In the Clark Aviation Conference held last week at the Holiday Inn, where I was also invited to speak on urban planning and infrastructure in the globalized world, keynote speaker Greg Lindsay talked about the aerotropolis concept. Greg Lindsay co-authored the book, The Aerotropolis; The Way We’ll Live Next with Dr. John Kasarda.
This year’s conference theme was Clark: Reshaping Philippine Aviation—The Aerotropolis Concept is a call to further develop the Clark International Airport (CIA) as an aviation and economic development hub in Central Luzon. It could not have come at a better time. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) forecasts that airline passengers from Metro Manila and nearby provinces will reach over 100 million by 2040. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) has been named the Worst Airport of 2013 by travel website Sleeping in Airports, where travelers vote online to name the best and worst airports in the world based on comfort, convenience, cleanliness, and customer service. San Miguel Corp. just unveiled its plans for a P10-billion modern airport near NAIA. Is Clark ready to become the first gateway and global city in the Philippines?
Too big, too small
I had the opportunity to sit down with Lindsay a few days before the conference. We talked about his book, and discussed over lunch the challenges and opportunities of airport cities in the Philippines. It was a stimulating discussion, and we shared our international experiences and observations of major aerotropolis developments and emerging gateway cities around the world.
The “waves” of transit-oriented development has helped shaped how we plan our communities, cities, and towns. From seaports, railroads, and highways, our concept of transportation has been changed considerably. Quick, fast, effective connections are all that matters today. By making cities and regions centered around the airport, the concept of the aerotropolis was born. Most city airports and seaports now serve as the entry point to a country as the primary arrival and departure—the so-called gateway cities. On a macro scale, these gateway cities can become global cities.
In a study done by economist Jan Brueckner to find the connection between airline passengers and regional employment growth, Brueckner found out that a 10-percent increase in passengers generates a 1-percent increase in regional employment, and even contributed to the increase in knowledge and service-based businesses, something to which Greg Lindsay also made note of during the conference. According to Lindsay, the flow of data is directly proportional to the flow of people, proving that airports, among all other transportation modes, have a bigger effect on economic development by people over cargo.
But how long does it take for an airport city to be developed? Elsewhere in the world, Dubai has been able to do it in less than ten years, and now Dubai is one of the most connected cities in the world. I have seen the transformation myself, for I was part of the team that helped plan Dubai in the late seventies. In fact, most airports being developed today are much more than aviation infrastructures. They have now become multimodal and multifunctional enterprises with the ability to generate significant commercial and economic development within and well beyond their boundaries.
Our firm started working in the development of Clark in the mid-90s, and over the course of 19 years, we have worked with numerous government and private sector groups like the BCDA, Peregrine Development International, and Donggwang Clark Corporation, among others to help develop Clark into an international airport and economic hub. Palafox Associates has been involved in the masterplan of the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) with BCDA in the mid nineties; Sabah Al-Ahmad Global Gateway Logistics City (GGLC) which is set to become the first aerotropolis in the Philippines; and Donggwang Officetel, Clubhouse, and golf course, to address the increasing influx of tourists in the region.
Former Finance Secretary Dr. Roberto de Ocampo (an Order of the British Empire honoree), who helped create a memorandum in 1995 during the Ramos administration to develop Clark into an international hub, stresed during the conference that he personally favors Clark because it is a “no-brainer.” Indeed, the ClA is a perfect airport twin to NAIA because it will help balance out the passenger influx from Metro Manila.
“Airports come in two sizes: Too big and too small,” quipped Lindsay during the conclusion of his keynote speech. In terms of size, NAIA can be considered “too small,” while CIA is at the moment, “too big.”
So what lies ahead for the two major airports of Luzon? Dr. de Ocampo says that Clark “has a higher chance of being developed than the other proposed sites as the country’s next international airport.” All the groundworks have already been laid out, with CIA performing more than 30 percent of its intended capacity, servicing 1.3 million passengers annually. Coupled with the BCDA’s plan to develop a Clark Green City in the next coming years, and the already developing GGLC, Clark is a global gateway city on the rise.