From the ground up: conceptualizing the space of Los Angeles commercial aeromobility

Edlins, Geoffrey
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University of Delaware
Despite the capacity of air travel to radically transform life on the ground, aerial space is seldom considered a site whose constitutive practices, technologies, and physical forces have indeed reconfigured social, political, economic, and spatial relations--both within and between terrestrial city-regions. This dissertation integrates aeromobility and atmospheric space within a relational mode of urban analysis. It analyzes the processually-unfolding atmospheres of Los Angeles city-regional air passenger traffic. To do this, it first considers the spatial development of the Los Angeles city-regional airport system as a functional assemblage within nested, overlapping, and aerial-enabled relationships among city-regional infrastructures and institutions. It traces the production of urban forms and processes most directly related with the commercial airline activity centered on LAX and neighboring airports, which relationally configure the Los Angeles city-region, both within and throughout global air traffic networks. This analysis finds, among other things, that LAX has undergone a shift towards transpacific linkages. Future growth in these markets suggests the airport must accommodate larger aircraft and more intensive passenger flows. The project then describes how one protracted struggle over the reuse by Orange County of a decommissioned military air base can help us understand more fully that aerial spatial production is informed not only by political or economic interests, including demands for more a more even distribution of intensifying LAX air traffic throughout LA city-regional facilities, either operational or dormant. The project finds that, despite these regional demands, aerial spatial production becomes constrained and enabled to certain degrees by the materiality of air and air travel, including the topographical context of existing airport sites, the configuration and condition of runways, prevailing wind or weather patterns, the presence of aerial flows involving nearby airports, and the physical laws governing flight itself. Within this discussion, the dissertation considers some of the major institutional practices and arrangements that have assembled the Los Angeles city-regional airport system as a site of intersection between networked infrastructures and a territorial palimpsest. The analysis suggests that forms of political resistance to airport expansion and construction--which often appeal to improving how airport neighbors dwell-on-the-earth --can become strengthened by integrating appeals to improving how passengers and pilots dwell-in-the-air. The research contributes to an understanding of urban space and governance, particularly of how aerial-related institutions and actors constitute the city both as territorially-bounded node and relationally-articulated network.