Aerotropolis 2020: Visions vs Realities

Since 2006, John Kasarda, the most prominent proponent of aerotropolis developments, has published a plethora of articles extolling the supposed benefits of these megaprojects. The series begins with: Airport Cities and the Aerotropolis. In subsequent publications the same examples of aerotropolis-type projects crop up repeatedly, such as Schiphol, Frankfurt, Munich, Stockholm Arlanda in Europe, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Changi and Incheon in Asia, McCarran and Dallas/Fort Worth in the USA. Over the years some of the ambitious aerotropolis plans have been realised. Others are repeatedly stalled, in spite of heavy-handed intervention of governments designating large land areas and bestowing sweeping planning powers on airport-developer partnerships.

In the early months of 2020 Kasarda’s two-part global review of aerotropolis developments was published in Airport World, the magazine of Airports Council International (ACI), the global trade representative of the world’s airports. Part 1 Aerotropolis business magnets covers the Asia-Pacific region. Airports’ prodigious land ownership is emphasised in the second paragraph framing the aerotropolises featured in the article: ‘Airports themselves frequently contain thousands of acres of commerical real estate’.

Kasarda writes that China is ‘leading the way’. Airport-centric projects in China are indeed gargantuan. Beijing Capital Airport, ‘corner-stoned by its airport city logistics park (ACLP)’, is part of the 178 square kilometre Beijing Airport Core Economy Zone (BACEZ). Baiyun Airport provided a starting point for the city of Guangzhou’s aerotropolis development. This proved ‘slow to materialise due to inability to align local jurisdictions’, until the 116 square kilometre cross-jurisdictional Guangzhou Aerotropolis Development District (GADD) was established in September 2015. Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone (ZAEZ) centred around Zhengzhou Xinzheng Airport is even larger, spanning 415 square kilometres.

Looking beyond China Kasarda highlights Incheon Airport, the main airport of Seoul, South Korea’s capital city, with ‘substantial commercial real estate development on its vast property’ filled with office complexes, hotels, resorts and logistics zones. Outside the airport fence development of the ‘greater aerotropolis’ is fostered by Incheon Free Zone extending over 209 square kilometres. In Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur Airport, KLIA Aeropolis is ‘expansive’, covering 100 square kilometres. But full development on an expansive land bank remains largely on the drawing board. KLIA Aeropolis is still ‘focussed on implementing plans’, even though a Kuala Lumpur airport city is hailed Kasarda’s aforementioned 2006 article as exemplifying ‘the new model of international airport development and management’. In India, Hyderabad Airport is ‘executing a theme-based airport city master plan consisting of six major commerical clusters… its 1,500 acre airport city includes a multi-produce special economic zone’. A grandiose sounding but more nebulous ‘greater Hyderabad Aerotropolis’ extends 10-20 kilometres outwards from the airport and is ‘dominated by IT and other high-tech, aviation-oriented sectors’.

A more recently conceived project is Western Sydney Aerotropolis. Plans were completed in 2019 and authorities have stepped in to fund the requisite surface transport links; the project is ‘backed by huge financial commitments by the central government for connecting rail and highway infrastructure’. In Thailand aerotropolis development is extending outward from U-Tapao Airport, a former US air base, and is a component of a much larger megaproject, the Eastern Economic Corridor (a special economic zone encompassing three provinces). In the Philippines investment in aerotropolis development at Clark Airport, another former US air base, is reported.

Over the years Kasarda began to acknowledge opposition to aerotropolis project from communities directly affected, by displacement due to land acquisition and negative environmental impacts. The 2020 article mentions that construction of another aerotropolis in the Philippines, in Bulacan, has been impeded by opposition to the environmental impacts, protests by fishermen. (Pamalakaya – National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organization in the Philippines – is opposing the ‘undemocratic and unscientific’ Bulacan Aerotropolis project which would be ‘detrimental to the marine environment of Manila Bay’). Another example is the 4,500 hectare Taoyuan Aerotropolis in Taiwan (referred to by Kasarda as ‘Chinese Taipei’). Development was slowed down by protests over expropriation of farmland (see 2014 Ecologist article) but apparently concerns are being addressed by government bodies aiming to ‘jump start’ the government’s ‘flagship project’.

