A few months ago, I read in the Telegraph a review of a book called Aerotropolis. Written by Greg Lindsay, the management strategist and academic John Kasarda also appears on the book’s cover as co-author. This is because Aerotropolis is essentially a work of evangelism, Lindsay’s paen to what he sees as Kasarda’s revolutionary vision of a world gathered around cities which in turn gather around, and in fact revolve around, their airports. Leo Hollis, of the Telegraph, unsurprisingly has some time for the thesis:
John Kasarda has been promoting the idea of a new kind of city for the past 20 years, observing that as the world enters the information age, we travel more, not less, to do business – we now jump on aeroplanes to travel around the world the same way that our forebears took the train. This is having a huge impact on how our cities work.
He is also, however, rather sceptical of how holistic the vision might be: he dismisses the idea that George Clooney’s character from Up In The Air, who exists almost entirely between places, flying around the US merely to lay off the unfortunate ground-bound unwashed, could ever be a role model. He also compares Kasarda’s vision to that of JG Ballard. “By comparison with London Airport, London itself seems hopelessly antiquated,” Ballard wrote for the Observer in 1997.
All this is by way of introduction to Will Self’s characteristically lurid review of Aerotropolis for the LRB. He, too, can’t resist the science fictional aspect of Kasarda’s thesis:
I have called Aerotropolis a scientific romance because like some of the futuristic fiction of the 19th century it predicates social improvement on technological advance. […] A century later, Greg Lindsay has just about managed to match Wells by writing a sort of feelgood sequel to The Sleeper Awakes. With its vast cities interlinked by air transport and its kineto-telephoto-graphs lubricating our appetites, Aerotropolis is a classic example of the Fin de Siècle scientific romance in its utopian guise.
Self, of course, has much less time for Kasarda’s thesis than a person writing for the Telegraph must have (“My response to this Xanadu,” he writes of a walk across the edges of Dubai, “was to stop flying altogether”). He cites the form of the scientific romance – he namechecks Forster, Bellamy, Morris and early Star Trek in addition to Wells – because, as science fiction has itself, we have largely abandoned its assumptions and desires. After reading his review, however, one is left wanting to read Aerotropolis less and Matthew Beaumont’s Utopia Ltd: Ideologies of Social Dreaming in England 1870-1900 rather more.