Aviation and Economic Development Equals Aerotropolis

It sounds like a word from an old science fiction novel, but the modern aerotropolis is a tool that covers mixed-use economic development, sustainability, and growth management.

An aerotropolis is a metropolitan area where the layout, infrastructure, and economy are centered on an airport that serves as a multimodal "airport city" commercial core. John Kasarda, director of the Center for Air Commerce at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, developed the idea. Kasarda and co-author Greg Lindsay's  2011 book, Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, sparked much interest in this type of mixed use.

An aerotropolis can be a part of the knowledge economy, or implement connected vehicle technology to facilitate first mile and last mile delivery. Planned in the right place, an aerotropolis can result in significant economic benefits throughout its influence area.

Aerotropoli operate in many states, including a large one in the Atlanta area next to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is partnering with the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance (AAA) in developing a strategic vision for the area around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), the busiest airport in the world.  A consultant study and charrette were completed in 2015.

Within the Aerotropolis region, the Transportation and Warehousing sector of the economy provides the majority of primary jobs at 63,903. These consist of logistics, warehousing, and transit jobs and make up 35.6 percent of the areas total primary jobs according to Atlanta Regional Commission and the Aerotropolis Blueprint. Other large aerotropoli are active in Denver, Memphis, the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina, and the west Florida Panhandle.

I recently caught up with Kirsten Berry, program director for the Atlanta Aerotropolis Community Improvement District (CID), and Chad Bowman, staff director for the Memphis Aerotropolis. Here’s their take on the value of this type of mixed-use development:

What is the role of the aerotropolis in Atlanta and Memphis?

Kirsten Berry: The Aerotropolis Atlanta is a partnership of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, the Aerotropolis Atlanta Community Improvement District and the multiple jurisdictions and counties that surround Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.  The overall vision for the area is to increase economic vitality and attract and retain businesses to match the historical economic success of the northern suburbs of the City of Atlanta. 

Chad Bowman: Memphis has the logistics and multi-modal assets to leverage and build upon to create a well-defined Aerotropolis.  This is primarily due to its central location in the United States along the Mississippi River, the 5 Class-1 Rail Lines, a major transportation interstate corridor, and home to North America's busiest cargo airport.  Essentially, this area represents one of America's first examples of an Aerotropolis, with the exception that it happened haphazardly 30 years ago before it could be defined. 

Is this a growth management or an anti-sprawl tool for planners?

Kirsten Berry: The Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance and the CID are striving for smart growth in the south metro area of Atlanta.  The Alliance and CID work closely with cities and counties to ensure the goals and strategies for economic growth match the future zoning and land use goals of the surrounding communities.

Chad Bowman: I believe an aerotropolis is both a growth management and anti-sprawl tool.  For example, there are newly constructed and expanded airports in North America and globally that will be attractive to new development related to on-site and off-site airport activity.  In the case of greenfield airports or newer airports, Aerotropolis planning will mitigate the haphazard off-site airport planning of the past, and produce a more intentional variety of land uses that can benefit the airport, neighboring communities, businesses, and region economy based on sustainable principles.

Aerotropolis planning as an anti-sprawl tool is valuable in cities where there isn't a large supply of vacant land in the airport area, as in Memphis' case.  It makes economic sense for new industries and companies that are attracted to Memphis' logistical advantage to locate near the airport and adaptively reuse the vacant industrial and office space located minutes from Memphis International Airport's runways.  This option further deters sprawl and reduce costs by ensuring the highest and best uses are located exactly where they need to be, should be, and will perform best, near the airport.  It will also save costs to develop the new infrastructure to support the new industries, and present an opportunity to enhance the existing transportation infrastructure.   

What is the role of the Aerotropolis Atlanta CID in planning for this type of mixed-use project?

Kirsten Berry: The Aerotropolis Atlanta CID is currently in the process of creating a Master Plan for the CID area in conjunction with the Aerotropolis Alliance Blueprint which outlines the goals and vision for a larger area.  The CID will be working with cities on appropriate zoning and land use changes. 

However, the main goal for the CID is to identify infrastructure improvements in the area and carry those projects from planning to implementation in an expedited fashion using the partnerships created with federal, state and local entities.

What kind of planning do you do that affects an aerotropolis? How did you start in this field?

Kirsten Berry: The CID focuses on three key areas: public safety, beautification, and transportation.

Our planning includes master planning, beautification and landscape enhancement plans and transportation planning. Within transportation we focus on operational improvements, interchange modifications, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements. 

I entered the CID field after working for a transportation planning and engineering consultant where I was looking for an opportunity to take planning documents through implementation.

Chad Bowman: Actually, I am not an Airport planner.  My background is in comprehensive planning and economic development.  Realistically, the theory is similar to the traditional planning theory of Concentric Planning with the Central Business District serving as the core.  In the case of Aerotropolis planning, the Airport serves as the core for which development then takes place in rings of transitional land use zones beginning with commericial/industrial airport uses.  I started in this field as a comprehensive planner with a great bit of experience in economic development.  I am considering delving into airport planning, which delves more into planning within the fences of airport.  Aerotropolis planning is focuses on planning both, inside and outside of the fences of airports.  

How many of these developments are in the Atlanta area? What is their connection to the Jackson-Hartsfield Airport?

Kirsten Berry: All of the CIDs improvements directly affect the area around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.  We are working with the airport and the improvements within their boundaries (inside the fence) to anticipate impacts to areas surrounding the airport to ensure an efficient transportation system for passengers and freight cargo.

What kind of development does the Memphis Airport Aerotropolis have? Does the Memphis or Shelby County LDC or comprehensive plan have regulations for this type of development?

Chad Bowman: The Memphis Aerotropolis area is comprised of commercial, industrial, office, and residential land uses and is very comprehensive in nature.  Most of the new development and expansions have been related to office, commercial, industrial and logistics related land uses.  The Memphis Aerotropolis Plan is based on the Memphis and Shelby County Development Codes and are guided by those regulations. The consultants made a conscious effort not to recommend development principles that conflicted with the local development codes.  The goal of the plan is to create an environment conducive to expediting the type of projects that will create jobs, and not have our local codes be a hindrance

About the Contributors

Jo Laurie Penrose, AICP, is vice-chair for outreach for the APA Transportation Planning Division. She has produced two editions of the TPD's premier publication State of Transportation Planning.

A planner for 16 years, Chad Bowman, EDFP, has worked in various disciplines including community development, land use planning, and economic development. Bowman recently launched his own planning firm, Bow & Aero Planning Management. His portfolio includes a contract with Division of Housing and Community Development to work on master plan implementation. Previously, he worked as an economic development planner for the City of Fort Worth; a long range planner for the City of DeSoto, Texas; and a Senior Planner, Real Estate and Commercial Development Manager, and Aerotropolis Master Plan Project Manager for the City of Memphis.

Kirsten Berry, AICP, began as the Aerotropolis CIDs (AACIDs) Program Director in May 2015. At AACID, she is responsible for managing all of the CID’s beautification and transportation projects as well as coordinating with local, regional and state agencies. Prior to joining AACIDs, Kirsten spent previous years as a Senior Transportation Planner and Project Manager for a private engineering and planning consulting firm focusing on transportation and environmental planning projects. She graduated with a Masters of City and Regional Planning from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2010 and went on to get her American Institute of Certified Planners certification in 2013.

Top image: Detail from schematic of aerotropolis by John D. Kasarda. Shared at Wikipedia by permission of author.

May 25, 2016

By Jo Laurie Penrose, AICP