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.
As the Northern Forests Defence, we have been continuously iterating our position that Istanbul’s 3rd airport isn’t a transportation project, but a real estate-construction project that will flood the Northern Forests of Istanbul with cement, which we declared in our announcements and in our 3rd airport report. This fact has also been stated in the environmental assesment report for the project. The gigantic area allocated to the 3rd airport project and also other projects announced by the members of the consortium for the area, are strong evidence of this. As a matter of fact, the 3rd airport project will be showcased under the name of “Airport City” in the world trade show MIPIM 2017, to be held in Cannes between 14-17 March.
The citizens of this country are ignorant of the decisions that will affect the future of the city and their children, as global capital and real estate / construction companies continue their plunder projects in the Northern Forests of Istanbul, the lungs of Istanbul. As citizens of this country we mostly don’t hear about the details nor the locations of such projects, as well as the 3rd airport project, however esteemed architects (!) and global actors, who find it difficult to embark locally on such projects that devastate nature and the environment, and violate the right to live, are in command of all details, since they are very busy preparing project after project for the Northern Forests.
One of these companies is a Dutch real estate-construction company, whose application story you will read below. This company, name and involved project unknown, applied to the well-known credit company Atradius Dutch State Business (ADSB) -which operates on behalf of the Dutch government- in 2016 in order to apply for export credit support for a project related to the Istanbul New Airport Project. Then ADSB contacted NFD in October to obtain information related to the 3rd airport project. When we met with the ADSB officials in Istanbul, we conveyed our position that the 3rd airport would be death of Istanbul and the only acceptable solution would be the cancellation of the project and detailed the permanent damage this project will leave on the local ecosystem, the workplace murders committed in the project, and the lack of transparency. And last month we received the good news: The company, probably due to refusal of its credit application, had announced its withdrawal from the project. ADSB, due to its ethics code, didn’t share the name of the company, nor the character or the location of project, with NFD.
As we announce this positive development, we are also sharing the 6 February 2017 dated press announcement of the Dutch STK Both ENDS, who linked ADSB and NFD – there is additional information about the process in this announcement.
Turkey is building Istanbul’s third and the world’s biggest airport in the Northern Forest area on the outskirts of the city. The project is strongly opposed by local communities and NGO’s, as it destroys the environment and violates basic human and local community rights.
On January 27th, Atradius Dutch State Business (ADSB), the Dutch export credit agency, announced that a Dutch company withdrew its application for export credit support for this controversial mega-project.
Local communities, supported by the Turkish civil society organisation Northern Forest Defense (NFD), and their Dutch partner organisations XminY and Both ENDS, are pleased with this development. They hope that the withdrawal will contribute to address public concerns surrounding this mega infrastructure project.
Social and environmental hazards
In August 2016 Atradius DSB, which operates on behalf of the Dutch government, announced on its website that it was considering an application for export credit support for the Istanbul New Airport Project. This project was classified as potentially having high social and environmental risks. Both ENDS shared this information with NFD, which then discussed its concerns about the project with representatives of Atradius DSB during their visit to Istanbul in October 2016.
“As a movement advocating for the protection of the natural environment around Istanbul, we welcome this news” indicates NFD. “In our report about this project from March 2015 we already concluded that the destruction of the Northern Forests of Istanbul has devastating effects. It will affect water basins, lakes, rivers, bird migration, forests and the people living in and around Istanbul. Local communities are faced with forced evictions and displacement. The withdrawal is a good first step, but we will continue our fight against the airport project.”
Fatal accidents and financial risks
Another critical issue NFD points out is the lack of safety measures. Nearly 100 workers have died due to accidents, many of them truck drivers. Thousands of trucks move sand, cement and rubble in and out of the project area day and night. Moreover, NFD raises major questions about both airworthiness (due to meteorological conditions, migratory birds, soil structure) and financial risks of the project. Examining the financial stability of Turkey as a whole and the airport project specifically, the NFD report argues that the airport is not likely to make significant revenues in the near future.
