Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Impromptu Open City: The Extended Flight Layover or Flight Delay

Airports have arguably served as examples of both exclusionary amenities and inclusionary amenities for cities.  On one hand, cities with airports, especially international ones, declare a global status that enables worldwide traffic, promotes a greater probability that people will visit, and is a source for global city importing and exporting, trade, and commodities.  On the other hand, cities with airports can also mean the people who use them can have nothing to do the city’s they land in.  For example, many people who claim that they have been to the city of Baltimore have done nothing but sit in the terminal for a few hours, yet having never set foot outside it’s airport walls.  Ways in which the airports themselves can be exclusionary is how they are only open to the customers who can afford them (and those who can make it past the security gates).

The price of flying today far exceeds the budget of any low-income leisurely traveler.  But perhaps a way to solve the problem of these extremely segregated groups of people, the people from the interior to the exterior, or the poor from the wealthy, are the occasions when flights are delayed for extended periods of time.  Although this is unfortunate for the people who have planned flights, or places to go in a timely manner, the opportunity opens up for people to then interact or explore the city outside the terminal walls.  This, of course, is only possible and depends on the amount of time it takes to leave and re-enter into the airport, the amount of time allowed during the flight delay, and also the amount of time it takes to transport to and from the city from the airport. 

The experience of exploring a new city can sometimes become enhanced when there is a limited time period, as explained by Situationist Guy Debord in his 1958 writing “Theory of the Dérive, “…a derive often takes place within a deliberately limited period of a few hours.”  What perfect setting then could a flight delay set for opportunity to wander into new undiscovered areas?  Baltimore, is an example of a city that has an airport readily accessible through a variety of transportation systems.  For Christopher Alexander, city accessibility greatly depends on well-designed connections that make getting from point A to Z easy, low-cost, and timely.  The public transportation infrastructure must have open connected systems that exemplify successful “grid-like” functionality, connections that Christopher Alexander would find favorable from his essay, “The City Is Not a Tree.”

In cases such as getting from the Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall Airport to Baltimore City, there are several system options that are available, one being the most cost-efficient way, using Baltimore’s MTA light rail system.   By default, there are other ways of transportation, such as by taxi or city bus as well.  Arguably, Baltimore provides enough opportunity for a more heterogeneous interaction to occur (although an airport such as John F.Kennedy in New York City, centrally located in the middle of the city is an even better opportunity.) 

If only now every flight a person booked required each passenger to embed at least a few hours for a chance to explore the city they had a layover in.  Certainly, people would want to do more than stay inside the terminal for that entire time.  Unfortunately, for now, the only people who have that opportunity to participate in the open city are the ones that are forced to.

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