Urban planners in Amsterdam have a saying: “The Airport leaves the city / The City follows the airport / The Airport becomes a city.”

At first glance, it reads like a cryptic zen poem, but the lines quickly start to make sense to anyone who’s observed the myriad construction projects underway in and around the Shunyi area over the past several years.

In case you missed it, a jumble of schools, sports and leisure facilities, high-end hotels, logistics, housing and even (limited) nightlife options have cropped up around Beijing Capital International Airport lately. Greater BCIA exemplifies a development model that’s going global, and it has a name—the aerotropolis—and it could just be the future of the 21st century.

In a new book, journalist Greg Lindsay explores the ideas of John D. Kasarda, a modern nomad who travels the world preaching the need for cities to once again turn to the skies, or face irrelevance.

“There’s a new metric,” he says. “It’s no longer space; it’s time and cost. And if you look closely at the aerotropolis, what appears to be sprawl is slowly evolving into a system reducing both.”

Are you a “knowledge worker” who’s more likely to grab a connecting flight to Changsha than a cocktail in Gulou? If Kasarda is right, you may soon find yourself relocated to New Songdo. The planned city is being constructed near Seoul’s Incheon airport, promoting itself as a hybrid of Manhattan, Venice and, randomly, Savannah, Georgia. Also, it promises to be more American than Kro’s Nest on pub quiz night with “prep schools from Boston, malls from Beverly Hills and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.”

The main draw? New Songdo is being built as a hub for companies that do business in China. You could fly “on a moment’s notice to any of a hundred cities within a four-hour flight and be home in time for supper.” China itself is getting in on the game, building massive new aerotropli in second-tier cities like Chongqing, and Lindsay delves into this in a China-focused chapter.

“People once chose to live in cities for the wealth of connections they offered,” writes Lindsay, “socially, financially, intellectually, and so forth.” Wait—isn’t that still true? Richard Florida argued as much in The Rise of the Creative Class, saying that cities that attract creative workers prosper, and those that don’t, stagnate. You might move to New Songdo for your China-related job, but would you move there to find your muse and fall in love?

Environmental concerns are the subject of a whole other chapter, but that question aside, what does the Brooklyn-based writer really think about his co-author (who is also credited on the book’s website as its sole author)? Lindsay describes Kasarda’s world as a place “in which all of our leaders’ promises have been kept, in which we are fitter, happier, more productive.”

The words are an unattributed quote from the scariest song Radiohead ever wrote —“Fitter, Happier” from the album OK Computer—which describes a culture reduced to mindless functionalism. It seems like a safe bet that Lindsay won’t be moving to New Songdo any time soon.

This article was published in City Weekend Beijing in June 2011. Click here to view the original.