Category Archives: Daniel Scheppke

BEING A PLANNER IN BEIJING. PART II: BEIJING AIRPORT CITY

Last week Alvaro told you about his project. Here is part two, I want to tell you all about what I have been up to here in Beijing. The problem is, it is top-secret. So top-secret that, sometimes, I don’t really know what I am working on.

Like Alvaro mentioned, the Chinese government is very protective of its information. Every employee at our office has to follow confidentiality protocols to access very basic information. Here is my theory about why this is – Recently, the Chinese government has begun to crack down on corruption. In 2015, the Communist Party claimed that they punished nearly 300,000 government employees. Land use deals between local governments and real estate developers are notorious for being kind of shady – so it could be that the secrecy protocols are in response to that.

As a result, it takes some effort to get information. And, as the foreign intern, that means I am sometimes kept out of the loop. So, this is what I think that I have been working on.

Beijing is building a massive new airport, Daxing International Airport, centered on a village called Nangzheuang in the Daxing area on the southern outskirts of the city – and I am working on the masterplan for the airport city. Beijing International Airport is one of the busiest in the world, and it has become way too crowded. The new airport is designed to handle 100 million passengers a year (it’ll be the largest terminal in the world), and will also serve nearby Tianjin and Haibei. The Zaha Hadid designed terminal is slated to be completed in 2019.

It took a while to wrap my brain around the concept of an airport city. Who would want to live near an airport? Planes are noisy. Isn’t it better to stick the airport at the edge of town, put an Ikea out there, and call it good? I had no idea that I had such old-fashioned ideas about airports.

Cities are betting on airports being crucial central transportation hubs in the future, driving urban and economic development. As cities have grown around ports, canals and rail infrastructure in the past, aerotropoli (airport + metropolis) are emerging as important regions for multinational businesses that economize on being close to airports. Airport cities are being developed around the world to attract manufacturers that need fast access to commercial aviation services, logistics companies, and frequent business travelers.

Several of these new airport cities are really fancy. New Songdo City, which is currently being built near Seoul’s Incheon airport, might be the peak of aerotropolitan aspirations. The 40 billion dollar development is being built on 600 ha of reclaimed land. It’s got everything that a multinational corporate business person could want – facsimiles of Central Park, Venitian Canals, and the Sydney Opera House; a very tall skyscraper; Golf; everything is high-tech and LEED certified – and it is all within a short commute from the airport. It is one of several fancy airport cities are popping up all over the world (there are others near Dubai, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Dallas…) to attract the business of multi-national corporations. From what I’ve seen in the Daxing plans, Beijing has similar ambitions for its airport city (it looks pretty. I would live there).

The Zhengzhou International Airport Zone is the seminal Chinese airport city. It is located 19 miles from the center of Zhengzhou and is a major hub for electronics manufacturing (they produce 13% of the global stock of smartphones). Parts come into the airport and are sent to nearby factories where they are assembled into finished products, which are then put onto planes and shipped back out into the world. By 2025, the area plans to have a population of 2.6 million people and improved infrastructure linking central China to the global economy. Zhangzhou’s success has triggered a rush of airport development. Between 2011 and 2015, over 100 new airports were built in China.

I am still skeptical of the aerotropolis. Are we really going to fly more in the future? If the price of oil rises or governments implement carbon taxes in response to global warming – what will happen to the airport city? Companies could switch back to rail, container ships, or to some new environmentally friendly freight technology (apparently the cargo-zeppelin is making a comeback). Maybe business people will decide that they prefer the convenience of meeting in virtual reality, or some other crazy technology will come along to disrupt the travel and logistics industries. Betting big on airplanes just seems really risky. I am interested to see how these new cities fare – but I’m glad that there are no plans for a Portland airport city.

For the project, I have been researching airport cities and industrial development – two topics that I knew nothing about before coming to Beijing. I have learned a lot.

CADG Cup Update – The department soccer team lost in the quarterfinals against a team of architects. They were really good. I am looking forward to the celebratory dinner.

Daniel