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Flight paths as layers of the urban fabric: transport flows, connectivity and the contested urbanisation of airspace above London and the South East

Evan McDonough


L’espace aérien et la région métropolitaine sont profondément enchevêtrés. La prolifération des gratte-ciel et le volume toujours plus important de flux aériens à destination et en partance de Londres font de l’espace aérien un lieu central et contesté de l’urbanisation. En ce sens, la dimension verticale de l’urbanisation est comparable à la péri-urbanisation d'après-guerre et à la dispersion de la ville et de la région à l'horizontal. Cette contribution traite du cas controversé des nuisances sonores liées à l’aéroport de Londres Heathrow et à sa possible expansion. En particulier, nous interrogeons les nouvelles formes d’urbanisation et le rôle des flux de transport dans la sphère urbaine. En se concentrant sur les trajectoires aériennes actuelles, sur les implications de la possible extension de l’aéroport et en particulier sur les raisons et les justifications des acteurs soutenant ou s’opposant à l’intensification et à la concentration des trajectoires aériennes au-dessus de Londres et du Sud Est, cette contribution met en évidence la complexité des relations entre les flux de transport aériens au-dessus de la région métropolitaine et les caractéristiques de l’urbanisation sur le terrain. En dépit des récents développements technologiques, les nuisances sonores liées au trafic aérien demeurent un sujet localement controversé des effets de l’aviation. L’incompatibilité de l’intensification des flux mondiaux avec la croissance des régions métropolitaines constitue d’un point de vue théorétique et pratique un véritable paradoxe pour la planification durable des régions métropolitaines. Le projet d’une nouvelle piste et de la modernisation des systèmes de navigation a exacerbé les conflits de gouvernance entre l'aéroport et son environnement local. Ces relations spatiales tridimensionnelles, ces trajectoires de la (sub)urbanisation et la gouvernance de l’espace aérien demeurent un défi pour la gouvernance de Londres et du Sud Est. En prenant pour exemple les relations entretenues entre l’espace aérien et le bâti, cette contribution propose de repenser notre conception du domaine urbain et de la portée de la géographie urbaine.

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1Both the proliferation of high-rise towers and the increasing volume of aircraft flows into and out of city-regions represent ways that airspace has become a central – and contested – realm for the extension of the urban fabric. However, spatial conflicts concerning airspace are different from development on ‘empty’ land on the periphery or ‘outskirts’ of the city-region, or from ‘the city’ into ‘the countryside’, or our idea of ‘nature’ far removed from the urban realm. This increasing entanglement of activity in the sky and urbanisation below (see Graham, 2016, Harris 2015), in this case beginning at the airport and projected into the vertical dimension through flight paths, demonstrates another contentious way that one use (transport infrastructure) is literally arranged above a layer of another (residential areas).

2By examining existing aircraft noise pollution concerns and the implications of pending airport expansion, this paper demonstrates that airspace above the city-region and urbanisation trajectories on the ground are profoundly intertwined. Specifically, this paper critically analyses the airport and airspace governance and the current trajectory of the intensification, thickening and concentration of flight paths above London and the South East, and at London Heathrow Airport in particular. The study of the lived experience of inadvertent but inevitable local aircraft noise pollution emerging from the global hub airport foregrounds local conflicts and relations between places and flows, and between urbanisation patterns and the flow of aircraft through flight path. Through qualitative methods and institutional analysis, this paper explores the decision-making, planning, rationales, and organisations involved in the negotiation of airport expansion and airspace planning. In contrast to the ‘horizontal’ airport planning discourses on airport-adjacent communities and airport-oriented urbanisation, the perspective employed here highlights the relationship between flight paths and urbanisation on the ground by highlighting the resulting, ‘three-dimensional’ noise footprint of the airport. Viewed through the lens of the ‘vertical city’ and the ‘noise shadows’ in-between each flight path and the complex, extended conurbation below, this paper aims to contribute to our understanding of three-dimensional shape of urbanisation more broadly.

