Taoyuan Intelligent Aerotropolis

As cities and regions continue to grow, one of its key economic and city-building drivers will be “airport cities”, known as an aerotropolis. These are massive projects that bring together major free trade zones and logistics activities. They also often bring together air, rail and road connectivity making them very desirable locations for businesses and for high-value products and related light-weight manufacturing and assembly activities that can be efficiently shipped by air cargo. But these airport cities or aerotropolis developments can also bring together other aspects of city building, such as entertainment, restaurants, markets and educational facilities. As a virtual city, it will also be filled with people who may wish to reside in or near an exciting aerotropolis requiring places for everyday shopping, culture and health-related facilities.

There are now many aerotropolis projects built or in planning stages around the world, such as in Amsterdam (Schiphol), Seoul (Incheon), Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, and in China and Thailand, to name a few. Taoyuan City also had a plan for an aerotropolis over a decade ago. But it proved to be controversial due to issues related to potential pollution concerns, insinuations of irregularities in land acquisition and concerns over forced relocations. It was consequently dropped until Taoyuan City’s current Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan reinvigorated the project under 5 key principles: public transparency; democratic participation; eco-development; public interest; and the introduction of innovative industries, all of which would create a new community that promises to benefit from lower pollution, lower energy consumption and lower water usage.

After 11 years trying, Taoyuan City won ICF’s Intelligent Community of the Year in June 2019. Subsequently, ICF was invited to look at the Taoyuan Aerotropolis from the Intelligent Community perspective. Accordingly, 5 globally recognized practitioners with backgrounds in urban planning, architecture, urban design, academia, technology and economic development were invited to participate in a 3-day Workshop/Charrette with the goal of providing thought leadership on the evolution of Taoyuan’s Aerotropolis. The group that formed included Joe Berridge, globally renown master planner of airports in Toronto and Manchester and currently consulting on the Sidewalk Labs initiative in Toronto. He looked at innovation and new industry opportunities in the Taoyuan Aerotropolis. Luigi Ferrara is the Dean of the Centre for Arts, Design & Information Technology and its Institute Without Boundaries at George Brown College in Toronto. He looked at the structural aspects of including eco-logistics into the initiative, among other design-related aspects of the site. Stantec’s Andrew Irvine, from its Denver office, has won global acclaim for master plans in the Melbourne Docklands, the Burj in Dubai, and Denver International Airport’s Natural Resources & Mobility Master Plan. He looked at the smart city infrastructure throughout the Taoyuan City Aerotropolis. Dr. Norman Jacknis, is a Senior Fellow at the Intelligent Community Forum, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Gotham Innovation Greenhouse, as well as a former Director of Cisco’s IBSG Public Sector Group and former CIO and Commissioner of Westchester County, New York. Norm covered the cultural and knowledge workforce considerations of the initiative. Rounding out as the team leader was ICF’s Chairman and Co-Founder, John G Jung, an urban planner and urban designer with extensive economic development and global experience in the Intelligent Community movement. He focused on economic impact, project acceleration and branding aspects of Taoyuan’s Intelligent Aerotropolis project.

After the first day of orientation, the ICF team spent a full day from 8:00 am until after midnight on the second day with over 60 participants developing their ideas about the project. The third day was a sold-out formal Forum of 500 representatives from government, the private sector and academia to discuss and share ideas about Taoyuan’s Aerotropolis. Following the ICF team’s presentations, several practitioners from Taiwan, Korea and Singapore provided additional technical and digital planning insights from their regions including Dr. Lui Thai Ker, Founding Chairman of the Centre for Livable Cities. He spoke about the need to place people in the center of the planning of livable cities, a reminder that an aerotropolis with tens of thousands of daily visitors and future occupants and workers will also need this approach.

