Architecture, Planning, and Urban Design: Airport-Driven City/Aerotropolis

The usual consideration for real estate is location, location, location. Today, more importantly, is accessibility, accessibility, accessibility, and mobility, mobility, and mobility! For me, there are seven kinds of infrastructure. The first is progressive infrastructure that includes international airports and seaports. 


Living in an archipelagic country, we strongly rely on our airports to connect us to our islands and the rest of the world. If you rotate the map of the world, the Philippines is the strategic center. Centuries ago, the center of trade and commerce was the Mediterranean. In the last century, it was the Atlantic. This century is the Asia Pacific century. Our country has very high development potential to be an international hub and gateway. Anecdotal research tells us that before World War II, the Philippines had 200 airports and airstrips. Today, reportedly, we only have 12 international airports. With the Philippines’ projected population of 150 million by 2050, we would need more international airports by that time. 


In John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay’s book Aerotropolis, airports have become the main driving force of urban development, local economic growth, business, and international economic integration. Due to the increasing demands of economies for speed and reliability, the concept of the aerotropolis or the airport-driven city emerged. I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn from and work with Professor Kasarda as an expert international consultant on Aerotropolis.


An aerotropolis is a metropolitan subregion whose infrastructure, land use, and economy are centered on a major airport. An efficient aerotropolis optimizes connectivity and gives higher returns to the airport, its users, surrounding communities, and the region where it is located. The efficiency of an aerotropolis is not solely gauged by the scale of its infrastructure or its physical setup but by how it promotes ease — “the way you reduce time, the way you reduce costs, the way you reduce space,” according to Professor Kasarda. 


A primary component of aerotropolis is efficient accessibility through transit-oriented development. In the book, Professor Kasarda explained the failure to connect American airports with multi-modal forms of transportation whereas in Europe, almost every major airport has a train station underneath as well as other modes of public transit.


In 2018, the top 10 gateway cities of the world in terms of arrivals were Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Macau, Singapore, Paris, Dubai, New York, Kuala Lumpur, and Istanbul. It is not a coincidence that the best airports are in the top gateway cities of the world. In the 2020 Skytrax World Airport Awards, the world’s best airports are Singapore Changi Airport, Tokyo International Airport Haneda, Hamad International Airport in Qatar, Incheon International Airport, Munich Airport, Hong Kong International Airport, Tokyo Narita Airport, Central Japan International Airport, Amsterdam Airport Schipol, and Kansai International Airport.


Singapore’s Changi Airport has an annual capacity of 80 million, and it was recognized as the world’s best airport for seven years. Its green initiatives, intermodal transit link, grand attractions, world-class facilities, service excellence, extensive automation, and other offerings let the world’s leading terminal advertise itself as “more than an airport.” The Hong Kong International Airport has received more than 80 awards for its excellent services and offerings. It also has Airport Express, which is among the world’s best airport railway systems. In addition, the airport is lauded for its environment-friendly initiatives like its use of electric-powered airside vehicles for airport operations, the use of sustainable seawater as a cooling medium, and establishing a wastewater treatment plant on-site. 


Although not included in the list, the Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai is a notable example of an aerotropolis, and it has raised Dubai’s prominence as a gateway city. Currently already one of the world’s busiest terminals, its expansion phase, which will be completed in 2030, will enable the terminal to accommodate 220 million passengers. Dubai has hailed the development as one of the world’s most expensive urban development projects — a city for aviation-centric businesses that showcase efficiency and leisure.


I was involved in airport land use planning and design for several projects. I was part of the design review of the Dubai airport expansion and modernization when I was still with the Dubai Town Planning Department as a senior planner (architect/town Planner) and with Bechtel as a project manager/international airport consultant for the urban land use planning around the airport. Later on, I was also involved in the planning of the proposed Guimaras Island Airport, the Master Redevelopment Plan for the Manila International Airport or NAIA, the proposed Poro Point Airport, the proposed Taguig International Airport, and Clark Aerotropolis/Smart City and the land use planning around Laoag International Airport, Panglao International Airport, and the proposed and much larger international airport for Metro Davao.


In the late 1990s, in our Bulacan Conceptual Development Plan with then Governor Josie de la Cruz, we proposed a Bulacan airport among many other planning recommendations. I am glad to share that having our own aerotropolis can soon be realized through the future Philippine International Airport and Aerotropolis — a new airport-driven, smart, sustainable, livable, and resilient gateway city, of which Mr. Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation is the visionary proponent.


The Philippine International Airport and Aerotropolis is envisioned to feature green architecture, green urbanism, green transportation, and sufficient greenways with bicycle highways, an efficient pedestrian network, bus rapid transit, dedicated bus lanes, railways, roads with trees and landscaping, electric vehicles, and other environment-friendly transportation modes. Since it will be based on sustainable development guidelines, the master-planned aerotropolis can be a model for our future cities.


Establishing seamless connectivity to and from our country and to the rest of the world through world-class and sustainable aerotropolis in different parts of our country can encourage more investments and help expand inclusive growth and development across our towns, cities, regions, and the rest of the world. The new metropolitan aerotropolis can propel our country into a first-world status well into the 21st century.

Image Source: Jewel Changi Airport, one of the airport’s famous nature attractions: The New York Times