The ‘city’, the urban fabric, and the urban periphery

3This paper offers a new way of understanding local-transport conflicts and relations within space (Massey, 2005) through the lens of the ‘vertical city’ theme of research on the three-dimensional shape of contemporary urbanisation, in this case between layers of the urban realm, or in other words, into sky above the London and the South East in the form of the continuous flow of aircraft into and out of London through this invisible, vertical infrastructure. Following Harris (2015), Graham (2016) and a growing body of research brought together at a recent academic conference in Lyon (Appert, 20151), this paper analyses the logics of aviation and their relation to the broader extension of ‘the city’, and connects the subject of transport flows to these discourses in urban geography which are focused on relations between layers of the urban realm, and the increasingly vertical and literally three-dimensional aspects of urbanisation. Within this context, the goal of this paper is to widen our imagination of urban geography beyond “the dominance of remarkably flat perspectives about human societies in key academic debates about cities and urban life” (Graham 2016, p. 1), while also re-imagining the urban realm after the ‘death’ of ‘the city’ as the relevant analytic object for urban studies at all (Chaoy, 1994; Wachsmuth, 2014), given the complex and variegated ways that the shape of the urban fabric has expanded beyond through processes of suburbanisation and peri-urbanisation (Dubois-Taine and Chalas, 1997), as well as beyond even the metropolitan scale through high-speed transport and information infrastructures which draw intermediate and distant places into the urban realm (Ascher, 1995), while fragmenting the local urban scale (Graham and Marvin, 2001), perhaps even enabling urbanisation on a “planetary scale” (Brenner, 2014). Findings here demonstrate the central role that transport flows play within the process of urbanisation, continually carving out new, contested and perhaps unexpected spaces of activity and growth, with increasingly complex and contested spatial conflicts arising between static, ground level and high-speed, elevated layers of the urban realm.

4Ultimately, airport expansion and flight path development are another way that the urban fabric is extended from the continuous central city into the periphery, and lends itself to H. Lefebvre’s (2003, p. 14-15) metaphor of the often turbulent ‘explosion’ of the urban realm through the “extension of the urban fabric” through the “projection of numerous, disjunct fragments (peripheries, suburbs, vacation homes, satellite towns) into space”. The paradox of increasing frequency and concentration of aircraft traffic over such generally quieter residential areas exacerbates the problem of aircraft noise – and also confronts our geographical imagination of the “shape of the city” (Sewell, 1993), or more accurately, the shape of contemporary urbanisation. This disrupts our understanding of geography from a “flat”, or horizontal perspective, instead “opening up geographies of the three-dimensional city” (Harris, 2015), and links to the broader transformation and extension of the urban realm.

5At ground level, the fabric of the South East clearly extends far beyond the political borders of the Greater London Area. As P. John et al. (p. 94, 2005) contend, “the economy of London does not operation in isolation from that of the South East, nor does it simply pull in labour from a series of satellite commuter towns. Rather, London can be seen as the metropolitan core of a wider regional economy into which it is functionally but not politically embedded”. These satellite towns form a ‘commuter belt’ of suburban growth, including pockets of discontinuous residential areas that have leap-frogged past the Green Belt, and are complimented by a network of motorways and a commuter rail network (Hall, 1997; Hall 1989; Appert, 2008). Thus, the notion that ‘the city’, the urban realm, or what we mean when we talk about ‘London’ actually ends at the political boundaries of the Greater London Area (the ‘city limits’), the peripheral M25 motorway or even the Green Belt seems increasingly arbitrary. In this sense, transport flows such as flight paths represent yet another form of urbanisation which has ‘exploded’ from its original, in this case ‘horizontal’ form. For example, M. Gandy (2012, p. 132) problematizes our conception of London’s boundaries and questions ‘where the city ends’ with respect to peripheral ‘zones of intensification’ that are drawn into ‘London’ by the extension of its infrastructures such as the new Crossrail commuter train line and resulting commuting patterns. This article views flight paths as comparable to such commuter rail or motorway extensions, essentially tentacles of the urban fabric emerging from airport runways.