Others might follow
“Although the identity of the Dutch company nor the reason for the applications’ withdrawal were ever disclosed, we assume that NFD’s efforts of sharing concerns with ADSB helped trigger the Dutch exporter to reconsider its involvement in the airport project”, says Niels Hazekamp of Both ENDS. ”Hopefully, the withdrawal of this application for an export credit insurance will motivate other companies to re-evaluate their role in the project as well”.
For more information, please contact Niels Hazekamp:
In March, Kuzey Ormanları Savunması (the ‘North Forest Defence’) which campaigns to protect the forests to the north of Istanbul from industrialization and urbanization, published a 100 page comprehensive report into Istanbul’s third airport, currently under construction. Entitled The Third Airport Project: Vis-a-Vis Life, Nature, Environment, People and Law, this report has been translated into English. It exposes the ecological destruction of the project, and examines the drive for economic growth and corporate profits that is the real reason it is being so relentlessly pursued by the government and firms that stand to benefit.
The site is gigantic, over 76 square kilometres. About 80 per cent of this area is forested, the remainder consists of 70 large and small lakes, meadows, farmland and coastline. All are being destroyed as airport construction progresses.
The reason for the gigantic site is that the plan is not for an airport. Land is being expropriated for an ‘aerotropolis’, an airport surrounded by commercial development that is designed to be aviation dependent and support growth of the airport.
Istanbul’s last large area of green space is being sacrificed for a vast urbanisation incorporating the world’s biggest duty-free shopping centre, hotels, a convention centre, sports centre, business space, a clinic and other facilities. Ostensibly, the land is allocated for an airport with the incredibly ambitious goal of handling 90 million passengers annually, ultimately becoming the world’s busiest airport with 150 million passengers passing through.
But even if the airport does indeed grow to handle this number of passengers, an eventuality regarded as unlikely within the aviation industry as well as by its critics, there will be plenty of space for commercial activity. North Forest Defence estimates the area surplus to requirements for aeronautical activities at 57 square kilometres. This is illustrated by comparison with the world’s busiest passenger airport, Atlanta in the USA, which, with a a far smaller land area of 1,625 hectares, handles about 95 million passengers per year.
Preparation of the site for construction commenced on approval of an Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) that North Forest Defence’s work exposes as utterly inadequate, full of serious omissions and trivialising the impacts of the project. Lakes are described as ‘ponds’, the number of species at risk is under-reported and the bizarre claim is made that, of the 2.5 million trees earmarked for felling, over 1.8 million would be moved to another place, a mass replanting that is technically impossible. The reality is that the habitat of animal and plant species is being obliterated. Endangered bird species whose habitat is imperilled include the greater spotted eagle and the pygmy cormorant. Istanbul’s northern forests are one of the world’s major bird migration routes with hundreds of thousands flying over every spring and autumn. This means that the airport will endanger human life as well as birds, as there will be a considerably higher flight safety risk from bird strikes – collisions between birds and aircraft that can cause fatal air accidents.
Istanbul’s third airport has proceeded in the face of vigorous opposition from a broad coalition of environmental, community and civil organisations, plus professional associations of engineers, architects, scientists and economists. There have been endless campaign meetings and protests, in the centre of Istanbul and in villages affected by the project. The two photos below are of the protest to mark the groundbreaking ceremony for the airport, on 7th June 2014. A slideshow with more photos of this lively protest can be viewed here.
North Forest Defence’s report is also a powerful critique of the financing of the airport, and the economic implications. The tender to construct the airport and operate it for 25 years, the biggest in the history of Turkey, was awarded to a consortium of five firms, all with close ties to the government. These firms stand to profit from operating the airport, regardless of the actual level of traffic, because of a state guarantee of liabilities that may be incurred. The consortium’s economic benefit from the airport is also assured because of revenue guarantee of €6.3 billion over 12 years, from a fee levied on the projected 342 million international passengers over this period. There is a precedent for state payment to airport operators when the projected number of passengers fail to materialise; €27 million has been paid to reimburse the operator of three of Turkeys’ airports to compensate for a shortfall. Treasury guarantees mean that the economic risks of the project fall onto citizens.
