Are we over-prospecting for aerotropolis gold?

Exactly how many aerotropoli can be viable within a certain geographic area? This question is especially important when three of these facilities are in various stages of fruition in just one small corner of one American state?

For those who are not familiar with the term, an aerotropolis is essentially a large-scale urban development, or in some cases an entire city, that is built and centered around an airport. Kudos to Hanna-Barbera, for this is yet another vision from their futuristic 1960s cartoon series The Jetsons that has come true.

There are a number of existing and proposed examples of aerotropoli dotting the United States and the planet. Below is a partial list of cities around the globe where an aerotropolis either exists, is under development, or is planned. Some weblinks are also provided.

Zuidas Amsterdam - Source:

Here in the southeast corner of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, three separate aerotropoli are in various stages of creation. The massive 60,000 acre Detroit Region Aerotropolis has been under development in the communities surrounding both the  Detroit Metropolitan and Willow Run Airports for some time (see map below).


In 2011, the City of Lansing and neighboring DeWitt Charter Township initiated an aerotropolis plan on lands around Capital City International Airport. This facility is primarily designed to be air freight oriented and has been dubbed Port Lansing. Meanwhile, a proposal has been recently floated to create an aerotropolis around Flint’s Bishop International Airport.

That would mean three aerotopoli (at four airport facilities) situated less than 100 miles from one another. Is that really economically viable or sustainable? Or, is this just another case of a gold rush story that’s following the worn footsteps of prior economic developers and planners who mined for economic prosperity in projects. Examples littering the landscape include aquariums, business incubators, stadiums and sports arenas, conventions centers, downtown shopping or pedestrian malls, amusement parks (a.k.a. Auto World in Flint), collegiate research parks, and other “hot” ideas that eventually go bust when too many  prosperity prospectors join the search for an economic gold mine.

Hong Kong Sky City - Source:

Personally, I think the concept of an aerotropolis is a terrific economic development tool for the correct location(s). One only need look at the success of Zuidas Amsterdam (see weblink in the list above) which is centered around Schiphol International Airport in the Netherlands to see a clear aerotropolis winner.

However, I find it very hard to imagine that three aerotropoli in the southeast corner of Michigan can or will work. Like any gold rush, there will be a whole lot more discouraged losers kicking rocks than winners joyfully dancing. Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I am missing something here? If I am, would someone please enlighten me?

For more information on the topic of aerotropoli, here are some weblinks to some of the significant resources on the topic.

This entry was posted in airports, cities, density, economic development, land use, placemaking, spatial design, transportation, urban planning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Are we over-prospecting for aerotropolis gold?

  1. Jim Tarantino says:

    An aerotropolis is in many cases a re-branding effort around transportation. The issue of transportation investment has become so divisive that it makes sense to start from scratch, and it makes sense when planning transportation investments to consider the whole spectrum of modes. In Michigan’s case, Detroit-Wayne County was on the leading edge and in pushing for the Next Michigan Development Act, enabled 4 other airport-areas in the State to deploy the same financial package to lure development. Frankly, a tax incentive will only work to close a deal, if a business does not have a compelling reason to move to a community, no amount of tax break is going to change their mind. Detroit-Willow Run actually has some assets that make it an attractive case, in particular to amount of direct international flights and the Ports of Detroit/Windsor.


  2. usecraigslist says:

    Encouraging any kind of permanent infrastructure around a transportation mode with zero prospects for other fuels (like natural gas or electric) is bizarrely naive in my view. Perhaps I’m missing something, or perhaps none of these planners have consulted a single geologist who doesn’t work for Exxon Mobil? Or maybe “railotropolis” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it?


  3. Nick Helmholdt says:

    Good write up. I wasn’t aware of the Lansing and Flint initiatives to create air-centric development, but I can’t imagine they would be very successful if the DTW/Willow Run plan gets off the ground (no pun intended).

    There are few multi-modal options around the Detroit Metro/Willow Run area that make it attractive for personal and business fliers. If you happen to switch airlines from Delta to another carrier at DTW you can’t get from the McNamara terminal to the North terminal without taking a cab. While there are lots of commercial operations that are trying to fill that void (MetroCars comes to mind) – the lack of a reliable transit solution to get people from the airport to an actual destination appears to be an important barrier to the success of an Aerotropolis at DTW.


    • Rick Brown says:

      Thanks, Nick. Sorry it took me so long to reply, I was adopting a new dog over the past weekend. I agree the lack of transit and interconnectivity between terminals needs serious improvements. I also find it hard to imagine, Detroit, Lansing, and Flint all having successful aerotropoli. To me, Detroit would seem to make the most sense due to its border location.


  4. Bryan says:



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