Airports, transport flows, and the externalities of connectivity

6Due especially to aircraft noise, large airports remain difficult to integrate within their surroundings. Yet, as urban regions such as London and the South East grow, become denser while also spreading outwards across the urban-region and encircling their airports, the challenge of urban governance here is to somehow balance conflicts between economic imperatives and the logic of greater global connectivity, with local impacts such as aircraft noise pollution. Within their local contexts, both sea ports and airports often exhibit a distinct scalar mismatch between economic benefits that are often distributed nationally, while closer to the airport the effects of noise and other environmental issues are often concentrated in airport-adjacent areas. The externalities of connectivity have a historical precedent in cities such as London, as former centres of empire are fundamentally co-constituted by global economic external relations. H. Boschken (2013, p. 1776) makes the link between today’s global cities, which are also historically significant port cities, and their local environmental footprint, a “high-stakes paradox in sustainability”, between global connectivity, economic development and coastal ecology. While ports connect the urban realm to the sea, and to ports around the world via an invisible, global infrastructure network of shipping lanes (see Peters 2010), airports connect the urban to the global scale via controlled airspace and a network of flight paths inevitably stretching over their respective cities and regions. Trajectories of intensifying global flows, and a concurrently growing city-region under the under this infrastructure present a paradox that has not been resolved by new aircraft technology. Whereas the negative effects of basing trans-oceanic shipping flows within cities may be limited to port-adjacent communities, or environmental degradation below the surface (another three-dimensional realm extension of the urban footprint), flight paths extend far across the city-region.

Photo 1: Looking up from Richmond-upon-Thames, West London (2015)

Photo 1: Looking up from Richmond-upon-Thames, West London (2015)

© Evan McDonough

7Local-transport conflicts such as these seem to draw on dominant, yet unresolved logics of modernity, economic growth and technology, exacerbating this “tension between the concentration and dispersal of flows and their impact on places” (Hesse, 2013, p. 33). According to J.-P. D. Addie (2015, p. 192), the “theoretical and empirical challenge of connectivity” and the study of relations between flows and place “within the complex, contested, and contradictory landscapes of globalizing city-regions” presents an opportunity to study and better understand the complex geography of extended urbanisation patterns and externally-oriented transport flows, and outside of the central city, infrastructure stretching across the three-dimensional geography of urban-regional airspace. The configuration of the proposed third runway’s flight paths is still unknown, but again it is the areas to the east and west of Heathrow, specifically London’s most western Outer Boroughs, and parts of Berkshire and Surrey, that are expected to the most acutely affected, perhaps “an uneasy reminder of the urban in what is supposed to be a tranquil, suburban environment [and] highlighting the extent to which urban and suburban places are constructed through flows” (Cidell, 2015, p. 147).

8The tension between purported these economic benefits and the lived experience beneath this infrastructure reveals a fundamental conflict between scales, places, and material flows, which is perhaps inherent in contemporary globalised urbanisation. Achieving a balance (if possible) between the intensification of such local-global flows and local quality of life presents an on-going challenge for urban governance (Suau, et al., 2011). According to P. Upham, et al. (2003), the total capacity is of an airport is ultimately dependent on three essential elements: “infrastructure capacity”, which depends especially on runway and terminal capacity, as well ground access, “airspace capacity” which relies on air traffic management and navigation systems, and finally, “environmental capacity”, which concerns externalities including local jet fuel emissions and decreased air quality, the airport’s contribution to global climate change, local threats to biodiversity, and the subject of this paper: the governance of the relationship between the airport and the local impact and response to aircraft noise pollution.