Every Turkish citizen will incur debt due to the cost of the project, which has already escalated from $16 billion to $20 billion. The airport project is part of a construction and real estate speculation frenzy that serves as Turkey’s main economic stimulus, keeping up a flow of ‘hot money’ – international capital seeking short term profits from interest rate differences and anticipated shifts in currency exchange rates – that buoys up capital markets and keeps the plates spinning.
The campaign to stop construction of Istanbul’s third airport is bolstered by an extraordinary visual record of the ecological destruction that is underway – photographs and videos. It is highly unusual for a megaproject to be documented in this way and it is extremely effective in raising the alarm over the scale and severity of the ecocide that is happening. The site is crawling with hundreds of trucks excavating and dumping earth, the level of infill required to raise and level the site is estimated at 2.5 billion square metres, and compacting the soil is on the swampy site is proving problematic.
A video shows destruction of forests and meadows and filled in lakes, swathes of bare earth being worked by bulldozers, and piles of felled trees. There is nowhere left for the wild animals or for farmers to tend their sheep.
Video of storks, one of the 300 species of birds whose habitat is being destroyed for Istanbul’s third airport, flying around bewildered and traumatised in the immediate aftermath of their habitat being bulldozed.
This video, published in May 2015, shows the impact of airport construction on the coastal village of Yenikoy. It begins with a farmer explaining the ‘airport city’ plans, shows the farmland that is at risk as bulldozers move ever closer, then reveals the destruction of forest, lakes, farmland and coastline that is already underway.
Istanbul’s third airport is integrated with other ecologically destructive megaprojects – a multi-lane third bridge over the Bosphorus Strait and a canal running alongside it. Highways to provide surface access mean the loss of yet more green space. All these projects open up the virgin forests for further plunder and feed each others growth. Campaigners have stepped up their efforts to tackle these megaprojects as a package. North Forest Defence has joined forces with Istanbul Kent Suvanmasi (Istanbul City Defence) and on 5th July 2015 a new campaign was launched. The slogan is: ‘Stop the Killer Projects! Be the Breath of Istanbul‘. The forests north of Istanbul are depicted as the lungs of the city, providing oxygen for people and all life to breathe. As well as resisting the megaprojects the campaign is about envisioning and creating a future city which lives in harmony with nature rather than destroying it, taking forward the optimism that concludes North Forest Defence’s report into the third airport, the conviction that ‘it is in our hands to write another story’.
On 10th April 7,000 farmers protested against land acquisition for a ‘greenfield airport’ (on an undeveloped site) in the Vizianagaram district, near the town of Bhogapuram, on the northern coast of Andhra Pradesh. Farmers are concerned that the airport will deprive them of their lands and livelihood. The video below shows news footage of the protest. It is in the Andhra Pradesh language, Telugu, but the visuals are revealing. After 45 seconds of captions there are crowd scenes along with speakers, and is it is worth watching to get an impression of the scale and spirit of the demonstration.
The land that the government intends to acquire, a full 60 square kilometres, constitutes more than half of the 105 square kilometres of farmland in Bhogapuram. In early April it was reported that opposition to land acquisition was mounting. People from 16 villages were gearing up for a major protest and planning to blockade a major road, the NH-16 arterial highway between Chennai and Kolkata, even though they were informed by police that anyone participating in the roadblock would be arrested. An all-party meeting of villagers also decided to prevent officials from entering their villages. Senior officials had already tried to enter the village of Chakivalasa but the residents forced them to retreat. They chanted slogans like ‘don’t want airport’ and ‘go back’ and demanded improvements to vital amenities including water, housing and roads.
On 10th April farmers protested outside government offices demanding cancellation of the airport project. The number of demonstrators – 7,000 – far exceeded the 3-4,000 that had been anticipated. Several political parties supported the protesters, who were adamant that they will not give up their fertile farmland. The protest was peaceful. Demonstrators defied the police arrest threat over the roadblock plans, bringing traffic on the NH-16 highway to a halt for over an hour.
