San Diego might be a model city of the future with an airport at its center, even though the location of Lindbergh Field is more of a mistake than a triumph of planning. I say this after having seen a review of the new book called Aerotropolis.
The authors argue the classic shape of the city – radiating from a central business area with neighborhoods, suburbs and exurbs and an airport on the edge – is being dramatically changed by airports themselves. Airports are becoming the middle of town. An airport is like a massive object put on a flat surface that weighs it down and causes all things to roll toward it.
The book gives several examples. Dulles airport seemed so far from the center of the Washington D.C. area until that airport became a magnet that drew industry to Fairfax County. In Minneapolis, my old stomping grounds, it’s now absurd to see the airport as being south of town. It is truly at the center of the metro area.
The wild card in the urban planning card game is the financial and environmental cost of fossil fuels, whose abundance has turned air travel into just another form of mass transportation. The freewheeling shape-shifting we’ve seen in urban America won’t last forever if we can’t find a new energy paradigm. Incidentally… I just paid $4.01 for a gallon of gas at the Sinclair station near UCSD.