February 03, 2017 | permalink
Never in my wildest dreams while writing Aerotropolis did I imagine airports would become the locus of political protests — especially sustained, passionate demonstrations and occupations that are arguably the strictest test of whether a place is truly “public” or urban. And yet, here we are. The protests ignited by President Trump’s January 27 executive order banning arrivals from seven majority-Muslim nations — an order I vehemently disagree with as well — improbably rallied around the international airports where visitors and legal permanent residents were being illegally detained. Amazing scenes have played out at New York’s JFK, LAX, Washington Dulles, Boston Logan, Denver International and elsewhere as citizens rush to defend our right to free movement and arguably cosmopolitanism itself.
I was honored to be quoted by several journalists writing about the unlikelihood of airports as protest sites. The Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne quoted my doubts that protests could be sustained (and I hope he proves me wrong):
At overtaxed airports like LAX, those spaces are bottlenecks on the best of days. It was precisely that quality, as vessels of public space easily stoppered, that demonstrators exploited.
But that exploitation cuts both ways. Greg Lindsay — senior fellow at the New Cities Foundation and co-author with John D. Kasarda of the book “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next” — points out that the in-betweenness of the airport landscape is not simply architectural. It’s also legal.
“The protests illustrated how effectively various authorities could throttle various choke points to deny access,” he told me in an email. “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had to order the Port Authority Police to re-open the AirTrain to JFK after they had closed it to limit the arrival of protesters via the subway.”
Who knows? Maybe the airport protests will fade as new White House decisions generate fresh controversies. And crackdowns on dissent, as Lindsay notes, may be far easier to execute at an airport than in the middle of a city.
But something tells me that any smart activist who looks closely at the airport protests will see something of a blueprint.
And Curbed’s Alissa Walker quoted my wonder at how even the unloveliest spaces at JFK suddenly became fully urbanized by protestors’ energy:
At LAX, the Tom Bradley International Terminal had recently been refurbished to add more restaurants and shops specifically to accommodate people who were there to welcome arriving passengers. Last weekend, the renovation provided a bright, welcoming environment with food, seating, and restrooms—much like an actual public plaza.
“It was amazing to see,” said Lindsay after attending JFK’s protests. “These pathways that are almost never used, they became temporarily urbanized in a way that they never had been before. You could start to see JFK operate as a real urban space.”
By Monday morning, after a stay on the order had been issued by a federal court, and some detainees had been released, the large-scale demonstrations were over. But many airports remain filled with protesters, pop-up law offices, and family members awaiting news on traveling relatives. The hashtag #OccupyAirports has also cropped up, signifying that this one-weekend stand could potentially evolve into a movement more like Occupy Wall Street, which took over U.S. public spaces for months.
Whose airports? OUR AIRPORTS.
Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation — where he leads the Connected Mobility Initiative — and the director of strategy for LACoMotion, a new mobility festival coming to the Arts District of Los Angeles in November 2017.
He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.
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Fast Company | January 19, 2017
The Guardian | January 13, 2017
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Inc. | October 2016
Popular Mechanics | May 11, 2016
The New Republic | January/February 2016
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Harvard Business Review | October 2014
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The New York Times | April 2013