Villagers, dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, from their land which would be lost if the airport project goes ahead, accused the district administration of failing to inform them of the detail of the airport plans, including how much land would be taken from each of the villages. They are concerned that they may be forced to give up their land, and that the prices offered to farmers would be low, as has already been witnessed in nearby districts in the region where the government is attempting to acquire farmland for a new capital city for Andhra Pradesh. Karottu Satyam, president of the Bhogapuram mandal (administrative district) told reporters that ‘The government is literally pushing us onto the roads’.
The area of land the Andhra Pradesh state government intends to acquire for the airport project is vast: 60 square kilometres. The Times of India reported that the plan is actually for an aerotropolis, an airport surrounded by commercial development. Government sources stated that the 60 square kilometre site would be divided into three sections: 20 square kilometres to be set aside for the airport, 20 square kilometres for servicing aircraft i.e. an MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) facility and an aviation academy and 20 square kilometres would be given back to the farmers as ‘developed plots’. An area of 20 square kilometres for the airport itself is even larger than the world’s busiest passenger airport, Atlanta Airport in Georgia, US, which handed more than 96 million passengers in 2014 and covers just over 15 square kilometres of land. 20 square kilometres is far more than would be required for an MRO and aviation academy, so no doubt considerable commercial development such as retail, tourism, residential and industrial facilities are planned.
The 20 square kilometres that would be given back to the farmers would be under a system called ‘land pooling’. This entails acquiring land for development by pooling parcels of land from a number of landowners. Developers then receive a large portion of the land for further real estate development. The remainder is divided into plots which are allocated to landowners, possibly with the addition of compensation for loss of agricultural income. Ajay Jain, State Energy and Infrastructure Secretary attempted to assure farmers that they would benefit from the airport project, recognizing that farmers who gave up their land for Hyderabad Airport were ‘short-changed’ because the price of the land ‘skyrocketed’ shortly after it was acquired.
But it is understandable that attempts at assuring farmers facing loss of their land for the aerotropolis are being met with scepticism. The land pooling system has already been used for acquisition of enormous tracts of fertile agricultural land, 120 square kilometres, for a planned new Andhra Pradesh capital city. The Deccan Herald described land pooling for the new city as a ‘reign of terror over the villagers/landowners’ belying government insistence that completion of the land acquisition process has been smooth and voluntary. Once farmers have signed legal documents the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) can take possession of the land, develop it, sell it and raise loans by mortgaging it. Evidence that the new city plans are a pretext for a land grab, primarily aimed at benefiting real estate developers, is compounded by the fact that none of the necessary clearances for the new city, such as social and environmental impact assessments, have been complied with, casting serious doubts over the feasibility of the enormously ambitious scheme.
There have been major protests against the land pooling process. On a recent visit to Rayapudi village in the Guntur district Medha Patkar, co-founder of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), described land pooling as ‘land fooling‘, a ‘corporate conspiracy meant to grab the farmers’ land and deprive them of their livelihood’. People face removal from land they had lived on for many generations, and it will have a ‘genocidal’ effect on the rural economy. Farmers she had met with in several villages told her that they had been forced to sign consent forms for handing over land, which they were offered a mere ‘pittance’ for. Some farmers were left deprived of their only source of income. Patkar said that the CRDA land acquisition procedure is an illegal infringement of people’s rights and retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer MG Devasahayam dubbed the CRDA the ‘Capital Real Estate Development Agency’.
Already, the real estate boom predicted by critics of the airport project is reported in Bhogapuram. Real estate developers are flocking to the area as the price of land has escalated at least fourfold.
Industry websites are often enlightening regarding the workings of airport-centric commercial development (often referred to as an ‘aerotropolis’). This article in business website AreaDevelopment is a case in point. Entitled ‘Open for Business: Airports as Real Estate Developer and Strategic Partner‘ the article emphasizes the scale of airport land ownership and its role in airport income generation, seeing opportunities for business from airports as they ‘control large swathes of prime real estate’.