Part 2, Aerotropolis englines beyond Asia, looks at developments in Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. In France, Charles de Gaulle Airport has 1,340 hectares ‘dedicated to non-aeronautical development’ of which 600 hectares is already occupied by hotels, offices, retail and distribution facilities. This is the ‘epicentre’ of larger aerotropolis development around two airports: the Charles de Gaulle-Le Bourget Airport Area covers 420 square kilometres. Already there are 17 logistics parks, 85 business parks and two exhibition and convention complexes, along with 12,000 hotel rooms, in this area, described as ‘among the world’s fastest developing aerotropolises’. In Finland, a 42 square kilometre ‘Aviapolis’ is being developed around Helsinki Airport, enabled by a PPP (public-private partnership) between the city of Vantaa, airport operator Finavia and local landowners. Aviapolis already hosts 2,000 companies, a hotel cluster and ‘jumbo’ shopping centre.

Frankfurt Airport City contains the hotels, shops, restaurants, offices, leisure and exhibition facilities that are ubiquitous to airport-centric urbanism. Key components include Gateway Gardens (so heavily built up that there is little of the green space people might expect from this appellation) and the 75 hectare Mönchhof Logistics Park. The large footprint of the development area is highlighted, Mönchhof is ‘reputedly the largest contiguous block of logistically zoned land being constructed in the Rhine-Main region’. Munich Airport is ‘developing a future-oriented innovation campus on 500,000sqm of land’. No surprise at this description, such developments are never hailed as backward-looking and imitative.

Aerotropolis development in the US is characterised by allocation of large areas of land for airport-linked development. Dallas/Fort Worth Airport covers nearly 69 square kilometres and at this juncture 2,428 hectares of airport property designated for commerce and industry has been developed, most recently a business park and a 223,000 square metre Amazon ‘fulfillment centre’. At 137 square kilometers Denver Airport’s site is even larger, containing ‘vast expanses of open land’ for aerotropolis development. After a decade of inactivity airport-centric development in the Detroit Region has been galvanised by support from the Aerotropolis Detroit Region Aerotropolis Development Corporation, which ‘mobilised fiscal resources to promote 60,000 developable acres’ around Detroit Metro Airport.

No details are given about what is actually happening at Alberta, Edmonton and Vancouver airports, stated to be ‘at the forefront’ of aerotropolis development in Canada. Another major aerotropolis is planned around the proposed new airport in Pickering, but this airport is long-delayed as ‘environmentalists still fight the project’ (opposition to this airport, taking up a vast area of productive farmland, has been led by Land Over Landings since 2005). Aerotropolis development at Tocumen Airport in Panama, and Belo Horizonte Airport in Brazil has been impeded by ‘political and economic disruptions’. Contractors involved in construction of the New Mexico City Airport, cancelled in 2018, benefitted from $4.5 billion in compensation awarded by Mexico City’s airport authority.

In South Africa, an airport city at Johannesburg Airport consisting of three commercial precincts is reported to be ‘forming’, based on a 2015 master plan for a 30 kilometre radius around the airport. A large area is earmarked for Durban Aerotropolis, centred upon King Shaka International Airport (KSIA); ‘about 8,000 developable hectares radiate from KSIA’. But as of 2019 development was still a the ‘planned’ stage, 4,200 hectares of commercial development and over 130,000 residential units.

Several Middle East countries have ‘stated ambitions to develop airport cities at their primary air gateways and aerotropolises around them’, including Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Only Dubai ‘followed through and went big’. Terminal 3 – encompassing duty-free shops, hotels and leisure facilities – itself constitutes an airport city and there is also a substantial Free Zone comprising distribution centres, offices, light manfacturing and a temperature-controlled centre for perishable cargo.

Dubai’s second airport, Al Maktoum, opened in 2013, was intended to ‘anchor’ a gigantic 145 square kilometer aerotropolis called Dubai South. There are elaborate plans for ‘eight surrounding aerotropolis districts focusing on Aviation Industry, Logisitcs, Residential, Golf, Commerical, Humanitarian, and Exhibition (World Expo 2020 for instance) functions plus Dubai Business Park’ around what was anticipated to become the world’s busiest airport. By 2019 1,200 firms were located at Dubai South but further development, dependent upon plans to shift much of Dubai Airport’s traffic to Al Maktoum, is ‘likely to be impacted’ due to declining growth of Emirates Airline’s passenger traffic. Al Maktoum Airport is a long way from becoming the world’s busiest airport. By 2019 the mega airport had capacity to handle 26.5 million passengers per year but after handling less than 1 million passengers in 2018 had ‘very limited traffic’ except for ‘quite a few cargo planes’.