9The annoyance and disturbance from the noise pollution emanating from aircraft flows “constitutes a crucial management and political problem” (Bréchet, and Picard, 2010), and remains a persistent spatial conflict despite recent technological improvements such as quieter engines and satellite-directed navigation. The intensification and concentration of aircraft flows within urban environments can indeed have significant impacts on human health. According to the World Health Organization (1999), consistent exposure to aircraft noise has been linked to ranging from annoyance to high stress levels, sleep disturbance and other related health risks, as well as sub-conscious responses such as raised blood pressure. In London and the South East, this issue is of course not limited to the Heathrow’s perimeter fence, but extends across the city-region and beyond.

10Furthermore it is usually the airports that are the most centrally located and easily accessible from the central city which are generally more popular (Map 1, which shows Heathrow’s location in relation to London’s built environment areas of dense population). This paradox has implications for the socio-environmental capacity of the city-region. The main existing externalities of Heathrow and Gatwick, specifically aircraft noise pollution, air pollution, and local traffic congestion have made the airports difficult to integrate with their surroundings, and have a history of putting local and county authorities at odds with the central government and the project of strategic positioning of London and the South East as a globally-oriented economic engine for the United Kingdom on a regional scale (John, et al., 2005).

Airport Expansion And Urbanisation Patterns In London And The South East

11Heathrow is already at full capacity, while Gatwick is also expected to reach capacity in the near future. Heathrow is considered the UK’s ‘global gateway’, and its expansion has been read as an ‘effort to selectively open, connect, and entangle’ places into global flows through the expansion of such ‘infrastructures of empire’ (Cowen, 2017). Heathrow (LHR), Europe’s dominant global hub and the city-region’s only two runway airport, already serves nearly twice as many passengers and aircraft movements per year as London Gatwick Airport (LGW), followed by London Stansted Airport (STN), London Luton Airport (LTN), London City Airport (LCY) and London Southend Airport (SEN) in that order (DfT, 2013, p. 58). Heathrow is also the UK’s most globally connected airport by far, and 84% of long-haul flights from London’s complex airport system originate at the currently capacity-constrained airport (Airports Commission, 2015, p. 58). A central concern of runway expansion has been the large number of residents who would be newly affected by the aircraft noise pollution from new flight paths to a new, third runway in Heathrow, compared to building a second runway at Gatwick, which is beyond the Green Belt in West Sussex (Airports Commission, 2014, p. 28). The tension between national economic benefits from increased aircraft flows on one hand, and the lived experience beneath flight paths to the airports on the other presents a persistent conflict between uses of space arranged above and below each other such as aircraft noise pollution above and residential areas below in West London and the South East.

Map 1: Population density in relation to the commerical airports of London and the South East

Map 1: Population density in relation to the commerical airports of London and the South East

Source: OpenStreetMap; ONS (2015) for population density.

© Evan McDonough

12London Mayor Sadiq Khan opposes the expansion of Heathrow, and supports building a new runway at Gatwick Airport – in West Sussex – instead (BBC News, 2016a). Likewise, his predecessor Boris Johnson advocated for closing Heathrow and replacing it with a mega-airport outside of London in the Thames Estuary, arguing that the expansion of Heathrow “would exacerbate what is already an unacceptable environmental situation” with regards to aircraft noise (Transport for London, 2014, p. 1). Another key issue exacerbating this problem is how noise effects people in quieter, non-central places where there is less ambient noise, such as much of the residential streets of West London, and especially in the “commuter belt” towns beyond the Green Belt. The lived experience of aircraft noise in these otherwise more tranquil, residential areas of the city-region highlights the connection between suburbanisation in particular (and other non-central settlement types within the broader phenomena of urban expansion across the surface of the city-region), and the thickening of airspace infrastructure above.

