Where are the flying cars we were promised back in the 1930s? They’re just around the corner—sort of, write Kasarda (Business/Univ. of North Carolina) and journalist Lindsay in this fascinating study.
In their current configurations, airports are usually banished to distant places far from the city center—e.g., Dulles International outside Washington, D.C., which was once way out in the sticks, or the new airport in Shanghai, connected to downtown by bullet trains. In the near term, cities will migrate closer to airfields. The toll-road corridor leading to Dulles, for instance, is now an ultramodern, international business zone, peopled by those who may have never traveled beyond Fairfax County by other conveyance but roam the world in airplanes. In the longer-term future, write the authors, “we will build this century’s cities around [airports]”—our most efficient way of organizing transportation nodes toward a global future. By this logic, customers around the world are more important than those in one’s backyard, while we annihilate distances in a constant war against international competition to be first and fastest to market. Thus the “aerotropolis,” traces of which can be seen in new airports in Korea, anti-examples of which abound in gridlock-bound places such as Heathrow and JFK. Kasarda and Lindsay take rather roundabout journeys to get to some of their points, chatting away about how Zappos and Amazon do business, and larding their discussion with factoids that don’t always have an immediate bearing on the point at hand (for instance, that Facebook users collectively spend the equivalent of 2,700 years each day on the site). Yet their case studies of failures, successes and known unknowns are music to a logistician’s ears: Why, for instance, should so much air traffic now pass through the Persian Gulf? Because the emirates are blank slates for the experiment, and, as one Abu Dhabi–based technologist says, “because we can fly nineteen hours nonstop now, we’re able to reach any city in the world from here.”The brave new world is on the way, and it’s coming in by air.