UPS-type planes going places.
FALLOWSWe talk about taking the redeye from place to place going for Thanksgiving vacation or Christmas, whatever, all of this assumes the kind of very dense and sophisticated network of air connections that we have and that from the Chinese perspective, this is a sort of signifier of modernity they are aiming towards.
FALLOWSThey are a very under-airported country compared to the U.S., as most of the world is. And so what we take for granted and are often annoyed by in the U.S. is a standard of achievement and integration and modernization that many other countries are using as their goal.
FISHERWell one thing...
KASARDAMarc, may I add to that?
KASARDAAnd James, your point that really it's an invisible, physical internet that is operating, moving products and people and aviation affects our lives in so many ways that we never feel directly. But it impacts us directly whether it's the blueberries we had in our cereal in the morning, the medications we take at night, the iPhone or iPad that we use, the roses that we give to a loved one at their birthday or Valentine's Day.
KASARDAAll of these are involved in a very dense aviation network that is connecting suppliers and producers and markets and consumers.
FISHERBut isn't there inherent in this notion of making the airport the centerpiece of the city, isn't that adopting a downside of the way American cities developed which is sprawl. Is there a way to have the density and pedestrian-orientation of the cities that we admire in this airport orientation?
FALLOWSWell, at least in principle, that should be easier to do that if you're having an airport-centric thing than a strip-mall highway-centric thing. Indeed, a lot of the planners in Asia are saying if you have these remote Western areas of China or other countries in that region and your choices are building a great big freeway network across thousands of miles of now undestroyed terrain to get there versus putting an airport there.
FALLOWSYou can fly people to that airport, have no on-the-ground infrastructure and then build a settlement around that, that in principle could be less sprawl than the car-based model.
KASARDAAnd that's correct if I might add again, Marc, that our research here at the Kenan Institute where we've looked at the development around the 25 largest airports in the United States, we're seeing that for the first time, as you move out in concentric circles from the CBD or around the airport in a similar one mile, two mile, five mile that for the first time in the last 50 years, we are beginning to see re-concentration around the airports versus the traditional dispersion outward of sprawl movements.
KASARDASo the airports themselves are the first sign in the peripheral areas of some real densification.
FISHERAnd is there -- air travel in this country at least has sort of hit some limits in that airlines are having to roll backwards, at least not expand their schedules because of crowded air lanes, because of security concerns, time backups at the airports. All of these factors seem to put some significant limits on air travel in our country. Are other countries just not yet at anywhere near that density of flights or what?
FALLOWSYes, and I think it's worth recognizing what the actual limit in the U.S. air travel is which essentially is runway space in about two dozen airports, the main airports that are heavily travelled. As you mentioned earlier, I'm an avid and active pilot and I fly all around the place and really the only place you ever see any kind of congestion at all in the sky is on the approach lanes to SFO or LaGuardia or Dulles or whatever.
FALLOWSAnd so the U.S., in principle, has a way to get around this because we have about 5,000 airports spread, you know, most of them small, but large enough to take some kind of jet travel so in principle, the U.S. could have more point by point travel. Most other nations are much less equipped in that way and this, again, is a goal that some of the rest of them are shooting towards so really the limit in air travel apart from the environmental one with emissions which is a whole separate topic essentially spaced at those big hub airports.
FALLOWSThey only have so many runways. It's very difficult to expand them as we know here in D.C. and so that is what the constraint is.
FISHERAnd John Kasarda, are there also economic and social concerns that if you build cities in this manner around airports instead of the equivalent of interstate highway systems, are you essentially making travel available only to those who are affluent and thereby cutting out the rest of society because they're the ones who could only afford to travel by car?
KASARDAWell, again, the aerotropolis itself is the economic development that occurs around the airport. We have seen a drop by almost 70 percent in the real cost of air travel and it's become a commodity with the introduction of low-cost airlines so it really has opened up more income levels to travel than ever before.
KASARDABut more importantly as the hotels develop around the airport, as the just-in-time manufacturers, the e-commerce fulfillment centers, entertainment complexes, these create large numbers of jobs for maids, for groundskeepers, for truck drivers and taxi drivers. I could go on, but basically aviation has opened up to more, broader income levels and has created more jobs across income levels as it has progressed.
