Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Taoyuan Aerotopolis
The plan for the Taoyuan Aerotopolis doesn't look all that different from the land uses surrounding the BWI Airport in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Someone sent to an e-list I am on, the Metropolis book review of a book on aerotropolises, "Quick-Fix Urbanism." The review of the book, Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, is critical, as am I. An aerotropolis is a district developed around an airport. It mostly refers to the development of industry around an airport.

While there are some instances where this makes a lot of sense, particularly in how firms located around the Louisville airport to be close to UPS's air hub or around the Memphis airport, to be close to FedEx's hub--for example, the reason that Zappos online shoe store ships its products next day mostly, is because UPS handles their logistics from a facility adjacent to their Louisville air hub--there may not be a lot of legs to the concept.

Rather it makes sense to better leverage the airports you already have. Certainly, in the context of the DC-Baltimore region, there is more industry located around the BWI Airport, while there isn't so much located around National Airport, given it is located within an urban area of office buildings and residential areas. The same was true of the Detroit-Wayne County Metropolitan Airport--while that region doesn't have multiple large airports, the location of the airport supports industry proximate to the airport etc.

One of the problems with aerotropoli is that they are just another example of the seemingly next big thing. 130 years a similarly breathless account would have been written proximity to ports and rivers. 100 years ago, what mattered was proximity to railroads, ports, and rivers. For the last 60 years, proximity to Interstate highways has trumped access to railroads, ports (except for those well positioned to take advantage of container-based shipping), and rivers.

If the peak oil hypothesis is to be believed, developing industrial economic development strategies based on airports is probably not a sustainable strategy, but then that's typically the case of single use development strategies anyway.

Interestingly, the first of the seven rules to a sustainable city posited by Patrick Condon in his talk yesterday at the National Building Museum, is on restoring the streetcar city. Similarly, for long distance transportation, ships, barges, and railroads tend to be the cheapest and (relatively) greenest forms of transportation (of course ships tend to be big environmental polluters, although some ports are implementing electricity hookups for use while ships are in ports, so they don't have to use fuel to run their engines to power the ship's systems).

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