Earth & Conservation

How A City's Economy Depends On Airports

In the 19th century, urban communities were built around harbors and train stations. But will we ever see cities built around airports?

Airports are great for people watching, of course, but it turns out they're also critically important for city planning, regional development and the future of urban civilization. Who knew?

In today's Seeker Daily report, veteran traveler Jules Suzdaltsev looks at the increasingly vital function that airports serve in the 21st century.

Considered in a historical perceptive, airports play a familiar role. In previous centuries, the dominant mode of transportation has tended to inform the shape and pace of urban development. The 18th century had ships and seaports; the 19th century saw the development of railroads; the 20th century was dominated by automobiles and highways.

In the 21st century, regional development is all about the airport, and will continue to to be -- until those sci-fi spaceports finally come into play. Like seaports and rail stations before them, airports bring massive amounts of money into the local economy, promoting growth in all adjacent industries.

RELATED: Hypnotic Maps Show Most Popular Air Travel Hubs

For instance, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Goergia is the busiest airport in the world. Estimates suggest that this single facility brings about $70 billion a year to the state and benefits the region with nearly half a million jobs. In study after study, the number of airline passengers passing through a particular airport directly correlates regional economy and employment figures.

This increasing reliance on airports for city growth is what some researchers believe is the beginning of an aerotropolis future. As air travel gets cheaper and more efficient, more metropolitan regions are expected to incorporate smaller airports, which will in turn be connected to major hubs across the country and around the world.

The aerotropolis approach is already taking flight in a few places, most notably in California. San Diego County recently received a federal grant to develop an aerotropolis system that could serve as a model for similar regional areas. The primary Brown Field Municipal Airport is expected to provide more than half a billion dollars every year just to the San Diego economy.

The aerotropolis model and the idea of airport-based cities is a decidedly American phenomenon. Roughly half the airports in the world are located in the U.S. -- we have more than 19,000 in total. That's a lot of Cinnabons.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

The Economist: What is an aerotropolis?

CityLab: Airports and the Wealth of Cities

Aerotropolis: Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next

NBC San Diego: Federal Grant Will Fund Aerotropolis Study