FISHERLet me give one illustration just so our listeners can understand what some of the -- how this economic development works and I know this is something that Professor Kasarda has also described in in his book. I've been in these areas of southern China where you have the center of all the activity is the outbound traffic from the Hong Kong airport. And you have all the factory schedules sort of working back from when the truck will pick up things to get them to Hong Kong. They'll go off to Anchorage to be sorted and then to the U.S.
FALLOWSAnd so you have an area probably 100 miles in radius where all the factories are sort of ticking to the clock of this Hong Kong International Airport and the shipments going out of there. And there's development there that wouldn't be available if it weren't for the airport as (unintelligible) .
FISHERInteresting. Well, we will get more into the economics and culture of an airport centric city with John Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina and James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic when we come back after a short break. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Marc Fisher. Please stand by.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." We are talking about airports and the airportization of cities around the world, if there is such a word, with James Fallows of The Atlantic and John Kasarda the author of "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next." You can join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850 or email us at email@example.com. And here's an email from Beth in Washington, D.C. She says, "Airport cities, one word, noise. No, wait. Make that three words, noise, jet fuel and ugh." That's four words actually but, James Fallows, there is at least among Americans a significant bias that you're going to run into where people associate airports with just slugs and awful circumstances and delays and just everything negative.
FALLOWSSure and there are the -- all the negatives of the modern passenger experience. And as Professor Kasarda was saying, this is largely because airplanes are more like bus travel now because the price gap between bus travel and airline travel has come down so dramatically in the last 30 years. In the area of deregulation it's made the experience more commoditized in the bad and good senses.
FALLOWSBut now if we're talking about the airports themselves and their externalities unavoidably there is noise from turbine engines taking off and landing. And there is pollution. And the industry recognizes both these things and there's tremendous innovation to try to reduce these. One of the most interesting I do describe in my book is much more precise navigational tools to let the planes follow a much more careful path than was available before the really, really fine grain GPS guidance that allows them to sort of slues in and out of the most noise sensitive areas of a town.
FALLOWSAnd of course if a new aerotropolis is being built it can be set up from the get go so that the houses and places where people want to sleep are not in the paths of the airplanes.
FISHERAnd, John Kasarda, a prime example of a city that is being planned around its airport and really built from scratch is New Songdo City in South Korea. Describe what that city looks like and how it's organized.
KASARDAWell, it's really a remarkable development because it's what many people would call an instant city where planners were brought together by a New York Real Estate developer Stan Gale of Gale International and POSCO the largest steel producer in South Korea. Together they borrowed over $35 billion from Korea's international banks to build the city that was planned with architects and designers and city planners from the best cities around the world. And they're pulled together to create everything from central parks to residential -- mixed-use residential areas to office structures, to the transportation infrastructure and being able to do it in a very rapid manner.
FALLOWSNow New Songdo is about the size of downtown Boston that is being built lead certified, all the environmentals you can imagine, Sysco tele-presence connected in a 15-year period. And it's a new way of city development where we're finding that corporations are building entire cities, cities in a box as it were, that have all of the most advanced amenities, are connected locally through service transportation and globally through the airport. New Songdo's adjacent to Incheon International Airport. And these are really competitive tools.
KASARDAAnd South Korea sponsored this extensively because it's using it as a means to be internationally competitive with China.
FISHERWell planned cities in history books don't really have a brilliant career. I mean, they have been -- planners and urban designers see them often as examples of the worst cities, of cities that don't have natural draw, that don't have the kind of pedestrian orientation or, you know, the sort of James Jacobs low sort of development that really creates communities. Is there a way to avoid that?
KASARDAI'm sorry, James. The people that are developing the new cities are aware of this and they know -- they've learned their lessons from the failures of the past. And some of them have been terrible and Brazil is a very good example of that. And they're trying to introduce the James Jacob concepts and the new urbanism principles. How successful they'll be, history will tell but there are true efforts now to circumvent some of the problems that we have seen in the past of prior master plan cities. James?
FALLOWSAnd there also is a kind of naturalness to this sort of planning in that most of what we think of as the historic cities of the world are built on transportation nodes. They're built on seaports. Much of the settlement pattern of the Midwest in the U.S. is along railroad lines and along wagon trail lines and all the rest. And so this is in a sense an extension of one of the normal ways in which cities have evolved. It's just a different mode of transportation at its base.
