The development of urban areas has often been defined by transportation. Ports were the primary determinant of development in the 18th century. Cities such as New York City developed because of its legacy of the ports. The 19th century saw the railroad industry develop cities such as Chicago as a world-class city. Cars, trucks, and the massive highway system pushed the suburbs to every major and minor city during the 20th century. John Kasarda, a professor at the University of North Carolina and an airport consultant, says that the air travel will determine the next major American city in the 21st century. Kasarda, in The Rise of the Aerotropolis, argues that airports will no longer be a place to transport passengers and cargo, but will become the new central business district composed of shopping, dining, and commercial services of all types.
Access is key for companies attempting to compete in the 21st century. The ability to transport people and cargo quickly is just the competitive advantage corporations need to compete in the speed-driven, global economy.
As the distribution hub of North America, Memphis is in a unique position to establish itself as an aerotropolis. One may assume that this is a far-fetched idea if one takes a drive through the Memphis metropolitan airport area. The main strip of Winchester Road is littered with C-class apartments and mom-and-pop shops. The next major street of Brooks Road is more famous for its strip clubs than for its world-class corporations such as Smith-Nephew.
Despite this, the airports importance to the local economy is unmistakable. According to a study by the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research/Center for Manpower Studies at the University of Memphis, the airport has a $21.7 billion impact on the local economy and one in four jobs are linked to it. Dr. Kasarda called Memphis the lone aerotropolis in the United States with “the world's top air cargo city by a wide margin.”
As an international traveler, I can personally testify to the fact that the aerotropolis is alive and well in many cities around the world; Singapore and Amsterdam are great examples. As a Memphian, I can only hope that my hometown is able to take advantage of this latest trend and make Memphis THE AEROTROPOLIS of North America.