Airports used to be situated on the periphery of cities. Now hotels, shopping malls, tourist facilities such as casinos, offices and other business premises cluster around airports. The article explains that the majority of airports aim to attract non-aviation businesses to locate on ‘the lands and properties they control’ and that this provides a stream of ‘non-aeronautical revenue’. Many airports generate more non-aeronautical revenue than they receive in fees charged to airlines for landing and terminal services. Non-aeronautical revenue is used for airport maintenance and expansion. Thus a symbiotic relationship is established between growth of the airport and growth of the non-aviation commercial activity surrounding it. Many airport estates are so expansive that they even encompass ‘natural features like streams, beaches, and other conservation areas on their vast lands’. Undeveloped areas of natural beauty are additional assets for the airport, which can be served up as ‘attractions’ for visitors and the local community, while the airport and airport linked businesses continue with the main business of concreting over the majority of green space at their disposal for various industrial and commercial purposes.
Airport-owned land aims to host particular types of businesses – transnational firms which operate globally, import or export goods/components, require just-in-time delivery of goods/components and with staff frequently flying to and from business premises. All these are characteristics of aviation dependency. Reliance on air services is designed into the airport centric development.
The article describes the relationship between airports and surrounding development as ‘industrial ecology’. Airport centric development is indeed ‘ecology’ in the sense that there is an interdependence. But it is the very opposite of the ‘ecology’ of natural systems. Use of airport-owned land for aviation dependent business is a driver for economic growth built on profligate resource consumption, pollution, destruction of nature through building on green space and fossil fuel dependent long distance transportation. Businesses are selected as tenants on airport land on the basis that they will maximise the throughput of passengers and/or cargo. Locally based firms aiming to source inputs from nearby, to target local markets and/or transport goods using surface transport – minimizing fossil fuel use in transportation, with consequent reduction in greenhouse gases emissions – won’t get a look in.
The article is also enlightening regarding governance of the land in question, gushing enthusiastically about the high degree of autonomy that airports have over the land that they own. It makes an important distinction: airport land that is state owned is ‘not under the jurisdiction of local authorities’. And whether state owned or privatized, the airport has a high degree of self-governance, acting like a mini-state. The article enthuses over airport estates’ relative freedom from democratic control by the host community, stating that the land in question is ‘unfettered by local planning restrictions’.
Airport centric developments are evolving a dual role, combining the authority of the state (minus the the accountability that is ensured by democratic input) with the profit motive driving a corporation. As the article phrases it airports are ‘turning themselves into real estate developers, landlords and astute local authorities’. Commercial development on airport-owned land is a fast growing mechanism for state capitalism.
A new airport built on a greenfield site in Andal, Bengal is due to start operations this month. It proclaims itself to be ‘India’s first airport-city project’. Partha Ghosh, Managing Director of the develop of the project, Bengal Aerotropolis Pvt Ltd (BAPL) is reported to be ‘bullish’ about the new airport’s prospects for attracting low cost airlines – and this will be helped by tax breaks offered by the West Bengal government. But even with this subsidy the airport does not expect to sufficient earnings from airline parking and landing fees. The article states that ‘the profitability of the project clearly hinges on the city-side development’ and the airport anticipates earning revenue from real estate, from residential, commercial and industrial development on land owned by the airport. Read the full article in the Hindu Businesses Line: Greenfield private airport set for takeoff
In India, a real estate firm, Vestian Global Workplace Services, predicts growth in real estate in aerotropolis zones around two of the country’s main airports – Hyderabad and Bengaluru (Bangalore). The firm notes that hotel and MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul of aircraft) facilities is already developing, further growth is expected on greenfield (undeveloped) land surrounding the airports. The article also states that real estate ‘activity in the government-promoted economic hubs is gaining momentum’, an indication of the government’s support for aerotropolis style development. Full article: Hyderabad, Bengaluru aerotropolis poised for take-off, says Vestian