FISHERLet's hear from Tom in Great Falls, Va. Tom, you're on the air.
TOMI'd like to ask Professor Kasarda whether or not he has looked at the economic -- that is the cost of airports in -- close to cities versus outside and also how they're going to be financed. And also take a look at the go-to-meeting Skype technology that doesn't require businessmen to -- or families to actually fly to another location.
KASARDAWell, airports are expensive to build wherever they are and would be even more expensive if you develop them close to the traditional central business district, if you could at all given the amount of land that would have to be acquired. Denver is a very good case where they had to move from the old Stapleton Airport to an airport that was 25 miles out. And you're talking often in the billions of dollars.
KASARDAHong Kong International Airport, if you include the bridge and the -- their express train is upwards of $20 billion. So airports are expensive. They do tend -- those at least that are well served or sized to recoup that money oftentimes because they're monopolies. And Denver -- if you're going to fly to Denver you're basically going to go to Denver International. If you're going to fly to Hong Kong you're going to fly to Hong Kong International. And they -- every 747 that lands, you know, spends -- pays the airport $3,000. So the airport has a revenue stream as well.
KASARDAI alluded to the substitution effect of the internet and other forms of telecommunications before. There's no evidence that the advances in telecommunications are slowing the demand for air travel. In fact, air travel has moved upward the fastest when -- in the last 20 years when we have had the greatest increases in telecommunication advances.
FALLOWSAnd just to extend this last point. It's interesting to me. About a dozen years ago I worked at Microsoft for a while on one of their program design teams. I have a lot of friends at Google and at Apple. It's interesting that the companies that are most at the front of allowing the virtual workforce around the world, themselves very highly emphasizing the importance of having their people in one place where they see each other during the day. And I think what we're finding that there is an additive effect. Just as the internet has not gotten rid of -- the paperless office is never going to come, so to the entirely virtual human world or workplace or family life is not going to come.
FALLOWSThere still are different phenomena and EQ and ways in which people deal with each other when they are in person. And so until there is some probably environmental disruption that makes it much more difficult to travel, I think that the demand for travel, there's no sign that it will go down.
KASARDAMarc, may I -- go ahead.
FISHERWait a second. Here's Michael in Woodstock, Md. Michael.
MICHAELGood afternoon. Just a couple of quick points. The idea of building around a transportation center is -- we've seen it in this country. The cities all through New York state came around the Erie Canal, interurban rail lines, high-speed trolleys from a hundred years ago created suburbia. I see two things -- two impediments that have to be solved for your suggestion to be successful. The first one is you -- when you mentioned the service personnel, the opportunities in employment and places to live for people like that, you have to have an absolute crackerjack surface mass transit system. There's just no way around it.
MICHAELAnd the second thing being problems that have been inherent with air travel since its birth, over a hundred years, it is noisy, it takes a lot of room, there's danger in it. Currently almost every airplane that you travel on, look at the tip of the wing just as you're coming in for a landing. It's spitting fuel out. I mean, they do this. This is just what they do. If these situations can be dealt with, and there's no reason to assume they couldn't be, you know, then you -- I would say that you have a strong opportunity to be correct in your prognosis here.
MICHAELI really think that it's a good idea whose time is close, but these particular four issues that I mentioned need some...
FISHEROkay. John Kasarda.
KASARDAWell, again, the idea of the aerotropolis is as an anecdote to the spontaneous haphazard development that has and will continue to occur around airports. It's a process in which you bring organization to it. You integrate urban planning, airport planning and business site planning with an effort to get greater economic efficiency, aesthetics -- attractiveness and environmental sustainability. The second point about technology evolving to address the problems that the listener just noted, you'd be amazed at how fast aerospace technology has changed over the years in ability to not only provide business and leisure opportunities but to address the challenges.