13The UK Department for Transport (DfT) is tasked with environmental concerns for the designated airports such as Heathrow, regulating capacity issues such as limits to the number night flights, while the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), another central government agency, regulates airspace, and National Air Traffic Services (NATS), a public-private entity, is responsible for air traffic control to most UK airports. The CAA’s key policy concerning aircraft noise pollution is the aim to “limit and, where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by noise” (CAA, 2014, p. 76). In its reports, the CAA continues to emphasise expected “noise improvements arising from normal fleet renewal” (CAA, 2014, p. 29). Meanwhile, Heathrow has recently carried out a slightly steeper final approach trial, and NATS is gradually rolling out a long-term re-design of London and the South East’s complex airspace system, the London Airspace Modernisation Programme, which also includes more concentrated flight paths with the use of new, satellite-based technology, which automatically guides aircraft through very precise, indeed almost identical approaches to or from the runway. This new technology increases efficiency, and is said to create the “potential to tailor arrival and departure routes to avoid more densely populated areas, and therefore reduce the number of people impacted by aircraft noise” (CAA, 2014, p. 46). Although this technology could, in theory, be used to implement a rotating system of equitably distributed flight paths and periods of respite, in practice the dominant trend in the industry and has been to concentrate flight paths and their ‘noise shadows’. While other cities such as Frankfurt have recently banned night flights, in the UK, the DfT’s regulations for Heathrow and Gatwick permit both airports to operate thousands of night flights per year. Heathrow receives most of these in the early morning, on average 16 daily long-distance flights landing before 6AM.

14In fact, although this issue is not specific to London and the South East, many other urban regions, of course, have controversies related to aircraft noise. The CAA (2015b) estimates that 725,000 people already live within Heathrow’s 55-decibel noise contour, more than in any other European airport. Heathrow is located in West London, and both of its runways are oriented east-west. In prevailing westerly winds, as many as 40 aircraft per hour approach Heathrow after lining up at a common “joining point” above East London and continue their descent over central London (International Transport Forum, 2013, p. 24). Additionally, as Heathrow is located directly to the west of central London, and its two runways are oriented east-west, its flight paths inevitably create the “maximum possible noise nuisance over the maximum possible area either on approach or take-off”, since in prevailing westerly winds most flights are directed over the centre of London (Hall and Hall, 2006, p. 2). Noise pollution from Heathrow is indeed a phenomenon that affects much of London and the South East, and can vary depending on the direction of wind (as aircraft will then approach and take-off from the airport different directions and use different flight paths and holding stacks), but it is the area to the east of Heathrow Airport, West London which experience a disproportionate level of aircraft noise in relation to their population density (see Map 1). Likewise, during “easterlies”, all flights take off above West London. Measured quantitatively, noise pollution from Heathrow already affects 60 times as many residents Gatwick, as it is in a much denser area within the political boundaries of the Greater London Area.

Map 2: London Heathrow Airport within its urban context

Map 2: London Heathrow Airport within its urban context

Source: OpenStreetMap; ONS (2015) for population density.

© Evan McDonough

15Although new aircraft are indeed gradually becoming quieter, airspace above is also busier than ever due to the continued growth of air travel, and flight paths towards these airports are also increasingly, deliberately concentrated due to the implementation of new satellite-enabled automatic navigation systems. Concurrently, population density on the ground continues to increase. Not surprisingly, West London has been and remains the heart of opposition to the expansion of Heathrow Airport (see Map 2), and in 2016 the Conservative MP for the Richmond Park constituency even resigned over his Party’s support for expansion (BBC 2016b; Griggs and Howarth, 2013) The CAA’s research has shown that the number of residents affected by aircraft noise from Heathrow Airport would have dropped by 42% between 2006 and 2014 only if the population density within its noise contours had remained static during that time (CAA, 2015a). However, since the late-1980s population density throughout Heathrow’s noise contour has modestly but steadily increased, continuing to rise by an average of 7% in every the London Boroughs within its noise contour (Hounslow, Richmond-upon-Thames, Kingston-upon-Thames, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, and Hillingdon) in the first decade of the 2000s, and by 10% east of Heathrow, outside of the Greater London Area boundary in Slough and Windsor and Maidenhead in Berskhire and Runnymede in Surrey (ONS, 2015). Such concurrent trajectories of airport expansion and “population encroachment” (CAA, 2015a, p. 20) reveal a fundamental paradox between the long-term growth trajectories within the same suburban realm of the growing and outwardly connected global city-region.