Over the course of the 3-day workshop we learned that Taoyuan’s Aerotropolis is the nation’s only international airport through which all of the major importing and exporting of goods are shipped. It also includes a growing Free-trade zone and is one of Asia’s major logistics centers. The Aerotropolis will cover 4565 hectares (over 17 square miles or 11,000 acres) in size. Its huge! That represents about 10 times the area of the Vatican City; 16 times the development of Melbourne’s Docklands and 420 times the size of the development of the Hudson Yards in New York City. You can build about 4600 football fields or rugby pitches in this development. Over NT$500 Billion (US$17 Billion) is expected to be invested in the Taoyuan’s Aerotropolis which will generate economic benefits exceeding NT$2.3 Trillion (US$78 billion). It is further expected to create over 300,000 jobs. Taoyuan’s Aerotropolis is truly a regional initiative since it will be an economic driver for the city, region and nation with direct and indirect impacts extending from 20-60 miles.

We also learned that there are many aerotropolis projects around the world. Accordingly, Taoyuan’s Aerotropolis needs to differentiate itself from the rest if it wishes to be truly competitive. Since Taoyuan was recently awarded as the world’s most Intelligent Community of the Year, it seems natural to consider calling it the “Taoyuan Intelligent Aerotropolis”. With such nomenclature it is expected that an Intelligent Aerotropolis would include diverse technology platforms and many innovative applications in the project, including autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence supported by sensors everywhere and advanced, green logistics. These and other forms of technological advancements, enabled by high-speed broadband, especially with the rollout of 5G opportunities, would be necessary to support any aviation-based city complex.

The project will help to transform Taoyuan City into Taiwan's "gateway capital" and into a serious logistics center for the Asia-Pacific area. A significant cluster of IoT-related industries has already formed in Taoyuan due to many locational and economic factors. It is the “nexus” of transportation and communications capabilities; offers more affordable land and housing availability; it is less expensive to do business in Taoyuan than Taipei; it has a very young population due to students and graduates from its numerous colleges and universities; it is multi-cultural and diverse through its welcoming immigration policies, thus attracting much international innovation; and has proven government leadership and support for the growth of the cluster. Consequently, as an example, the Asia Silicon Valley Development Agency (ASVDA) selected Taoyuan as its headquarters. With these new directions, leveraging advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, IOT and autonomous everything, supported through 5G, the Intelligent Aerotropolis will play a critical role in transforming the nation's industry sectors as well as the introduction of new and innovative industries through startups, research and experimentations. Among recommendations for the next phase of the Taoyuan Aerotropolis is the development of an approach to become a leader in eco-logistics, promoting sustainable, low-carbon urban freight strategies and solutions to be developed by all sectors involved in urban freight activities. Currently there are more than 2000 logistics firms in Taoyuan with significant urban freight movements and other activities forming an immediate demand for logistics, free trade and an eco-logistics focus for Taoyuan’s Intelligent Aerotropolis. It also makes a lot of sense. Globally, the data shows that 25 percent of urban vehicles are related to the movement of urban freight, such as trucks dealing with waste, construction and commercial deliveries. These movements take up about 40% of road space and create 40% of urban transport-related CO2 emissions. Taoyuan’s Aerotropolis recently joined ICLEI’s Eco-Logistics project, helping Taoyuan to pursue a key early deliverable, potentially ensuring Taoyuan’s Industry 4.0 acceleration in its efforts to transform its industries and its economy.

The ICF team toured the headquarters of the Taoyuan Aerotropolis where the ASVDA is also currently headquartered, as are private sector organizations hoping to partner on the project. One of these potential partners is Cisco’s demonstration and research center, covering every conceivable new technology that could potentially be incorporated into an aerotropolis. No doubt many other partners will also be developing demonstration offices. Chunghwa Telecom is participating in Taoyuan’s plans for an Asia Silicon Valley Innovation R&D Center. Here, it is expected that entrepreneurs will be able to pursue their initiatives by gaining access to enhanced technical capacities and benefitting from an innovation ecosystem at lower costs than neighboring cities. It is also expected that they will benefit from greater access to funding support within the aerotropolis innovation ecosystem, especially in an environment that could potentially support experimentation such as smart-city challenges and city-labs around the world. Taoyuan City government already has experience with experimentation with several demonstration projects underway, such as smart poles deploying cameras, environmental sensors and LED street-lighting. Accordingly, one of the key areas of discussion during the workshop was to consider ways to leverage and harness the excitement and energies of the public, private and institutional organizations (known as the Triple Helix) to undertake a large living-lab initiative and continuous learning opportunities on part of the site. With the zone expropriation expected to be approved in March 2020, the plan would enter the phase of substantial development. Consequently, having learned from some of the experimentation on the site, would go a long way to assist the development in focusing on key initiatives.