KASARDA1903, December 17, the Wright Brothers flew less than 100 meters at Kitty Hawk, N.C. By 1969, the Concord Super Sonic, the 747 jumbo jet were flying across the Atlantic. We put a man on the moon. That's 66 years. And I feel that technology needs to be acknowledged. There are major efforts that are being addressed by the equipment manufacturers, and that's the airline manufacturers and the airports to address the issues that the listener mentioned. And these arrange everything from more efficient layouts in keeping residential areas outside of the noise contours to technological advances in aerospace, the composite aircraft that are lighter, biofuels, quieter more fuel-efficient jet engines, which James mentioned, new aircraft -- air traffic control systems.
KASARDAAll these technologies are advancing and they're advancing quite rapidly. And I believe that there's a good chance that they will be able to address the problems that the listener mentioned.
FISHERJim Fallows, counting passengers Atlanta is clearly the busiest airport in the world but Beijing's capitol airport is second and gaining fast. What is driving the demand for air travel in China? Is it the same list of uses that we associate with air travel?
FALLOWSYes. I think it's two things, something similar with our circumstance and something quite different. The similar thing is that just as China has been growing so rapidly as the economy has been going for 30 years at almost double digit pace, there just is demand for more of everything. In a sense the Chinese economic miracle involves movement of one thing or another, of products, of people, of industries in different parts of the country. So there's just a demand for all sorts of travel.
FALLOWSThere also is a very conscious effort by the Chinese government to make aerospace sort of a crown jewel of its next step of modernization. And the idea in short is that for 30 years China has excelled in sort of the low wage manufacturing workshop of the world category. It's made parts for Apple rather than being its own Apple. And now in their current plans they're saying, okay we'd like to have the leading high tech, high value supplier to the world. And so aerospace is one of three or four categories where they say if we can achieve this then we'll be on a different sort of economic plane, so to speak, in the longer run.
FISHERAnd you lived in China for about five years until last summer. Tell us what it's like to travel domestically by air in China. What is that experience like?
FALLOWSWell, as an airline passenger in China is in many ways a nicer experience than the United States for reasons that are mainly because China is catching up so rapidly. The planes are almost all new because they're just buying them. It's the, you know, the main driving force in the aircraft market now. The flight attendants are all relatively recently hired and they have no sort of embarrassment about hiring young attractive people of both genders as their flight attendants.
FALLOWSYou get a meal on all of the -- a hot meal on all planes. You don't have to take off your shoes going through security so it has many of the sort of quaint touches of airline travel as we think of in the past. It also is very heavily -- it's overbooked with people and so they're in a race to expand their capacity. There's a business of flying as a pilot in China which is a much more hair-raising circumstance.
FALLOWSI describe in my book a flight that I almost didn't survive as a pilot. You know, I actually did survive which is why I'm here. But there is an interesting battle between all the forces in China that would like to expand the business aviation category there with all sorts of the corporate jets we have and the security state interests that don't want that to happen. Sort of a metaphor for the larger struggles over China's future.
FISHERAnd that -- it's those military and security -- that apparatus that has required less than straight line flying in China.
FALLOWSYes. There's a crucial historical difference between the U.S. and China here where the U.S. aerospace industry leading the world grew up with a diversity of sources. There were private hobbyists and there was a military and there was the airmail system and all the rest. In China it's been military only for the last 50 or 60 years. And so the military still controls almost all the airspace. So the airlines have these very indirect routes they take, more or less like going from D.C. to Atlanta via St. Louis. That would be sort of the route the airline has to fly. It's very inefficient, very wasteful in fuel, very slow. And so the airlines there are fighting the military to try to open things up.
FISHERHere's Marilyn in Washington. Marilyn, you're on the air.
MARILYNHi there. I live in the Palisades, which is a neighborhood in Washington that is along the Potomac River and along the flight path of the planes from Regan National. I want to say that we have been told on numerous occasions by the FAA that the pilots and air control are given paths that will take those airplanes along the river and not over residential neighborhoods.
MARILYNWhere it breaks down however is that there doesn't seem to be any regulation or punishment on the pilots if they choose not to do this. Because we have neighborhood logs that will show you that on certain days every four minutes there's a plane overhead, even though we know that the published routes are over the river. So I’m curious as to the perspective of one of the gentlemen since he's a pilot and how this is handled among commercial pilots.