16Yet, rationales for the growth in aviation rely on almost futuristic visions, and essentially employing the idea of the technological fix, the confident assumption that “it is merely a matter of finding the right technologies” (Harvey, 1996, p. 59) to reconcile problems such as persistent noise pollution from hub airports and their busy flight paths. In the meantime, consistent and repetitive aircraft noise remains an unresolved problem for urban governance, and policy-makers within the central government. The debate in recent years over how and where to increase airport capacity is in fact part of a “50-year saga of indecision” (Gordon, 2016, p. 46) and incremental approach to expansion that has been out-paced by the increase in demand for the airports serving London and the South East. At various times decisions were made to build a new hub airport for London in Buckinghamshire, and in the Thames Estuary, but in the end no full-length runways were built anywhere in the South East during this period (Hall, 1980, p. 15-55; Griggs and Howarth, 2013, p. 79-125). A Labour government had decided in 2009 to build a third runway at Heathrow in a similar configuration to that which is currently proposed, although that plan was cancelled by the incoming Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2011.

17Instead, the UK Airports Commission was created in 2012, which claimed to study the issue and “balance local considerations with national interest” (Airports Commission, 2013, p. 8). The Commission’s direction from the central government had been “to find an effective and deliverable solution, and to make recommendations which will allow the UK to maintain its position as Europe’s most important aviation hub”. The Airports Commission’s reports outlined that at least one new runway would be needed somewhere in the South East by 2030 in order to deliver “significantly enhanced connectivity and substantial long-term economic and strategic benefits for the UK as a whole” (2015, p. 11). While we know exactly where the third runway will be built, as of early-2017 the flight paths for Heathrow’s proposed third runway have not been made public. We do know that if the new runway is built, inevitably more sky will be re-imagined as ‘controlled airspace’, and new areas of London and the South East will inevitably be under these new flight paths. The Airports Commission’s non-binding Final Report (2015) recommended expansion at Heathrow (instead of Gatwick or any other location in the South East), and proposed a series of recommendations specifically aimed at addressing noise pollution.

18On 25 October 2016 the central government announced its support for the expansion of Heathrow Airport after all (DfT, 2016), with consultations expected to begin in 2017. Among the Airports Commission’s recommendations which were included in the decision are six-and-a-half hour ban on scheduled night flights, which, in combination with on-going airspace modernisation developments and expected technological advancements to new aircraft technology, allowed the DfT to support the Airport Commission’s claim that “even with the extra flights added by the airport’s expansion fewer people would be affected by noise from Heathrow by 2030 than are today”, while “expanding Heathrow will better connect the UK to long haul destinations in growing world markets, boosting trade and creating jobs” (DfT, 2016). The new runway will require Parliamentary approval, a vote which may take place in 2020.


19Not unlike skyscrapers, runways and flight paths are yet another way that that the realms of urban airspace and the build environment below are deeply entangled with each other within the broader process of globalised urbanisation and the shape of the contemporary city-region. This paper has explored the use of airspace and three-dimensional ‘noise shadows’ as part of the urbanisation process, connecting aircraft noise to complex urbanisation patterns below the flight paths in London and the South East, and has interpreted urban flight paths as a contested vertical form of the extension of the urban fabric. In this case, the development and expansion of aviation infrastructure is comparable to the both peri-urbanisation and the planning and governance of high-rise towers, in that the vertical dimension highlights the increasingly densely layered urban fabric and spatial conflicts and power relations between ground level urbanism and new uses of space above. This creates a distinctly ‘three-dimensional’ geographical phenomenon and a reflection of the complexity and of globalised urbanisation in large city-regions such as London and the South East.

