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Make room for the Aerotropolis: Drexel's Mobilities in Motion conference explores 'logistics' cities

Mobility. The word conjures up a multitude of meanings. The ability to move. Mobile devices. Passing through physical and virtual space. Remaining motionless. Social networks and location based apps. Handicapped access. Planes, trains, automobiles, and skateboards.
Drexel's Center for Mobilities Research and Policy, or mCenter, headed up by sociology professor Mimi Sheller, offers a new way to group ideas not previously considered connected under one umbrella. The mCenter is the first in the United States to study mobilities, drawing on the many disciplines of arts, design, social sciences, engineering, computer science, business, law, media, environmental studies and public health.

Tasked with studying movement as a social science, the one year old mCenter drew an international crowd to its conference, Mobilities in Motion: New Approaches to Emergent and Future Mobilities. Held March 21-23, presenters considered scales of mobility, migration, borders, mobile phones, and all kinds of ways to get around, from the skateboard as urban transportation, to air travel, to creating an avatar and traversing virtual environments. Participants from a dozen countries, including France, Japan, the UK, and Brazil, as well as from more local addresses in the United States, spoke on emerging concerns like surveillance and privacy, the continually accelerating cycle of mobile device obsolescence, ethics and social rights, borders, sustainability and more.

Sheller, who is also co-editor of the international journal Mobilities, said, "The event has been incredibly successful, even beyond my expectations. We had excellent keynote presentations and very high quality papers in all of the sessions. People felt a real sense of dynamic interaction and stimulating dialogue across different disciplines and research approaches."

One highlight was keynote speaker Rina Cutler, Philadelphia's Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities, "who gave an incredibly lively and entertaining talk about major infrastructure projects in the city, including her plans for developing an 'aerotropolis' at Philadelphia Airport." The idea that an airport can become a major urban hub, sometimes extending to a radius of up to 60 miles, was coined by professor John Kasarda (not in attendance), whose new book, Aerotropolis, The Way We'll Live Next, describes the next phase of globalization. With the rapid rise of logistics, global business networks, overnight shipping and increased travel, the new metropolis will have a massive airport at its center, with the city designed around it. Kasarda writes that logistics cities are now growing in Seoul, Amsterdam, Dallas and Washington, DC.

Sheller said participants, who included many PhD students as well as professors, were treated to presentations by artists and went on walking tours and as well as a mural tour. Aharon Kellerman, professor emeritus at Haifa University, remarked, "The most striking dimension of the conference was the young age of most of the participants. This is an encouraging trend by itself, notably in North America."

Source: Mimi Sheller, mCenter
Writer: Sue Spolan

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