FALLOWSYes. And I also live in the Palisades so I know what you are talking about. And I think there are -- it's -- there is -- there are three factors here. One is in good weather there's a so called river visual approach in which the pilots have very precise courses they're supposed to follow down the Potomac, which still means noise that you and I both hear, but it's less than coming over the houses.
FALLOWSOn the other extreme, when the weather is bad and there has to be an instrument landing there is a route for that which takes them essentially right over our house and right over a lot of the residential areas. And that just is the way the instrument approach is set up. And it is part of the safety of flight. And so that is an inbuilt part of having that airport where it is in the center of the city.
FALLOWSThe other factor is that while the limits on planes landing at night have been loosened over the last decade or so, the engines have gotten quieter faster than the time they're allowed has gotten larger. So the net noise in principle has gone down over the last ten or fifteen years. But still, in bad weather the instrument approach goes right over the residential heart of northwest D.C. and Maryland.
FISHERJohn Kasarda, when we come back after a short break, I want to get back to this noise issue because it seems to me that is a true barrier to the ultimate creation of these aerotropolis cities that you write about. And we will be talking with James Fallows and John Kasarda about airport-oriented cities coming up right after a short break.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we are talking with James Fallows, national correspondent of The Atlantic, and author of "China Airborne," and John Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and author of "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next." And John Kasarda, we have two emails, one from Albert who says "Airports have to be at least 15 miles from any residential areas, otherwise the noise impact is unacceptable. I live five miles from Dulles Airport where air traffic is increasing rapidly, both in terms of number of planes, and the hours that the planes take off and arrive. Damp days are particularly noisy."
FISHERAnd then from Mike in Maryland, he says that "downtown airports are a great idea. San Diego and Boston basically have downtown airports, especially San Diego, which is great to arrive at. Boston is also interesting because its airport really connects to its ports for commuters and water taxi service. So there is this tension between the idea that airports are these infernal things that need to be as far away as possible, and the notion that it's kind of cool to be able to zip by metro to National Airport, or zip across the water to Boston Logan Airport." So are there places in the world that are resolving that tension in creative ways?
KASARDAThe only way to resolve the first issue, and that is noise, is through careful planning, and rarely has that been done around airports where the residential areas and noise-sensitive areas are developed outside of the noise contours. Now, of course, you can do that if you have what's known as a green field airport, one that's developed in an area that has virtually nothing else there. You can design from scratch, and avoid those problems, but what has happened is in the United States airports have formed, many residential units have come after it, and then they complain bitterly about the noise, in some cases, quite justified.
KASARDAAnd then of course there's the trade off of convenience. The closer you are to the airport, the shorter your overall travel time. I've heard many stories that the time spent commuting from downtown Chicago, the loop to Manhattan in New York as much time is spent on the ground on the congested freeways as it is in the air. So being next to the airport, having it connected directly to the CB does have certain advantages, but there are always tradeoffs.
FISHERAnd you write in your book about Dubai as the first -- the world's first real aerotropolis. What prompted Dubai to build what's not the busiest airport in the Middle East, and is this a good example of the kind of planning that you are hoping to see around the world when, you know, it's a place -- it's an airport that most people never even leave. The transfer there, they have meetings there, but it doesn't seem integrated at least to the foreign traveler's experience with the rest of the city.
KASARDAMarc, that certainly is the case if you're a transfer passenger, but Dubai has bet heavily on its tourism and recreation as well as shopping and other leisure activities as well as business centers, be they knowledge parks or financial centers on its air connectivity without the air connectivity that Dubai International and it flag carrier Emirates Airlines provides. Those businesses simply could not take place. So Dubai of course, like Singapore, is an aerotropolis. You can argue its positive and negative attributes, but its dynamic growth is dependent largely on aviation.
FISHERAnd Jim Fallows, airports, at least from the American perspective, we often have this notion that airports are soulless places, that -- there's the Spielberg movie about the guy who lived...
FALLOWSYes, with Tom Hanks.
FISHERYes. Who lived in the airport and no one even knew it for years. Does that change in societies that you use airports in this more creative way as a business engine? Does that soullessness go away?
FALLOWSCertainly it can. But we all know airports are soulless in the extreme. The Nadir in my experience is usually Narita in Tokyo. I've been in that a lot, and that just is an inefficient place in many ways. Frankfurt Airport in Germany is becoming that way too as you know from your travels there. The Singapore Airport I think is an example of how it actually is one of the, you know, Singapore is a very sort of modernistic and comfortable place.
