Airport Urbanism: The Urban Infrastructure of Global Mobility

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Airport Urbanism: The Urban Infrastructure of Global Mobility

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Title: Airport Urbanism: The Urban Infrastructure of Global Mobility
Author: Hirsh, Max
Citation: Hirsh, Max. 2012. Airport Urbanism: The Urban Infrastructure of Global Mobility. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Around the world, the number of air passengers has quintupled since 1980. During the same time, air traffic in the Pearl River Delta--the urban region that includes Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou--has risen by a factor of 50. Scholars have typically studied that expansion by analyzing mega-projects like 'starchitect' passenger terminals and high-speed airport railways. Yet they have ignored the emergence of parallel transport systems designed to plug less privileged people and places into the infrastructure of global mobility. Cheaper, rattier, and more geographically diffuse, these networks cater to passengers whose movement across international borders is limited by their income, citizenship, or place of birth. These incipient air travelers, and the so-called "transborder" systems that they use, have radically reordered the cross-border flow of goods and people in the Pearl River Delta. Focusing on Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), the dissertation examines how the airport has been redesigned to accommodate larger and more diverse passenger flows. Tracing the movement of different types of passengers--the retiree, the toddler, the migrant worker--it demonstrates how each traveler’s trajectory is determined by intersecting political, logistical, and financial considerations. The dissertation also investigates a network of airport check-in terminals that allow passengers to fly through HKIA without applying for a Hong Kong visa. Located deep inside Mainland China, these "upstream" check-in facilities cater to passengers who have difficulty obtaining a visa; such as Chinese tourists with a rural hukou, or African businessmen. A sealed ferry transports passengers from Mainland China to HKIA, where they are shuttled via an underground train to their departure gate. Isolated from other passenger flows, upstream travelers thus technically never enter Hong Kong. Through interviews, photographs, and digital mapping techniques, Airport Urbanism documents how HKIA--as well as the boundary between Mainland China and Hong Kong--have been reconfigured to abet the global circulation of capital and labor. In so doing, the dissertation posits airport infrastructure as a useful lens for interpreting broader changes in the regulation of cross-border mobility and the spatial articulation of national frontiers.
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