Is King Shaka International Airport (KISA) an engine of economic growth or a neoliberal project serving to benefit a select, affluent minority? This highly topical question earned Ms Meghan Crosby a Master of Science degree (Geography and Environmental Management) cum laude.

Crosby’s dissertation titled, “Airports as engines of growth? A critical evaluation of the King Shaka International Airport and Aerotropolis”, , looked at air travel as the fastest growing means of transportation which is one of the primary contributors to the globalisation of cities.

Her study, which she completed in the space of a year, focused on the newly opened King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) situated near Durban which was planned and designed to be the centre of Africa’s first purpose-built aerotropolis (airport-centred city).

While the development of KSIA is expected to promote economic growth in the area north of Durban and subsequently promote the city as a primary South African destination, Crosby’s study found that airport-centred development is elitist, especially in developing countries like South Africa with high levels of inequality and that the KSIA aerotropolis is a neoliberal project serving to benefit a select, affluent minority. It is also suggested that due to high levels of aviation competition, the distance between the airport and the city, and the low level of demand in Durban, the huge concentration of public funds into this project may not have been justifiable.

Crosby was supervised by Professor Brij Maharaj, a B-rated National Research Foundation (NRF) researcher who has received widespread recognition for his research on urban politics, segregation, local economic development, migration and diasporas, religion and development.

Maharaj described Crosby as ‘an outstanding and distinguished student who continues to grow, mature and excel in all her academic activities, inside and outside the University. She always aims to give of her best, and will settle for nothing less. She has an impressive academic record and is especially passionate about environmental issues. She has excelled academically in the lecture hall, but has also demonstrated an ability to go beyond the ivory tower, engaging in community outreach programmes at several levels.’

Crosby presented a paper at the International Conference on Development-Induced Displacement at the University of Oxford and will be presenting a paper at the International IGU Urban Conference in July 2013.

Crosby said she is working on two papers that will be sent to international journals for publication. ‘I was extremely dedicated and passionate about successfully completing the Masters degree. This would not have been possible without the dedication of my supervisor and his extensive knowledge in the field of urban development. Professor Maharaj inspired me to grow my own intellectual thought and has always motivated me to achieve my goals,’ she said.

Crosby is currently assisting with some part-time lecturing and is in the process of registering for her PhD at UKZN.  ‘I want to thank the NRF for funding my studies. On a personal note, I am happy after my engagement and looking forward to a bright future, both at a personal and professional level’, she said.

author email : Rajpall@ukzn.ac.za