Unplanned airport planning in Mexico City?
International air travel has increased dramatically during the past two decades. Often, increasing flying is perceived as providing a range of new opportunities for people to be aeromobile on a global scale in relation to business, tourism, culture, family and politics. But through a case study of Mexico City International Airport, this article shows that this understanding needs to be qualified. By exploring a series of social and environmental consequences associated with a highly controversial airport, the article illustrates that increasing global air travel not only creates new opportunities for cosmopolitans to travel the world, but also results in a number of negative outcomes for the people living in the surroundings of airports’ sites.
The growth of international air travel has a profound impact on the spatial organisation of an increasingly globalised society (Derudder et al. 2009). Air travel, modern life and globalisation have become more and more intertwined in a time where flying is mainly seen as related to a range of new opportunities for people to be aeromobile at a global scale (Cwerner et al. 2009, Lassen 2009, Kesselring 2006, Nowicka 2006). With respect to increasing global air travel, airports are a fundamental component. International airports are developing into small-scale global cities where developments are strategically important within the global competition of places, cities, regions (Urry 2007, Kesselring 2009). However, beside serious global environmental impacts related to flying (see Sausen et. al. 2005; Forster et. al 2006; Stuber et. al. 2006, Lian 2007), there exist a number of unexplored local social and environmental consequences associated with airports. The impact of air transport on the ground is significant and includes land take for airports, terminals and runways; noise and air pollution from aircrafts; pollution from buildings; air pollution and noise from roads and road transport serving the airport, amongst others (Whitelegg 1997: 86). These very material elements have serious impacts on the everyday life of humans living in the areas surrounding the airports.
Until now, most research in the fields of airport planning and aeromobilities has been carried out in the so-called developed western countries, leaving aside critical cases that are located in emerging economies. This article therefore aims at exploring the social consequences of an airport located in such settings, which is surrounded by the most densely populated area in one of the world’s largest urban agglomerations. Altogether, more than 5 million people inhabit these predominantly low-income areas, which are commonly overwhelmed by a number of serious problems in relation to health, noise, urban qualities, land use, fear and risk. In light of this situation, the article suggests that the unexplored social consequences of aeromobility need to be examined more thoroughly in future planning, policy and aeromobility research.
The study is designed as a qualitative phenomenological case study, with field observations as the central data collecting technique. Mexico City International Airport can be seen as an extreme case, not only due to the country’s few restrictions on flying but mainly because the airport is located in an area within a city and a nation wherein significant economic and social issues are commonplace. The reason for choosing such an extreme case is that it allows us to see and understand some of the local social problems related to flying more openly. These problems are, to a considerable extent, certainly visible around a number of airports globally, which ultimately raise a number of critical questions in relation to increasing air travel.
In terms of methods, several fieldtrips were performed, each one consisting of a number of stopovers within specific districts in close proximity to the airport. Moreover, a number of open and semi-structured interviews were carried out during the fieldtrips, and numerous photographs of the airport’s surrounding areas were taken. Interviewees included local residents as well as other lay people owning their businesses in these districts. In addition, a series of structured interviews was carried out in the district of Cuchilla del Tesoro (a densely populated area just a few hundred meters away from the airport’s takeoff runway axis) to determine how the airport’s everyday operations (takeoffs, landings, aircraft taxiing and maintenance facilities) tend to interfere with residents’ lives and wellbeing. Finally, archival documentation was also collected, which included articles from Mexico City’s mainstream newspapers covering news related to the airport during the past 10 years. Since the areas around the airport are characterized by low personal security, large groups of low-income people, well-known social issues and few public records in the field, our fieldwork has largely been driven by the available opportunities for obtaining data.
Key words: Global air travel, aeromobility research, airports, social consequences, noise impact, Mexico City, Mexico City International Airport.
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