Memphis floats strategy at Mid-South Aerotropolis Conference


The origin of Memphis as an “aerotropolis”

Dr. John Kasarda, Director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC, coined the term aerotropolis to describe a metropolis that grows, whether planned or organically, around a major airport. Kasarda recommends planning urban development around an airport city core to streamline logistics and prevent sprawl.

Surrounding the airport city are zones dedicated to citizen uses, such as a medical center, an entertainment district and a mixed-use commercial and residential area. Other spokes from the airport city hub interconnect the aerotropolis’s smooth supply chain. These areas are broken down by functions such as just-in-time manufacturing, warehousing and freight distribution.

Diagram of an airport city and the surrounding aerotropolis zones
Aerotropolis diagram courtesy of Dr. John D. Kasarda. See full-size diagram.

In July 2006, journalist Greg Lindsay reported on Kasarda’s aerotropolis concept for Fast Company. According to the article, Memphis was “the closest thing to an aerotropolis in America today.” Soon afterward, Memphis International Airport agreed that “while the strategic development to become a true aerotropolis is still in the planning stages, one thing is clear; the term aerotropolis is here to stay in Memphis.”

Strategy to strengthen America’s Aerotropolis


“Infrastructure is not your low-hanging fruit. Not in Memphis,” said Dr. Marty Lipinski, Director of the Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute at the University of Memphis.

Lipinski’s stating the significance of long-term investment was underscored by fellow members of the panel “Aerotropolis: The Memphis Model” at the Mid-South Aerotropolis Conference on April 10. Julie Ellis, Co-Chair of the Aerotropolis Steering Committee, Master Plan and Redevelopment, cited a promising goal: “I’d like to say that a child born today, in 20 years, will be looking for the jobs that we, today, are going to create.”

At the same conference, Secretary Shaun Donovan of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development spoke about the importance of involving stakeholders in planning the region’s long-term growth. “Memphis knows what’s best for Memphis,” said Donovan, inviting community leaders to support the Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative by becoming founding members of its Local Resource Network.

Committing to aero-excellence


“There is a misconception that an aerotropolis is only about air. It’s not,” said Richard Smith, Chair of the Aerotropolis Steering Committee, Marketing and Branding. Although the city has shifted from “America’s Distribution Center” to “America’s Aerotropolis,” Memphis remains a quadramodal logistics leader.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) asked the crowd at the aforementioned regional aerotropolis conference not to shy away from Memphis’s pioneering role. “Why would Memphis try to be an average something-else when you already have what it takes to be the best aerotropolis in the world?”

During the Congressional panel, Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, remarked, “No city is more of a transportation hub than Memphis.”

Even with this current advantage, continuing to invest in the city’s role as an aerotropolis is of paramount importance to the community. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, observed that the Greater Memphis Chamber has prioritized growth as an aerotropolis in a way that no other US city has done.

Dedication to developing Memphis as America’s Aerotropolis echoed in the mayor’s closing remarks. After Randy Spicer, Controller of Nucor Steel, had mentioned a need for dredging, Mayor A.C. Wharton agreed that the port would be dredged: “That’s my commitment: If I have to get out there with a shovel!”


See also: Conference live-blogging by the Greater Memphis Chamber

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