The aerotropolis, however, does cause other, less readily obvious ripples in how we travel that will affect American travelers. “Once you build these infrastructures and you make travel more efficient, you change global travel patterns,” says Lindsay. “It opens up places. It makes it easier to create hubs and connect. It leads to a rise in travel destinations we never thought of before or that were really difficult to get to.”
He points to Dubai as the ultimate example. “It was barely on the map 20 years ago,” he says. But after spending $500 million on a new concourse, and after Emirates airline acquired several new long-haul jets, the city became an important hub, linking places that had never been connected before.
“The Seychelles becomes easier to reach because you can stop over in Dubai,” says Lindsay. “In Africa there are 14 aerotropolises being built. And in places like the Middle East and Asia, people are sitting down and building cities from scratch around the airport. China alone is building the equivalent of Rome every week. It will be interesting to see what destinations open up.”
Opening up the world
Songdo aims to be the best of these new aerotropolises. It has taken features of well-loved cities, such as Venice’s canals and Savannah’s pocket parks, and replicated them. It’s a smart, wired, sustainable city. It’s as accessible to the airport as Reston Town Center is to Dulles.
If Songdo is South Korea’s Reston, as Thorpe has said, then perhaps it will have the same impact. Over the past 50 years, the area around Dulles has been transformed from farmland into two of the richest counties in the United States. Gale International and the South Korean government certainly hope to replicate that sort of transformation.
And other cities are following close on Songdo’s heels.
“Beijing is already building a second airport larger than the first, with the capacity for 200 million passengers per year and an airport city to go around it,” says Lindsay, which would make it the busiest airport based on passenger traffic.
As the number of aerotropolises worldwide mushrooms, the impact on travelers will become clearer. Already, we see the concept making business travel easier, opening up leisure travel for entirely new populations and exposing current leisure travelers to new places on the globe.
“The fact that United Airlines intends to start flying to Chongqing [China] with its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners is telling,” says Linsday. “A decade ago, how many Americans had even heard of Chongqing?
“More places are about to appear on the map.”
Details: Songdo, South Korea
DiNardo is a writer currently based in Switzerland. Follow her on Twitter at @kellydinardo.