The Utopianist discusses one (slightly hellish) idea of what the city of the future may look like — the ‘aerotropolis’, in which the airport is at the city’s geographic and economic core, and daily life increasingly resembles being inside an endlessly sprawling airport:
It’s a city that’s built around an airport, the bigger the better, with factories and/or traders, both dependent on air freight, close by, followed by a ring of malls and hotels, followed by a ring of residential neighborhoods. The airport isn’t an annoyance, located as far out of the way as possible, but the city’s heart, its raison d’être.
While the vision of a city based around an airport may seem novel, there are such aerotropolises already in existence, like Ecuador’s capital, Quito. We already have a few cities in the United States that roughly adhere to this model — Memphis, our nation’s major FedEx hub, and Seattle, the home of Boeing. But the idea is really gaining ground in the place you’d expect, the place where giant cities are being built before our eyes at feverish rates. China, of course: “The aerotropolis phenomenon … is happening with a vengeance in Asia. China is currently building scores of airports, many intended to shift economic activity to its isolated western cities.”
On its face, the concept of the aerotropolis seems like a solid, adequately ambitious vision for the cities of the future — yet it’s anything but. Metropolis points out that aerotropolises will essentially be glorified company towns, whose economies are pegged to the corporations that produce goods and ship them out there. If the industry wired to the air freight infrastructure declines, so does the city, and we’ve got a bunch of futuristic Detroits on our hands.