FALLOWSThe airport is one of the nicer places there, and people sometimes go there, you know, to -- for a restaurant or whatever. So I think it is possible to have airports that are focal points of development, and so it is -- a lot depends on the design and the portion of the facility to the amount of people flowing through there. And again, the Chinese are trying to do this of having their new airports, which they're building a hundred of right now, be architectural gems for the city and so on.
FISHERAnd the idea of a hundred airports being built simultaneously across one country, when in our country it's virtually impossible to build an airport, and there are none under construction at this point, John Kasarda, is this prospect of the airportization of the world and the creation of aerotropolises, is that something that is solely restricted for developing countries because the developed world simply wouldn't tolerate it?
KASARDAIn part. China, of course, needs the 100 new airports. They are way behind the United States in the number of airports in its aviation system, and it's not just for competitiveness, but it's to connect the interior part of the country quickly and efficiently. Yes. It's far more difficult in the developed world to build new airports and aerotropolises, although there are some efforts being made. Amsterdam Schiphol I think is doing a very, very good job, both with its terminals, its nearby office development, and then out along its corridors with its urban development.
KASARDADenver is just beginning to plan both an airport city and an aerotropolis around it where it has the space to do this. The biggest problem is you can't build an aerotropolis around La Guardia or around Logan. It simply has to serve the functions that it does serve, and that is connected well to the downtown, to the metropolitan areas that it serves.
FISHERHere's Paul in Arlington, Va. Paul, it's your turn.
PAULHi. I believe it was John Kasarda who made a remark about the recouping of investment costs by airports. And I just wanted to point out that to the extent that airport authorities claim that investment costs are recouped, that's basically an illusion that's caused by the fact that airports are spared at least three major expenses that normal businesses have to pay. First of all, airport land and other infrastructure is exempt from property tax. Second of all, airport investment is exempt from having to earn a return on investment to the governments that own them, and third of all, tax-exempt revenue bonding is used for airport construction much of the time, and if budgetary pressures ever cause those three great benefits to airports to be taken away by legislatures, it would very quickly change the economics of airports and airlines and aerotropolises.
KASARDAI would agree. But also I would point out that airports are public goods that serve the business and industry and competitiveness and employment growth of metropolitan areas as well as the public. So you need to put that into perspective of the fact that the airports are not privately owned, that they are there to serve the community, both in terms of being economic engines, and to provide the type of connections that are required for leisure and business travelers, as well as to bring in tourists that really benefit the economy in many other ways.
KASARDASo it's basically what you include in the benefits of the airport as well as the cost, and we do know that economic impact analyses have shown that many airports, such as LAX generate $61 billion annually in business revenues to the greater area. So it's what you include in the benefits and costs that are critical in determining whether or not they net out positive.
FISHERYou can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850 if you want to tell us about your business travel and airports that you think work or don't work. What do you think about the idea of cities serving airports rather than airports serving cities? And Jim Fallows, there is in this ramping up of air traffic, there is this concern that airplanes are notorious for their huge carbon footprint. In China, environmentalists worry that the surge in air pollution -- in air travel will boost pollution. Are these concerns serving as breaks at all on the development of air travel?
FALLOWSThey certainly are our very central concerns for the airline and aircraft industry. Carbon emissions from airliners going out at altitude in the 30,000- or 40,000-foot range have a disproportionate warming effect compared to ground-level emissions, and so the airline industry is aware of this. And Boeing is -- and Airbus in different ways, are leading projects to have different kinds of fuel. Basically Boeing has a huge algae-fuel project underway in China and other parts of the world too.
FALLOWSThere have been significant increases in the efficiency of engines, indeed, much faster improvements in the emission efficiency of aircraft engines compared to car engines over the last generation or so in the western world. So I think they recognize this is in a way the main constraint on the growth of their industry, and so they recognize they have to deal with it.
FISHERJohn Kasarda, you write in "Aerotropolis" a good deal about the central role that cargo plays in this new role for airports around the world. In the United States the airport in Memphis is the busiest cargo airport in the world. It is thanks largely to the presence of Federal Express. How did the huge popularity of Amazon.com transform both Fed Ex and Memphis?
