Observation - Issue 76 - Magazine | Monocle

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It is very likely (better than 70 per cent, I reckon) that you’re reading this 76th edition of monocle on a scheduled commercial flight somewhere in the northern hemisphere. As this issue hit most newsstands in the middle of August, there’s also a good chance that you might be flying home from your holidays or it is equally possible that you’ve already done your two-to-three weeks on the Med and are back out on the road for work.

If you’re seated in 3a or 8k and rolling down the Tarmac, make sure you look out the window as the wheels leave the runway. What do you see? Are you passing over well-groomed beaches in Italy because you’ve taken off from Rome or Pisa? Or sprawling villas with cypress-lined driveways and glittering pools because you departed from Nice? Or is the view of terrain more typical of a big international hub – flat roofs belonging to logistics centres, boxy pre-fab airport hotels, endless car-rental parking lots packed with Volkswagens and Skodas and assorted aircraft-maintenance facilities that once belonged to airlines but have since been sold off to private-equity firms and emirs? As you climb a little higher, does the scenery change slightly? Are the low-slung warehouses replaced by rolling lawns, fountains and running trails belonging to brand-new business parks and regional headquarters? Can you make out the logo of a major global pharma company that’s been neatly cut into the lawn? Or the familiar font of a tech firm that’s been brought to life in topiary – to underline its “green” credentials? Does life in an eco-friendly, Leed-certified building look attractive? Do you think lunchtime in one of these jagged glass buildings is a feast of crunchy greens all grown in the company’s own organic gardens? Or could it be more a case of staff bringing their own ready meals to the canteen and snaking queues in front of microwaves?

While many an airport has wasted considerable funds on special reports about the possibilities of morphing into a next-generation aerotropolis (think “city” with an airport as its beating heart), few hubs have become properly integrated environments that not only manage the comings and goings of tens of millions of passengers but also deal with critical elements such as housing, essential retail services (not duty free), schools, healthcare facilities and parks.

Singapore’s Changi Airport is looking at adding special landside facilities to not only shore up potential losses from landing fees but also to attract more visitors to come to the airport early to linger and spend while they wait for relatives. In Zürich, planning is underway for the creation of The Circle – a large complex that will connect to the airport’s terminals and boast two hotels, retail, offices, medical facilities and more. Perhaps the most promising concept to date, The Circle will help bolster Zürich’s hub status at the heart of Europe while also weaving the airport into the urban fabric. All going well, the developers could potentially go a step further by offering apartments and adding other elements that could make the transition from airside to landside less jarring.

While many airports across Europe, the Americas and Australia are still a trek from the city centre and feel as much mentally as physically removed from urban life, there are also a number of airports that have been enveloped by their cities but still remain disconnected from life going on beyond the razor wire. As this 76th edition is largely devoted to the entrepreneur, we feel cities and airport authorities are missing myriad opportunities by not catering to a new class of businesspeople who require solutions that differ radically from the hulking pharma or tech firms under nearby flight paths. Berlin, for example, had every opportunity to capitalise on its start-up boom by bringing housing, shops, schools and assorted services even closer to Tegel Airport rather than investing in the embarrassing flop that’s become Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Imagine what could have been done in terms of ateliers around Tegel if planners had thought about turning the capital’s airport into a magnet for small enterprises rather than wasting money (and travel time) on an airport that’s not necessary.

Other cities could also look at the space around their airports and think density rather than gusty expanses. Sydney’s airport could do with a bit of filling in. Across the Tasman Sea, Auckland Airport is doing a good job with landscaping but it could go further by getting staff closer to their workspaces by looking at travel patterns and housing. Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport has Tegel-like potential while New York’s LaGuardia could see a Brooklyn-style revival if a smart set of architects and planners were offered the task of smoothing the link to Manhattan.

On the topic of all of these airports, it’s worth mentioning that our editors will be touching down in all of these cities (and many more) as we launch our new book, The Monocle Guide to Good Business. If you happen to read this before 26 August, then please come along for the kick-off at Midori House in London that evening. If not, you can catch up with us in Paris, Amsterdam, Brisbane, Taipei, Tokyo, Miami, San Francisco and Washington. If you have any editorial questions, an airport in need of a refit or queries about the book tour, drop a note to me at tb@monocle.com or my assistants Helen Pipins (hp@monocle.com) or Kristoffer Fink Parup (kfp@monocle.com). Thank you for your support.

For more from our editor in chief, read his column in the ‘FTWeekend’.

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