Welcome to your new urban destination

Over 150 years ago,the first governor of the Territory of Colorado, William Gilpin made the claim that Denver was destined to become the world center of trade.  It is now looking like his proclamation may not be all that far off. Denver is currently working on an Airport City Plan, which would convert the 9,419 acres surrounding Denver International Airport into an aerotropolis.  This aerotopolis would cluster air travel specific activities centered on the airport, much like the concentric zone model organized developments around traditional city centers.  For Denver, these clusters will include a city center, city gateway, logistics center, aero district, tech district and Argo districts, essentially reorienting an entire city to focus on its airport. Aerotropolis boosters argue that this development will position Denver to where it can effectively reinvent global manufacturing and research procedures. This new urban pattern will reorient the city’s economy, to one that’s entirely dependent on connectivity, speed and efficiency. An aerotropolis appears to be the next step for Denver to propel itself into the new realm of cities competing for a “frictionless” global trade hub. With our increasing reliance on air travel to further global trade, the idea of building a city around an airport is gaining ground in several cities—echoing John Kasarda’s theory that this new urban structure, will in fact be “the way we’ll live next.”


Denver Airport City plans on developing the 9,419 acres surrounding DIA. Image from Flickr.com. Accessed 2/15/2014

Before we blindly accept this as our urban future, it is important to look at debates and discussions in the planning profession that have led up to its conception and adoption. These considerations can help understand how, why and where these new types of global cities will form. I have provided links below to additional information that has contributed to the progression of the aerotropolis ideology.

The origination of an areotropolis stems from the ideals that transportation has always been a vital component to cities growth and prosperity. From the era of sea-ports to rail stations and now airports, cities have “almost always been an outcome of and had a strong relationship with the form of transportation that was relevant during the time of their establishments.”

So, being a relatively new phenomenon, the question of  what a planned aerotopolis’ will actually end up looking like and how they will develop is still up for debate.

Early visions of an aerotropolis can be seen in Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s 1922 Ville Contemporaine project. This highly scrutinized plan included runways on the roofs of buildings, and required pilots to dangerously navigate between skyscrapers to access these thin landing strips. To get a taste of what these flying conditions might entail check out Sean Kelly’s blog, Wait…. we’re landing, where exactly?

Present day arguments suggest that the aerotropolis will develop without any sort of urban form. The transportation oriented city center and the economic activity generated there will be the determining factor for how the surrounding area is formulated. This would create a heavy commuter activity, as development  concentrates along transportation corridors connecting to the airport. This growth pattern draws numerous parallels with Joel Garreau’s, Edge City.

In contrast to the dispersed development pattern is the notion that “aerotropolis’ and smart growth should go hand-in hand.” This compressed development style, is believed to be the most practical approach for maximizing the aerotropolis’ efficiency.

For further insight into the relationship between transportation and urban form, check out the work of Hofstra Universitiy’s Jean-Paul Rodgigue.


Areotropolis with separated uses in concentric rings. Photo from Wikipedia. Accessed 2/16/2014

Another area of discussion deals with why would a city want to become an aerotropolis?

The initial benefits are quite obvious, cities are reliant on access to outside markets for importing and exporting products, so they will benefit immediately by having  infrastructure conveniently located nearby. This placement compliments Le Corbusier’s transportation oriented notion, “a city made for speed, is a city made for success.” However, this success is not only measured in the ability to rapidly move freight but also intelligence.

Increasing a city’s ability to attract bright minds and connect ideas, furthers the argument made by Edward Glaeser, in his book Triumph of the City. Glasaer argues that urban areas are powerful centers of knowledge and innovation, and that an individual moving to a city will actually make them smarter and more creative. Thus, having an ever expanding flow of ideas into a city can lead to a more productive society. To see more of Glaeser’s work about how cities make us smarter click here.

An aerotropolis can also serves as a means of diversifying a previously isolated city. Richard Florida argues that this process can also increase a city’s economic growth in his work The Rise of the Creative Class.

For more information about Florida’s take on aerotrpolis, check out his analysis of Toronto’s Billy Bishops airport.

Historically city’s connectivity to markets was largely dependent on geographic features and locations. Now advances in transportation technology and globalization has made cities geographic settings less influential. This is the basis for an aerotropiolis, it will effectively substitute a cities relationship with its immediate hinterland for a relationship with air and other accessible cites. So now, innovation is determining cities livelihood, as oppose to physical proximity. In the age of ever increasing competition among world cities, it will be the “the fastest, best connected places that will win.” The city of Denver recognizes this notion, but is not alone it its pursuit of absolute global connectivity. For a complete list of global airport cities and partners click here.

One thought on “Welcome to your new urban destination

  1. Interesting read Tod.

    I wonder if any city’s success has ever been dependent on its ability to *transport* knowledge.

    Transportation has always been about moving mass – replete with all its physical characteristics of weight and inertia. Those cities that are in a position to accommodate this, imminently Newtonian, phenomena have a hedge in economic trade (that is, those with access to deep-water ports, heavy-rail lines, navigable rivers, etc.) — and all of these are dependent on naturally-occurring accommodations.

    I tend to believe that those who desire to cast air travel into this same category are overlooking a number of physical realities — principally the high cost of energy, the limited availability of energy-dense sources of fuel; both of which conspire to limit the ability of heavier-than-air vehicles to transport freight.

    The act of imagination that views intellectual effort as weighing only as much as the human that manifests that effort (or more to the point, the human body that carries around the 3-1/2 pound brain that carries those ideas) — and that, therefor, air travel can serve as a means to transport the nearly weightless cargo of *ideas* — is an intentional act to self-deceive. I write this only to point out that the telephony network (phones and the internet) is not some unrealized technology — but can be (and is) used today to carry out every conceivable task that the air-traveling business commuter engages in.

    Like Gandhi’s march to the sea — culminating in his simple act of scooping up a handful of salt and demonstrating to the world the absurd colonial rules that prohibited such a simple act of commerce — I’m waiting for some enlightened individual to show the crowds of aerotropolis enthusiasts that simply answering a phone call would undermine their entire scheme.

    I believe that air travel is for pleasure, or for dire situations where short travel times is a must. Everything else can be done by phone, letter, teleconference, or email — heck, even shipping a small file to a 3-D printer on the other side of the world negates the need to even transport manufacturing prototypes.

Comments are closed.