Al Maktoum Airport and Dubai South were well-positioned to play a key role in World Expo 2020. Then came the coronvirus pandemic. World Expo 2020 and similar global events were cancelled and the aviation industry spiralled downwards in an unprecendented collapse. According to the strapline Part 2 of Kasarda’s 2020 aerotropolis status report ‘considers the implications of the coronavidus pandemic on aviation and future development’. The dramatic reduction in air traffic, plummeting by as much as 90 per cent in April 2020 compared to the previous year, is noted and he acknowledges ‘near empty passenger terminals and investment in commercial zones surrounding airports stalling, coming to a ‘virtual standstill’. Yet Kasarda predicts resumption of aviation growth, with air traffic ‘rebounding in the years afterwards to new heights’ and foresees ‘airport cities and their greater aerotropolises taking on ever more importance’.

Kasarda’s confidence that the ‘long term growth trends’ of airports and the aerotropolis will resume in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, as was seen after the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003, is unwarranted. SARS affected 26 countries, resulting in over 8,000 cases and 800 deaths. SARS was contained and effectively eradicated. At the time of writing the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached 5,593,631 and 353,334 people are known to have died from the disease. Only a few countries have not yet reported any coronavirus cases. The number of infections and deaths is on a frightening upward trajectory and the ‘resolutions of the coronavirus pandemic’ Kasarda assumes will occur are not yet on the horizon.

Taoyuan Aerotropolis – public hearings and land expropriation

This paper for the 2016 HDCA (Human Development and Capability Association) conference documents the public hearings for land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis. The 4,771 hectare aerotropolis is the biggest megaproject planned by the Taiwan government, threatening to displace 46,000 people from their homes and farmland. It is part of wider picture of ‘Development-Induced Displacement’ – eviction, often forcible, for infrastructure projects. Following revision of the Land Acquisition Act in 2012, the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case is the first in Taiwan history to hold public hearings on land expropriation.

The paper argues that land expropriation must serve the community – evaluated on social, economic, cultural  and ecological aspects – and be fully compensated, and considers the potential for these public hearings to bring deliberative democracy to the land expropriation policy and ensure that people who are, actually or potentially, displaced genuinely own development rights in the process. With the interpretation of public interest still controlled by the state and its allies, the authors conclude that, in their current form, the public hearings cannot achieve these goals.

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.

Taoyuan Aerotropolis case presented at East Asia Tribunal on Evictions

From 2nd – 4th July, about 100 people gathered in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, to participate in the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions. Representatives from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines attended and presentations about cases of forced displacement were made before a panel of five jurors.  Taoyuan Aerotropolis, a massive planned development around Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan’s main airport on the outskirts of Taipei, was one of the eviction cases presented. Most of the 3,700 hectares of land earmarked for expropriation for the aerotropolis is fertile farmland and 46,000 people face loss of their homes and farmland.

SEA_7191Presentation of Taoyuan Aerotropolis case to the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Other eviction cases highlighted at the ITE-EA included: informal settlements in Taipei; eviction of Shinjuku Kasumigaoka-cho public housing complex under the Olympic 2020 Stadium Project in Tokyo; the Yongsan Tragedy in Seoul; eviction of rooftop tenants in Hong Kong, the 25 year struggle of the Pom Mahakan community in Bangkok; the Kampung Gatco community in Sembilan, Malaysia and the Sitio San Roque case in Quezon, the Philippines.

SEA_7219Panel of jurors at the eviction tribunal, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

The ITE East Asia meeting was part of preparations for the fifth International Tribunal on Eviction (ITE) session, which is slated to be held in mid-October in Quito, Ecuador as part of the United Nations Habitat III conference on housing and sustainable urban development. Fittingly, the first day of the tribunal was held at the former site of the Huaguang community, in the heart of Taipei, where a disadvantaged neighbourhood was demolished in 2013 in to make way for an upmarket development. The government defined people who had been living in the Huanguang community for decades as ‘illegal residents’ and pressured them to leave by imposing fines and lawsuits on them. Forced evictions began without a relocation plan, leaving many residents homeless. Ketty Chen, a political scientist and academic, has posted a moving account of a two-day protest, by residents and supporters, attempting to block excavators from entering the site for the fourth wave of evictions.