KASARDAWell, it has effected certainly Memphis, but many other locations around the world, mainly because of a number of factors. One, we live in a world where even if people can wait, they won't wait. They want their book or product from Amazon in two days not two weeks. So the distributors have located near the aviation facilities, but also, many, many new industries have emerged in cargo. The pharmaceutical industries is one the fastest growing. Fresh-cut flowers, fresh fish, the idea that you can go down the street and have Chilean Sea Bass or Thai Tiger Prawns.
KASARDAThese are all distributed through central locations such as Memphis or LAX when they come in from Chile or from Thailand, and we find that they're having these transformative effects as the time critical industries, whether they're involved in a supply chain or distributing to retailers or customers their products. They're drawn to where this node exists connecting these distant spots in a -- locations in a fast and flexible manner.
FISHERWell, it's great for the Memphis Airport and the regional Chamber of Commerce must love it, but the impact of Fed Ex on the city of Memphis is more mixed, and there's I guess some evidence that the core has kind of atrophied while development pushes out to the outer ring near the airport.
KASARDAWell, some of that has happened. The University of Memphis completed two years ago an economic impact study that showed that Memphis led by the Fed Ex -- Memphis airport led by the Fed Ex hub generates $29 billion annually of economic activities and revenues, and this includes tourist activities to Beale Street and to Elvis Presley's birthplace, but what we've seen in Memphis, it's interesting. I mean, because this deals with the way in which cities are born, grow, decline, and then revitalize.
KASARDAAfter the riots of the late '60s, Memphis was hit the hardest. Basically its downtown emptied out over the following 20 years. It was crime ridden, but the downtown in the last ten years has actually seen quite a rejuvenation and so the airport itself has not really drained the downtown. What's interesting though is that the area right around the airport itself is beginning to suffer many of the problems that downtown Memphis suffered.
KASARDAIt got overly congested, lots of trucks, you know, the problems that some of the listeners have already called in on, and the movement out of a number of corporations that were near the airport to the expressways not too far out, but easy commutes to the airport. This has led to some decline around the immediate airport area which the Memphis city is now trying to address.
FISHERJim Fallows, the Dulles Airport corridor is an example of a business community that's grown up around an airport. Is that kind of international commerce good for Fairfax and Louden counties? Is it good for the District of Columbia?
FALLOWSI think in all these questions of urban development there is no unmixed blessing. There are trade-offs in everything, and so if airports can draw some activity away from downtowns and have this sort of sprawling effect, that is bad, but you have to ask what would be, you know, they are also bringing things in too, so I am not enough of a Fairfax County expert to know how it nets, out, but certainly it is without that growth then the county would have, you know a much smaller base. So it's for the country residents to see how the net works out for them.
FISHERAnd that kind of competition between downtowns and sort of sprawl areas is a mainstay of development of American metropolitan areas. John Kasarda, quickly, is there a danger that the aerotropolis competes with the downtown in some places like Denver?
KASARDAThere's a chance there will be some competition, but I think it will net positive. You know a very good example of this was the movement I guess eight or ten years ago of Boeing, its corporate headquarters from the Seattle area to Chicago, when it had boiled down its three sites to its (unintelligible) I believe to Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Chicago where its largest customers were, and it didn't locate its world headquarters in Elgin where United Airlines has its headquarters or nearby where American has dominant office space, but in downtown Chicago in the loop.
KASARDASo the airport itself and the aerotropolis development can actually stimulate downtown. We actually interviewed some people in the hotels around Detroit Metro Airport and we asked them, what do you do at night? Oh, you know, we go down to a Tigers game, or we go down to the casinos, or we go to Greek Town to eat, or to the museums. So there's a synergistic relationship between airport area development and downtown development. Not that there isn't some trade-off and zero sum activity going on, but I think, you have net positive.
FISHERI'll have to stop you there. John Kasarda is director the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and professor at the business school at the University of North Carolina, co-author of "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next." James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, is author of "China Airborne." Thanks very much to both of you for joining us.
FISHER"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Tayla Burney. I'm Marc Fisher. Thanks so much for joining us.
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