Oslo is building "the first energy-positive airport city". But how green can an "aerotropolis" be?
We are intrigued to hear - from World Economic Forum and Dezeen - that Oslo has big, green plans for its airport (Norway's main portal). They plan to build "the first energy positive airport city" - meaning a development that generates more energy than it consumes.
Their original plan was to try to cut energy usage in the airport by 50%. But it has morphed into an opportunity for the Norwegians (flush with capital from their sovereign wealth fund and globally ambitious) to show off their sustainable credentials, as part of a national shift away from being an oil-based economy.
We can't deny - it looks beautiful:
As the WEF article notes, "public transportation, the de-icing of planes, and the city’s lighting will all be automated", and powered by renewable energy. Dezeen continues: "centred around a public park, the sustainable city will cater to Norway's passion for sports and outdoor leisure activities".
Not so long ago, airports were built near cities, and roads connected the one to the other. This pattern—the city in the center, the airport on the periphery— shaped life in the twentieth century, from the central city to exurban sprawl. Today, the ubiquity of jet travel, round-the-clock workdays, overnight shipping, and global business networks has turned the pattern inside out. Soon the airport will be at the center and the city will be built around it, the better to keep workers, suppliers, executives, and goods in touch with the global market.
You might begin to see what's wrong with this picture... The chirpy video accompanying the book actually says it will keep "the global market aloft".
But as a number of our economics-themed posts have noted over the last year or so, might not a choking planet need the global market to fly considerably lower than it's doing, in terms of the carbon-pollution that growth produces? (See Will Self's rollercoaster review of the Aerotropolis book)
And as many experts say, cutting airflight - rather than intensifying it, or building a whole new development model around it - is one of the most effect ways for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint.
As the aerotropolis model has caught on among the planning elites of the developing world, resistance to it has grown. Strong cases are made that it "locks in" in a high-carbon model of development, See the website AntiAero.org, read its key quotes, and hear its founder, Anita Pleumarom:
These massive airport ‘development’ packages can cause havoc particularly in developing countries with weak democratic structures and law enforcement. They often involve forceful evictions and dispossession of the people’s access to land, water and other resources. Therefore, it is not surprising that resistance against such projects has been growing worldwide.
There are of course opposing positions on this from developing-world advocates themselves. Maybe the Oslo model will set standards for a much more mindful and energy-conscious aerotropolis, globally.
But we probably need a deeper examination of our core assumption here - that airflight is an increasingly available tool to express our global identities.
(And maybe art will help us think all this through - for example, the 2017 Taiwan drama, Aerotropolis, which tells a story about a failed project of this kind in Taoyuan, via a forlorn couple. Trailer below):