Alienation in the AEROTROPOLIS – an independent film from Taiwan

Although it is a work of fiction, the Taiwanese film AEROTROPOLIS, about a young man who sinks all his money into a luxury condo on land allocated for an aerotropolis around Taoyuan Airport, is all too feasible. The government driven megaproject stalled and the real estate bubble burst. Unable to flip the property for a quick profit he loses his moorings in life and wanders around the desolate urban landscape. His loneliness and loss of meaning are only superficially eased by fleeting visits from his flight-attendant girlfriend and the films follows his descent into a downward spiral of mental breakdown.

The film was written and directed by Jheng-Neng Li. Interviewed by We Are Moving Stories, which celebrates new voices in the film industry, he explains how the Taoyuan aerotropolis project “fiasco” has disrupted the lives of thousands of ordinary people, with agricultural land destroyed, families displaced and escalating land and property prices. AEROTROPOLIS is Jheng-Neng Li’s debut feature film, a true low-budget venture, shot over just 11 days with a “no-budget” of just $7000. In this evocative teaser clip the protagonist is static in an alienating urban landscape as planes fly overhead.

AEROTROPOLIS was showcased at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival which focuses on new artists and low-budget, independent films and has garnered some enthusiastic reviews. Writing for ScreenAnarchy Christopher Bourne describes the film as ‘an elegantly made portrait of (sub)urban alienation. In Slug Magazine Kathy Zhou is full of praise for ‘a bleak and powerful meditation on the emptiness of contemporary life’. The film is being screened at various film festivals so hopefully will, over time, reach a substantial audience worldwide. There are some reviews and interesting promotion materials on the AEROTROPOLIS film Facebook page.

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Video playlist: Aerotropolis videos

GAAM has created a playlist of Aerotropolis videos on our YouTube channel.

The playlist begins with a video showcasing the aerotropolis model of development as conceived by its leading proponent, Dr. John Kasarda. Standard components of an aerotropolis – Free Trade Zone, intermodal freight hub, manufacturing, exhibition and conference centres, hotels retail and entertainment complexes, offices, medical and wellness centre, academic institutions and a residential zone slot into place around the central core of the development, the airport. Somewhat appropriately for this dehumanized and mechanistic model of development, the aerotropolis materializes as if assembled by a robot.

Human beings barely figure in the videos that follow, made to promote a variety of aerotropolis projects around the world to prospective investors and tenants. The few people that do appear amidst gargantuan infrastructure and enormous buildings are besuited hypermobile aerotropolitans, tourists funnelled through standardized spectacles (most notably theme parks and golf courses) or insect-like animated figures behaving exactly as expected inside the aerotropolis machine. Host communities, people living outside the airport city complex, are not part of the picture. International corporate connectivity is what counts and many of the aerotropolis schemes aspire to global hub status. A corporate utopia of greenfield sites and unparalleled infrastructure to access resources and global markets is offered, with China-Belarus Industrial Park next to Minsk Airport and Detroit Aerotropolis among the projects granting tax breaks.

The video for Ekurhuleni aerotropolis, near OR Tambo, Johannesburg’s main airport, stands out in its emphasis on projects involving the local community, as well as international stakeholders. Indeed, aspects of the project are described as community oriented, its beneficiaries to include include townships. If the project proceeds as planned time will tell whether low income groups and local businesses can establish a foothold in the aerotropolis footprint, in a gateway to global markets where priority projects include state-owned aerospace and defence manufacturer Denel’s aviation college with a simulation centre and ‘mega city aviation and aerospace manufacturing precinct’, a jewellery manufacturing park , ‘digital city computing campus’ and transport related ‘nerve centre’ initiatives. Four ‘community oriented districts’ are mentioned, but there is no visualization, just identikit concrete blocks.

The aerotropolis in the Kasarda video expands into nothing, as if the hinterland does not exist. In contrast, several of the specific aerotropolis videos gleefully visualize plans for expansion over green space. Aerotropolis schemes emphasize areas of green space in vivid shades, regimented rows of trees and formal parks. Sanitized remnants of the nature that set be eliminated are presented as if gifted by the development. Green space is always dwarfed by urbanization. The occasional futuristic, sparkling, showcase edifice with an unusual shape cannot disguise the proliferation of corporate buildings endlessly replicating concrete block boringness. Road networks open up the bounty of land to make it available for commercial and industrial development. The video promoting an aerotropolis at Tocumen Airport in Panama, ‘Panatropolis’ is the most striking example; three minutes in the grid of grey buildings, the megalomaniac megaproject masterplan, begins metastasizing over green space, urban sprawl radiating outwards.

Aerotropolis projects are unified by relentless pursuit of speed and growth. Scale ranges between a few hectares to hundreds of square kilometres. Unsurprisingly, the most ambitious plan is in China, where planning and construction are particularly unconstrained by democratic processes; the 415 square kilometer Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone (ZEAZ) is presented as an aerotropolis encompassed within a gigantic economic zone. And China boasts of plans for what could be the most elitist aerotropolis of all: ‘World Aviation City’, a permanent exhibition and showroom for private jets.

