Just as the city of Atlanta (formerly known as "Terminus," which has been recycled as the name of a large new urban development plan there) sprung up around the end of a railroad line, and urban sprawl around the world has been facilitated by the development of highway systems, cities of a different sort are rising around the world's network of airport hubs. The airport terminal becomes the town square:
Airports are no longer simply places where airplanes land and passengers and cargo transit. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is a case in point. About 58,000 people are daily employed on the airport grounds. Its passenger terminal—containing an expansive mix of shopping, dining, and entertainment arcades—doubles as a suburban mall that is accessible both to air travelers and the general public. Amsterdam residents regularly shop and relax in the airport’s public section, especially on Sundays and at night when most city stores are closed.
Across from Schiphol’s passenger terminal, one finds the World Trade Center, which contains conference facilities as well as the regional headquarters of such firms as Thomson-CFS and Unilever. Two five-star hotels adjoin this complex. Within a ten-minute walk is another complex of class-A office buildings that house financial and consulting firms which serve the aviation industry. Clustered along the A4 and A9 motorways linking the airport to downtown Amsterdam are large business parks for companies in industries that make intensive use of the airport, such as telecommunications, logistics, and distribution. With the airport and its immediate area serving as a multimodal transportation and commercial nexus, a new economic geography is taking shape: property near the airport commands premium office rental prices for the Amsterdam area, even above those in Amsterdam’s central business district.
Like the manufacturing industry, the service sector has increasingly found airports to be an attractive location. Airports have become magnets for regional corporate headquarters, trade representative offices, professional associations, and information-intensive firms that require executives and staff to undertake frequent long-distance travel. Business travelers benefit considerably from access to hub airports, which offer greater choice of flights and destinations and more flexibility in rescheduling.
Firms specializing in information and communications technology and other high-tech industries consider air accessibility especially crucial. High-tech professionals travel by air at least 60 percent more frequently than other professionals, giving rise to the term “nerd birds” for commercial aircraft connecting “techie” capitals such as Austin, Boston, Raleigh-Durham, and San Jose. Many tech firms are locating along major airport corridors, such as those along the Dulles Airport access corridor in Northern Virginia and the expressways leading to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In this sense, knowledge networks and air travel networks increasingly reinforce each other.
These places--Dulles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and O'Hare, to name a few--begin to develop identities distinct from the cities and regions that originally spurred their development, even as statistically, these nodes begin to resemble the downtowns they were usually sited away from:
Job growth, in turn, stimulates residential projects—further fueling Aerotropolis development. Airport areas are even developing their own “brand” image—“the DFW Area” and “the O’Hare Area,” for instance.
As a result of these changes, the airport itself is undergoing a metamorphosis, taking on many of the commercial functions of a metropolitan Central Business District (CBD). With the growing number of boutiques, restaurants, meeting facilities, and entertainment and cultural attractions, passenger terminals begin to resemble parts of downtown. Frankfurt Airport, for instance, has a hospital; Denver International has art galleries; and Las Vegas’ McCarran has a museum. Many airports also have the density of highway and transit connections that are usually associated only with CBDs.
From an earlier post: a forward-thinking Detroit planner is betting on the revival that the development of an "Airport City" in his region's backyard will bring. Meanwhile, author Walter Kirn picks up on the layout and significance of these new urban forms, and how they link to each other, in the savvy novel Up in the Air:
As long as you're aimed at a city with an airport, you can get anywhere from anywhere and there's no such thing as a wrong turn....In Billings, Montana, I'd find a portal to Airworld, and I could be back in Salt Lake by 9 AM then off to Vegas by noon. This is how the country is structured now, in spokes, not lines. Just find a hub.