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Our World in the Age of the Aerotropolis

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Note: Dr. John Kasarda is the Director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and Kenan Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina.

How is our world changing, shaping the way we live and work? Let’s take a moment to think about it.

In less than 20 years we’ve gone from newspapers and magazines to real-time 24-hour streaming of news and entertainment; from bulky fixed-line telephones to mobile ones that fit in the palms of our hands.

Cameras with film can now use 16GB memory chips. Handwritten or typed letters are being replaced by e-mail, Facebook updates, tweets and blog posts – with each social media tool building large and diverse communities of global communicators.

Information instantaneously transmitted around the world via the Internet is being complemented by goods and people moving globally via the high-speed physical Internet: aviation networks.  And when we think further about the physical implications of air transportation, we have gone from airports that had just a few restaurants and magazine shops to aerotropolises that bring together hub airports, planned cities, shipping facilities and businesses in one location.

Greg Lindsay (my co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, to be published in March 2011) and I see the aerotropolis ushering in the next phase of globalization. We see it as larger, more fuel-efficient aircraft connect increasing volumes of people and goods faster and more efficiently over greater distances.

For every iPod order placed overseas via the Internet, a real 747 or 777 has to fly back with that iPod. Prior face-to-face business meetings among executives brought together via air typically established the foundation for such transactions.

If the airports are the physical nodes, (connecting suppliers, manufacturers and customers) everything else — factories, offices and distribution centers — will locate near them. Global networks of aerotropolises will provide immense opportunities for their regions and residents in terms of jobs, revenue, and product diversity.

FedEx brings the global aerotropolis network to life with its hubs in Memphis, Paris, and Guangzhou, China, linking businesses to their suppliers, customers, and enterprise partners across three continents. And these hubs are becoming major commercial centers in their own right, hosting hotels, entertainment centers, offices, retail outlets, restaurants, museums, and convention and exhibition complexes.

With virtually all commercial functions of a modern metro center locating around airports, it is now possible for long-distance travelers and locals alike to shop, eat, sleep, meet, work, and be entertained without going more than 15 minutes from the airport. In essence, city airports are morphing into airport cities.

Just think of the social and business impact these emerging airport-anchored cities will have during the coming decades. The possibilities are limitless. But one thing is for sure:  the Age of the Aerotropolis has arrived.

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