Great cities show civic generosity and this in turn affects citizens who want to give back as they then take pride in where they live. This becomes apparent at first sight. Indeed first impressions of a city count as they are also our last. Airports as arrival and departure points play a key role. Take Bristol – it has been thinking about its connectivity. But what a disappointment the airport is. And remember that Bristol is one Britain’s great cities and its new mayor George Ferguson has brought in a breath of fresh air. One of his first acts was to rename its main administration building ‘City Hall’ to indicate it is the peoples’ building from ‘The Council House’ which indicates it belonged to the councillors and officials.
Bristol airport exudes meanness in every step you take. The airport is not owned by the city anymore, which would have been concerned with projecting a sense civic spirit, verve and style. It is owned by Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund (MEIF) and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.
You arrive by car and there is a minimum drop-off fee of £1 (and if you are picking someone up and the flight is delayed it could be £12). You go into the arrivals area and want to weigh your luggage, the machine says ‘one weigh, £1’, you have forgotten your plastic bag to put in your toiletries another £1 for a horrible plastic ball containing the bag (real production cost probably 1 pence). Normally airports hand these out for free. Into the departure area and you want to charge your phone another £1. Want some wifi access, of course it is not free.
You cannot get to the departure area directly, instead you are bombarded and overwhelmed by offers to buy as you go through an obstacle course of perfumes and alcohol. You arrive at the cramped public space to wait for your flight. Barely one free seat to sit in. You can, of course, sit somewhere if you make a purchase.
The meanness continues inexorably into the new extension. Everything is down to a price rather than up to a standard; cheap, shoddy materials that will not last the test of time. An endlessly long snaky walkway (430 metres long to get to gate 16 and no moving walkway and no seats for the infirm); too mean to spend the extra money. Down into the staircases to board the plane and the departure points are too small. So passengers cramp up into the narrow, gloomy stairwells with no windows. Too mean to bring in a bit of light.
This is capitalism at its worst. Nothing is free and every move you make has to paid for. A sad story and a sad place.