From Non-Place Airports to Hub City

In Marc Augé’s book, ‘Non-Places – An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity’, a framework for what he describes as non-place can be found. Augé contrasts space, which is travelled through, with the idea of place which he describes as frequented space thus giving it a history and meaning. Augé continues in describing space as containing non-place pockets. These are pockets of what at first may appear to be places but are in his mind meaningless way-stations through which we travel. He argues these non-places create an isolating, transient state in which organic social interaction is no longer possible.

Perhaps the most obvious example of Augé’s non-place and certainly one of the most interesting is the large international airport. However it is perhaps the airport’s departure lounges that exemplify non-place at the most global level. These huge spaces with their polished floors and high ceilings, pictorial signage and global brand chain stores seem to have erased all identifiers of geographical place. It is an irony then that this non-place with its complete loss of local identity is more often than not the first point of contact with a new country and its culture, forming the gateway into or out from a nation.

But what if this could be changed? What if a city’s airport could be integral to its identity? What if a city had more than one airport?

Specific modes of transport have long been associated with cities and nowhere is this more prevalent than in London. The Black Cab, Red Routemaster Bus, London Underground (currently celebrating it’s 150 year anniversary) and more recently the London Cycle Hire Scheme all form part of London’s identity and international brand. All these modes of transport each have strong identities but do not rely on a single hub or point of departure. Instead they are polly-nodal networks with all the advantages that this can bring. This same strategy could be applied to London’s 5 airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton & City) to create the first ‘Hub City’: a city in which travellers and airlines do not depend on a single hub airport but a closely networked system optimised to be far more responsive, adaptable, efficient and reliable than could be achieved with any single airport. Furthermore, this Hub City would not just provide an unrivalled air travel experience which no single airport could compete with but through hi-speed and convenient connectivity to the city centre integrate itself with the very identity of London as a truly globally city.

To some extent London already operates like this. Rather than invest huge amounts into an entirely new airport with all the associated environmental impacts as well as the required new road and rail connections why not invest in linking London’s current airports with each other and the city itself? What if London was the air traveller’s departure lounge with baggage checked in at points across the city such as major train stations and security checks completed en-route to the 5-airport network. A 3 hour stop-over at Heathrow with 2 of those hours spent strolling through Hyde Park?

The traveller is no longer Departing, Arriving or Transferring at an airport; they are Leaving, Entering or Enjoying a city.

Submitted by: Nick McGough, Grimshaw