According to the discussions at the workshop, new and innovative industries, focused on reducing the CO2 footprint would be one of the main attractions. Additionally, attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), especially international high-tech companies as well as generating homegrown startups and research in this area could be a key and foundational goal of the partnership of the ASVDA and Taoyuan’s Intelligent Aerotropolis. Cooperation among the central government, Taoyuan City government, and local industries would help to accelerate opportunities for the development of Taoyuan’s Intelligent Aerotropolis. It will also accelerate the country’s economy and industrial structure as it evolves from devices to its next phase of innovation and software-related industries in aerospace, logistics, biotechnology, green energy, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles and smart city infrastructure. ASVDA established the Asia Silicon Valley IoT Industry Alliance with over 370 private sector partners to provide a cooperative platform for corporations involved in technology and business-related applications to pursue initiatives in smart mobility, smart medical service, AI and other Industry 4.0 applications.

The Taoyuan Aerotropolis would be a dynamic fusion of the latest technology mixed with experimentation of the latest applications over 5G+ platforms. It would certainly include all the smart infrastructure of other aviation-styled cities, but this is where Taoyuan’s Intelligent Aerotropolis would differ from the others: much of the discussion during the 3-day workshop centered around people rather than the technologies themselves. Consequently, despite the sexy technology of drones, driverless vehicles and loads of data to play with from sensors and cameras that might be placed everywhere on the site, organizers of the workshop kept an open mind about how people would live, work, play and evolve in such an area. They recognized that technology will constantly change; so, there is a critical need to engage and empower the people in the community and region to participate in the Intelligent Aerotropolis’ evolution. Consequently, Taoyuan’s Intelligent Aerotropolis, much as Taoyuan City’s efforts to pursue ICF’s Intelligent Community of the Year recognition, would be first and foremost human-centric and consider all development opportunities from a people-first design perspective.

The ideas discussed challenged the participants to focus on a structure plan that emphasized ecological, cultural and recreational opportunities related to the rivers and green zones in addition to the area’s transportation corridors. Both would benefit new forms of mobility throughout the projects. These would include walking and bicycles to augment transit and autonomous vehicles and other autonomous things such as drones and logistics pods. In addition to mobility there could be exceptional opportunities to create the development of people-oriented places such as squares and socializing areas where visitors, workers and residents could meet, have coffee or enjoy recreational pursuits. Exciting and dynamic development nodes at the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) stops would be opportunities for greater densities to occur with mixed use developments where people could live and work in highly livable environments, finding opportunities for “things to do” such as markets and entertainment and educational pursuits.

The development of knowledge workers, a key asset and resource of Taoyuan, was a key discussion point. An aviation-focused university and other potential university departments aimed at logistic and eco-logics, biotechnology, green industries, security and several other areas of focus could develop unique talent within the innovation zone of the 4565 hectare project. Integrating these initiatives would deliver inspiring opportunities for new knowledge workers to focus on open and big data, Industry 4.0, and related smart city infrastructure, especially with the roll-out of 5G networks. The participation of the Triple Helix community could further help to transform local innovation and integration with local industrial clusters through demonstration initiatives that would help to retain existing knowledge workers and attract new talent and international investment to an exciting and dynamic Aerotropolis in Taoyuan.

John G. Jung
Urban Planner; Urban Designer; Economic Developer; Author; Speaker; re. Smart & Intelligent Cities; Co-Founder/Chair ICF; ICF Canada, Global Cities Navigator.
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