Many variants of the basic airport-centric aerotropolis concept emerge. Ekurhuleni aerotropolis plans incorporate a ‘smart city’, an attempt to achieve management efficiency by embedding information technology in its infrastructure. The EuropaCity plan for retail and theme park oriented commercial development on northern outskirts of Paris, snapping up green space on the urban periphery, is unusual as the site is between two established airports – Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) and Le Bourget. The Jeju Air Rest City site is not even next to an airport, but could, arguably, be categorized as an aerotropolis as the self-contained resort is clearly envisaged as strongly linked to Jeju’s airport and dependent on visitors arriving by air.

Aerotropolis projects are certainly ambitious, and a priority for corporations and many government bodies, but do not necessarily materialize. Some of the videos were made years ago. The Panatropolis video was published in 2010 and the ‘global hub of the world’ was first mooted in 2004, but it appears to be a pipedream (nightmare). Twelve years later all there is to report is that three companies are interested in the project and there are preparations to finalize a masterplan for a hotel, convention centre and hospital on a 325 hectares site. Jeju Air Rest City has been stalled, if not permanently halted, by a successful suit from a number of landowners, even though construction was well underway. What Kasarda calls the ‘fifth wave‘ of transport oriented development is only possible with expensive and complex physical and regulatory infrastructure, and rests on airport control of the land upon which the aerotropolis development takes place. The age of the aerotropolis may be looming, but it is not inevitable.

 

Video of Istanbul third airport – an ecocide megaproject

GAAM has published a video showing the ecocide underway for Istanbul’s third airport – an ecocide megaproject. The project site is north of the city on the Black Sea coast. A vast area of forests, lakes, farmland and coastline is being systematically destroyed as the site is prepared for construction. The plan is to build an aerotropolis covering 76 square kilometres. Trees are being felled, lakes filled in and land reclamation damages coastal ecosystems. The aerotropolis plan is linked with other destructive megaprojects including a third bridge across the Bosphorus Strait. Resistance against the megaprojects is led by Kuzey Ormanları Savunması (Northern Forest Defence).


The video was taken on a visit to the site on 7th May 2016, photos can be viewed on Fickr. Istanbul third airport
Earlier that day Kuzey Ormanları Savunması held a protest outside the forest directorate.
Protesting to save Istanbul forests

Industry videos of construction of Istanbul’s third airport are available online – giving an indication of the severity and extent of the destruction of ecosystems. The video below, made by Caterpillar shows bulldozing underway.

This video of construction of the airport – on land that used to be forest, lakes and farmland – was filmed from above.

Video playlist: Aviation expansion – resisting displacement

GAAM has posted a video playlist Aviation expansion – resisting displacement on our YouTube channel. All over the world communities are resisting displacement for airport expansion and new airports. Airport development on greenfield sites often entails concreting over agricultural land, and rural communities fight against loss of their land and livelihoods. People living in slums near airports face an uncertain future and are fighting for secure and decent housing. Already there are 14 videos on the list – campaigns in many countries including Cambodia, India, South Africa, Turkey, Laos, Taiwan and Mexico. GAAM would will be adding more films to the list, do let us know of any videos that should be included.

 

Parasitic Urbanization: The Transformation of Istanbul

There are a lot of internet videos promoting aerotropolis projects – here is one that is critical. ‘Parasitic Urbanization: The Transformation of Istanbul’, a talk by Cihan Uzunçarşılı Baysal

The presentation highlights Istanbul’s airport, currently under construction, and other mega infrastructure projects in the region, which are symptomatic of the phenomenon of “planetary urbanisation”. What is happening with this wave of urban development is not new cities, it is not settlements that are contained within boundaries. A new type of urbanisation is extending its influence over the entire surface of the earth, even encroaching into the atmosphere and into the oceans and underground. A key characteristic of this new wave of urbanisation is that it is “parasitic” – it depends on nutrition from its host – sucking in water and other resources from a large hinterland area.

Baysal describes Istanbul’s third airport as an “ecocide” project. Forest is being felled and lakes filled, on a massive scale, and not just for an airport; land is being prepared for an ‘aerotropolis’ extending over a much larger area. An aerotropolis is the opposite of traditional airports, built to serve an established city. An aerotropolis is an airport-centric development, commercial development around an airport that is designed to serve aviation growth.

The talk explains that Istanbul’s third airport is one of the largest of no less than 43 megaprojects underway and planned in the region – most notably a third Bridge across the Bosphorus Strait and a canal alongside it. There is no democratic process whatsoever for deciding to embark on the megaprojects; they are imposed by the government and the firms awarded contracts. Citizens simply do now know what “insane” scheme is going to be announced next.

Campaigners against the Istanbul megaprojects make use of satellite images to reveal the reality of the ecological destruction. These images reflect a global phenomenon. They are examples of the 21st century iconic image of urbanisation, an aerial photograph of excavated and bulldozed area of land, a site being prepared for construction, an image of destruction that is similar to the tar sands in Alberta. This is a marked contrast with the exciting iconic image of 20th century urbanisation: the skyscraper.

Ecologically destructive urban development in Istanbul also exacts a human cost. People are being displaced for the airport and other megaprojects – forced out of their homes by eminent domain, then dumped in new settlements on the periphery, far away from their livelihoods and social life in Istanbul, having to undertake long commutes for work and leisure.

The underlying agenda for the orgy of construction is opening up land for plunder, turning it into a financial and speculative asset, which facilitates the accumulation of capital. The megaprojects are in the process of “privatising and commercialising each and every urban space” and must be halted.