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Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next
John D. Kasarda
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011
480 pp., $30.00
Noah J. Toly
The Kingdom of Efficiency
With Aerotropolis: How We'll Live Next, John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay have given us a sprawling parable of efficiency that begins with the true story of New Songdo, South Korea, a city already being built but not yet completed. With every square inch wired for the digital age and each residence and workstation equipped for video-conferencing, this "Cisco Smart+Connected" city could be built from scratch anywhere with an Internet connection. According to conventional wisdom, cheap land plus broadband ought to be the recipe for success. If place is elided by advances in communication and information technology, New Songdo—so it might seem—could be built in the middle of nowhere.
But New Songdo's developers chose to break ground in the middle of everywhere. New Songdo is just minutes away from Incheon International Airport, one of the world's newest and busiest hubs and the center of Asian air traffic. Along with its sustainability plan and IT architecture, the New Songdo website highlights the city's accessibility to the rest of the world—"3.5 hours to 1/3 of the world's population"—suggesting that globalization is at least as much about the efficient movement of people and goods as it is about the transmission of ideas. When complete, New Songdo will be "the urban incarnation of the physical internet."
The book's greatest insights are reserved for the seeming paradox of increasing urbanization in an age of globalization. Why is human settlement at unprecedented density occurring at the same moment as an unmatched movement of people, goods, and ideas? What is the relationship between extraordinary concentration and unparalleled diffusion? The answer is that "every technology meant to circumvent distances electronically … will only stoke our desire to traverse it ourselves," and as time is increasingly valuable, so is the ability to travel the globe at record speed. People gravitate toward places that provide the infrastructure necessary for ...