20The struggle for increasing global connectivity, flight paths, the resulting ‘noise shadows’, and the tumultuous extension of the urban fabric through transport flows are likely to remain a persistent challenge for urban governance. London’s airport controversy demonstrates the complex role of transport flows within a process of urbanisation, which continually carves out new, sometimes unexpected spaces for activity and growth. Airport expansion and the intensification of the spatial mismatch seem to be a fundamental element ‘the urban’ in global city-regions, revealing the changing – increasingly vertical – shape the urban fabric of London and the South East.

21In practice, the negotiation of these three-dimensional spatial relations, such as trajectories of urbanisation in London and the South East and the governance of airspace, remain a pressing problem for governance at the local and national scale. The intensification of traffic through urban flight paths exemplifies the perpetuation of unresolved urban struggles with technology, flows within the urban realm. Recalling the urban “tabula rasa upon which new districts of high-rise blocks were envisioned in central Paris (Parker, 2005, p. 61), or the ‘meat axe’ with which modernist planners such as Robert Moses would carve out inner city expressways from densely populated areas in order to facilitate transport flows (Berman, 1982, p. 294), perhaps the decision to expand such an airport, within London’s built-up area is, on some level, based on imagining urban airspace with similar ‘blank slate’ rationale, empty space removed from urban fabric below, ready to be managed and re-purposed as ‘airspace’. The unresolved problem of aircraft noise highlights a distinct “vertical blindspot” (Harris, 2015, p. 602) with regards to the governance of the relationship between vertical infrastructure – flight paths projected through the upper layer of the urban realm – and the lived experience in the residential areas on the surface of the earth below.

22Population growth continues outside of central London and across the South East, ‘encroaching’ on the airports, the spatial mismatch inherent in airport hubs exacerbates the conflicting trajectories of residential growth in relation to airport expansion. The spatial relations here, between transport flows, the rationale of economic and global connectivity, and in particular, airport expansion and flight paths, have been shown to continually produce new, perhaps unexpected, and often contested spaces of activity and spatial conflicts. The inability of the central government over the past 50 years to actualise a politically-deliverable, long-term solution for the demand for a hub airport in London and the South East is not only a reflection of the politically-toxic issue of aircraft noise and other airport-related externalities, but also demonstrates the inherent difficulty in integrating large-scale ‘vertical’ airspace activity and long-term ground level urbanisation without a governance structure and approach that demonstrates a greater understanding of the persistent conflicts between these two layers of the urban fabric, that ultimately reveal how transport flows are fundamentally constitutive of urbanisation in global city-regions.

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1 La Ville Verticale – Explorer et Penser la Dimension Verticale de l’Urbanisation dans le contexte de Mondialisation et de Changement Climatique, international conference held by Manuel Appert at the Université Lyon 2 in Lyon, 25-27 November 2015.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 1: Looking up from Richmond-upon-Thames, West London (2015)
Crédits © Evan McDonough
Fichier image/png, 237k
Titre Map 1: Population density in relation to the commerical airports of London and the South East
Légende Source: OpenStreetMap; ONS (2015) for population density.
Crédits © Evan McDonough
Fichier image/png, 705k
Titre Map 2: London Heathrow Airport within its urban context
Légende Source: OpenStreetMap; ONS (2015) for population density.
Crédits © Evan McDonough
Fichier image/png, 240k
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Evan McDonough, « Flight paths as layers of the urban fabric: transport flows, connectivity and the contested urbanisation of airspace above London and the South East  », Géocarrefour [En ligne], 91/2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 mars 2017, consulté le 21 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Evan McDonough

PhD Candidate Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning University of Luxembourg Maison des Sciences Humaines 11, Porte des Sciences Esch-Belval, L-4366 Luxembourg Tel: +352 / 46 66 44 9716

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