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Airport cities: A sustainable solution?

The commonly accepted Western model needs to be turned inside out if new airports are to successfully prove that they are a key infrastructure catalyst for cities and towns. There are many theories on urban engineering and many failures. However, there are several lessons to be learnt from new developments, particularly in Asia, and more recent experiences in urban regeneration have taught the industry important lessons on how to achieve the organic complexity of communities in shorter and more compressed time frames.

Passenger interchanges should be at the heart of a settlement with all the vitality and commercial activity they bring and not be detached pieces of infrastructure. They can complement or form the heart of the urban marketplace.

There can be a tendency to approach airport city design as a type of theme park, with disparate elements providing discrete parts of the need. This is not a sustainable approach. Just because you locate commercial, business or leisure elements next to an airport doesn’t mean the creation of an airport city. A city, town or settlement needs to be multilayered with each attribute adding to the other parts.

The industry continues to strive towards a balance of the needs of the passenger, airline and airport. New technologies are also bringing opportunities to safely resolve the security and processing problems of opening up the airport environment. Secure design does not need to be exclusive and inhospitable. It can be naturally secure and still respond to the human scale and condition.

As we continue to hone airports in Europe to increase quality, efficiency and returns, we will be looking for innovations to meet investors’ needs. We will benefit from looking at these ideas and, with new heart, refer to infrastructure systems emerging in Asia and Latin America. For over 25 years, North America and parts of Europe have suffered from a lack of strategic planning and infrastructure investment but the tide is now turning.

Countries such as India and China have recognised that infrastructure investment is fundamental to a healthy and increasingly affluent society. This investment can be delivered in the conventional way or can be considered in a truly sustainable development strategy and sustainable communities plan – similar to those that are now emerging in the UK from the original ideas of the 1990/91 Acts relating to a plan-led system.

If we are to have spatial planning working at all levels it must incorporate the transport infrastructure system, which is planned on a national then regional system with independent investment coming from both the private and public sectors.

Peter Farmer, head of airports at 3DReid



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