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First World Economy, Third World Infrastructure a.k.a Airport Envy

Major cities everywhere are in competition for talent, for capital, for intellectual heft and cultural distinction. The winners will host global business giants and anchor world-leading economic and technological clusters. They will generate the buzz (and tax dollars) that creates and burnishes a reputation as ‘world class’. The frenzied competition to be selected as home of Amazon’s second headquarters is but a taste of the future. As the global trend towards urbanization continues this inter-city competition has moved beyond the traditional trio of New York, Tokyo or London and increasingly includes metropolises ranging from Seoul to Shanghai and Bangalore to Bangkok.

One area cities compete to differentiate themselves is the quality of their infrastructure, whether planned or developing organically. First impressions are important to establishing a country’s image and for most tourists, business executives or political leaders that usually starts at an airport. Consider Munich Airport (stylish, efficient), London Heathrow (overstretched,a little haphazard) or Haneda Tokyo (spotless, superlative service). In Canada, airports in major cities (possible exception of Vancouver) reflect Canada’s public infrastructure in general – unimaginative, indifferently planned and managed, and with so many stakeholders that nobody is really held responsible for building costs/delays, service quality, or integration into a larger plan.

In 2017, Skytrax ranked Toronto Pearson 43rd in the world, ahead of JFK New York (63rd) but far behind ambitious cities like Seoul (Inchon at 3rd) or Shanghai (Hongquiao at 18th). To see what a gateway airport could be, see the attached overview of Changi Singapore airport, based in a city with about the same population as the Greater Toronto Area and frequently rated best in the world. Look, then ask yourself what image Canadian airports are reflecting.

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