On the final day of the ITE East Asia tribunal event, on Monday 4th July, more than 200 people marched through Taipei to the Presidential Office to protest forced evictions. The route of the march, beginning at the site of the former Huaguang community, is shown here. Along the way they stopped outside the Transportation Ministry to protest the Taoyuan Aerotropolis, the Tainan underground rail plan and other land expropriation projects. The draft recommendations of the tribunal showed that the number of people affected by forced eviction in the cases that had been considered added up to a total of nearly 1 million.
SEA_8617March against forced evictions in Taipei, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

As they marched through Taipei demonstrators demanded that the government initiate discussions on housing rights, pay special attention to eviction cases nationwide and adopt recommendations passed at the International Tribunal on Evictions’ (ITE) meeting. Some of the protesters threw shoes at signs, an expression of anger that the Presidential Office, claiming a full schedule, refused to send representatives to meet with them. More photos of the march have been posted by the Taiwan Alliance of Anti-Forced Eviction.

In May 2016 several legal academics pointed out legal flaws in the proposed hearing procedures for land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis, expressing doubts over provision of information to residents in order for them to exercise their rights, and whether their opinions would be incorporated in the decision-making process. A few days before presenting the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case at the evictions tribunal, on 21st June, groups opposing the project requested that the government stop land expropriation and review the Environmental Impact Assessment of the planned third runway, which is integral to the project. Land expropriation for the new runway would entail the forced relocation of 20,000 people.

The third runway  also raises safety and environmental concerns. The site is exposed to strong winds and its location, close to the sea with soft, sandy soil, would require extensive land filling operations in order to bear the weight of aircraft. The proposed third runway location poses a risk of bird strikes and  is very close to a fuel depot holding up to 130,000 kilolitres of fuel. Opponents of Taoyuan Aerotropolis have accused authorities of circumventing the law by proceeding with the land expropriation for the third runway, and beginning construction of basic infrastructure, before completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Video recordings of the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions have been published online, with some sections translated into English. Presentation and discussion of the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case is in the first recording beginning at 1 minute 39 seconds. Unfortunately translation into English is not audible for most of this segment. A second section of the event recording is available here.

Taoyuan Aerotropolis – residents demand formal hearings

The long struggle for justice for affected people facing displacement for Taoyuan Aerotropolis continues. Planned land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis would be the largest in the history of Taiwan, taking up 4,700 hectares of land, mostly consisting of prime agricultural land, about 3,200 hectares of this land would be expropriated and 46,000 people face eviction from their homes and farmland.

On 30th September, residents from the group Alliance Against Aerotropolis Forced Evictions protested at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications over their concerns that some people will be excluded from upcoming hearings regarding the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project, submitting petitions requesting permission that they be included. The first phase of Taoyuan Aerotropolis is a third runway at the airport, the necessity of which the protesters said must be reconsidered, and development immediately surrounding it. The second phase is development over a wider area. Owners of property scheduled to be expropriated for the project’s second phase have not been invited to attend. Alliance spokesperson Wang Pao-hsuan argued that they should be able to attend as their property is included in government plans and will be forbidden from building on their land if the project is approved.

Environmental Jurists Association director Thomas Chan said that plans for the aerotropolis should ‘start from scratch’ in the light of a new ruling on from the Council of Grand Justice, which found that land should only be expropriated for infrastructure projects. This is pertinent to the planned Taoyuan Aerotropolis, which includes industrial and business parks, plus residential districts.

20150930航空城預備聽證排除爭議(攝影:林佳禾)Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License 20150930航空城預備聽證排除爭議(攝影:林佳禾)Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License
20150930航空城預備聽證排除爭議(攝影:林佳禾)Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

The 30th September demonstration is one of many protests against forcible land expropriation for the aerotropolis. On 11th March 2015, 300 people gathered outside government buildings in Taipei, capital city of Taiwan, demanding formal hearings .
DSC_9000Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

As with so many of the endless protests by people facing eviction for Taoyuan Aerotropolis, the demonstrators met with a heavy police presence.

DSC_9376Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

On 17th July 2014 residents facing displacement protested outside the Construction and Planning Agency in Taipei.
20140717_090659Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

On 22nd June 2014 hundreds of protesters marched to Taoyuan County Hall demanding suspension of the aerotropolis project. 01-IMG_1041Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Taoyuan campaigners’ ‘Lost Bear’ sculpture on dispay in Miaoli

Plans for an aerotropolis surrounding Taoyuan Airport, in Taiwan, involve forcible land expropriation that threatens to displace 46,000 people. Resistance against the megaproject involves innovative artwork – most notably an Alternative Land Art Festival in December 2014, on part of the farmland that the government wants to acquire for the project. The focal point of the festival was a Lost Bear sculpture standing a full 8 metres high. The Lost Bear is going on display to the south of Taoyuan, in Miaoli County. You can read an article about this, Anti-Aerotropolis ‘Lost Bear’ to go on display in Miaoli, in the Taipei Times.