airports architecture infrastructure initiatives research strat. planning urban design
Spatial and economic impact of Zürich airport
Zürich, Switzerland, 2001-2003
Amt für Raumentwicklung - Kanton Zürich
client: SIAA Swiss International Airports Association
team: Güller Güller architecture urbanism, Ecoplan, infras

Air transport is an important economic factor for airport regions. Its impact can, however, not be estimated and described in economic numbers and statistics alone: it is to a great extent a question of the 'vessel' into which the economic spin-off is poured: the region, its spatial structure and its preconditions for development. The study has, as a consequence, analyzed the spatial distribution of the economic effects, and has, through an international comparison with other European airport regions, made a series of proposals for strategies to improve the spatial and economic impact of Zürich airport.

Regional attractiveness of the areas surrounding the airport
The airport region is a catalyst for business activities. Yet, the spatial distribution of these activities follows certain uneven patterns. In the case of Zürich, the spatial pattern has been analyzed. Interviews with key actors from business, politics and regional planning revealed that in the Greater Zurich Area, mainly the communities in the Glattal urban periphery and in the city of Zurich are directly influenced by the airport. These areas are within a short travel distance from the airport. Regarding the centers which are located further away, the importance of the airport as a location factor is also dominated by other factors. The less connected regions have virtually little benefit from the airport's dynamics.

Individual economic sectors show a different reaction in relation to the airport. Service industries with high value added (banking, IT) are located next to the airport and towards the city, in order to profit of the good transport connections. Logistical activities are found around the airport within a range of approx. 10km. Here, road transport connections and land prices play a crucial role. Hotels and convention centers are situated close to the airport in the Opfikon area. Airport suppliers are found across the entire region.

High dynamics, increasing dependency
In the 90s, the rapid development of the south-eastern communities around the airport has changed the relation between employment and inhabitants. Generally, the number of jobs has increased disproportional, and jobs became more specialized which led to a rising number of commuters. In parallel, this development let the communities become increasingly more dependant on the airport. The more specialized the local industry was, the more were the consequences of the decline in air transport between 2000 and 2002. Because of the broad economic structure, the airport region as an agglomeration has yet still been able to absorb part of the (mostly highly qualified) free labour force.

Spatial differentiation of benefits and burdens
Besides the benefits accruing from airport, tax rates, land prices, the degree of development, the proximity to the highway, aircraft noise, traffic congestion and the attractiveness of the landscape also play a role for the development of a municipality.
Positive economic effects and noise pollution are neither equally nor oppositionaly distributed. Discrepancies are large in the Glattal area (south-east) and north-west of the airport region. Though economically the central Glattal benefits most from the expansion of the airport,the region is exposed to high noise pollution during day time. In the north-west area, little economic benefit contrasts with a high noise impact. To date almost no financially potent company has been attracted to this area, as its remote location is less favorable except for logistic companies. Despite of the noise pollution, these communities still remain attractive for living as to the proximity to Zurich and relatively low property prices.

The influence of regional planning
Regional planning in the canton of Zurich has left the airport region with ample space for development. In the 60s, zones were reserved generously. An actual optimization considering both the mutual interests of economic development and the reduction of negative impacts on the local population's quality of life did not take place. There are, however, good examples from other European regions (e.g. Amsterdam) emphasizing that such potentials do indeed exist. It has been shown that economic activities in the vicinity of the airport may be fostered in order to exploit the - sometimes large - construction areas more efficiently and to generate synergies with other airport activities.
On the other hand, regional planning ought to be proactively directed towards the protection of the population against negative consequences of air and other transportation. The municipalities around the airport have often reserved large construction zones which are now becoming less attractive because of noise pollution. An improved coordination of regional and airport planning, both in terms of time scales and in respect of content, leaves many possibilities open for improvement. The economic effects analyzed here constitute a potential basis that ought to optimize the macroeconomic effects of airports in the area of conflict between the economic development and the protection of the local population.