The Italian case: Genoa

The Italian case: Genoa

Genoa, a maritime power

The city of Genoa is the capital of the Liguria region, in the north-west of Italy. Is part of the most industrial area of the country, historically formed by the triangle between Milan, Turin and itself. It has a population of almost 600 000 inhabitants in the city limits and of over 1,5 million in the metropolitan area. The region has the typical north Mediterranean topography, with mountains with peaks form 600 to 1000 meters high near or directly by the coast. This context has been at the same time an advantage and a problem for the urban settlements and ports. The coastline creates natural ports and the deep water allows easy access for the modern ships, but at the same time the fact that the terrain is so complex complicates the creation of large flat surfaces for major infrastructure such as ports and airports.

View of Genoa Source:
View of Genoa

The origin of the city goes back to the pre-romans time. The existing settlement in the “Castello” hill had the conditions to work as an Emporium for commerce in the route to Marseille. As it happens with many other Mediterranean cities is possible that the Greeks arrived and related with the locals Ligurians to give birth to the new city. During the roman times the town was not a very important center of power and was able to keep a certain independence. After the fall of the Roman Empire we could see how the city continues to grow and benefits from the development of the Lombard hinterland. Only in the XIth century would the city become a proper commune.

During the Middle Ages, Genoa would become one of the main maritime republics in the Mediterranean region. In this period it would play an important role in the crusades on both ends of the sea, the Middle East and the Iberian Pensinsula, its galley fleet would gain fame for its capacities in the sea battles. In the XVIth Century the city would create, after a period of French control, a long standing relation with the Spanish kingdom. This political change was defended by one of the main figures of its history, Andrea Doria. This alliance was not just a political move, but mainly an economic strategy. The local bankers would be the ones who most benefit from this move, by lending money to Spain and receiving later a considerable amount of the gold coming from South America. The new association would mean a change in its development model, more focus in financing foreign states than in the maritime traffic and commerce.

View of Genoa in 1597 by Christoforo de Grossi Source:
View of Genoa in 1597 by Christoforo de Grossi

Later on, during the XVIIth century, the city would suffer a severe epidemic of the plague, second time in its history after the XIVth Century. In terms of politics it would be affected by the Spanish crisis and would end the century again under French domination from the King Louis XIV. In order to control Genoa, would attack it from the sea in 1684, what it would be the first naval bombing of a city in history. During this century we could see the creation of the free port and the new dike in order to improve its commercial conditions. In the next century it would definitely lose its overseas territories, like Corsica to France in the treaty of Versailles. It would be later controlled by the Austria and again would rebel against the foreign invader.

MAP of Genoa in 1766 Source:
MAP of Genoa in 1766 by Giovanni Lorenzo Guidotti Source:

Only during the industrial revolution would Genoa recover its glory days as an important economic, logistic and industrial center. It would see the creation of several big companies mainly related with steel plants. During the WWII the city suffered severe punishment due to its seaport conditions. The focus of the bombings was the port infrastructure, although also the urban tissue suffered considerable destruction. After the war it was an important core for the “Italian economic miracle” and formed, alongside with Milan and Turin, the industrial triangle of the north of Italy. During the second half of the XXtth century the city suffered several crisis that reduced its industry and limited the port as a logistic center with less associated industry than before.

Along its history the city has been involved in many conflicts, whether with the neighbors, like Pisa or Savona, or with sea rivals like Venice. Also, inside the city itself, we would see little peace. It has suffered constant tension from the first Commune years to the G8 summit in 2001, including civil wars, resistance to foreign domination or class struggle.

The port of Genoa

The port of Genoa is one of the biggest in the Mediterranean Sea. In the Euromed region we find several harbours that compete against each other for similar markets and hinterlands. Marseille, which we saw in the previous post, could be considered the main rival of Genoa for the port activity. Both harbours have large container terminals, important shipyards and are cruise destination. In this last sector, very important in the region, we also find Barcelona or other Ligurian ports like Savona.

There are several similarities to the case of Marseille in terms of the physical evolution of the port. As we have seen, the origin of the port was near the historical city center. During the industrial revolution and motivated by the growth of the factories in the region the port needed to be expanded, starting a similar process to the previous analyzed case. From the original location the growth evolved towards the territory with the most favorable conditions, the west, where before the port expansion we could see beaches that the locals would usufruct. The first expansion took place near La Lanterna, the historical light house from the XIIth century. Gradually it took more territory, including the coast of San Pier d´Arena.

The case of Genoa has the particularity of including the airport inside the port perimeter. The presence of this infrastructure is a considerable limitation for the port activities next to it. The last expansion phase of the port took place in the area of Voltri, in the 1980´s, with one the main container terminals. The majority of the port territories are landfills since, as said before, the availability of flat land is very limited. To the east side of Porto Antico we also find port areas, but of smaller scale when compared to the other direction. In this territories we can mainly find repairing shipyards and marinas with the historical Yacht club.

In the year 2014 the port of Genoa registered record figures.  In total it had a general throughput of 52 mill tons. From these figure approx. 30 mill was general cargo, including 21,5 mill in container traffic. In Genoa the oil sector is also relevant: in 2014 it was around 16 mill tons. In the same year it counted almost 2,2 mill TEU, with an increment of 9,3% to the previous year. Besides cargo, the passenger traffic is also an important sector in this port. Ferries and cruise combined moved over 2,7 mill persons, 1,9 mill and 800 000 respectively. This numbers, although impressive when compared with other ports, might be a matter of concern for the port, since the cruise traffic went down 21,5% when compared to the previous year. This drop might probably be related with the fact that Costa Crociere, one of the main actors in the sector, decided in 2014 to change Genoa for Savona. This issue is more concerning to the city than the port itself since, as it is well known, the port does not get so much revenue from the cruise traffic.

View of the port from La Lanterna Source:
View of the port from La Lanterna

In terms of employment the port is still a significant entity in the city. We could only find data from some years ago, 2010 and 2011. Since the traffic has not changed significantly during these years we can assume they probably still are near the real current figures. The direct employment in the port is estimated in 4700 jobs, and indirect of 26 300, including activities very related with the port such as the shipyards. In total we account 31 000 jobs without considering the induced employment, activities not related with the port but that benefit from the port activities and jobs.

An interesting point of the port development is the new port plan (PRP) currently in approval phase. The main characteristic of this new document, in terms of port territory, if the fact that no expansion outside the current boundaries is planned and the expected growth will take place within the existing area, mainly by improving the efficiency of the existing land and new landfills in several quays, mainly the ones placed in San Pier d´Arena. This plan and the consequences for the relation with the city will be analyzed in the next post.

The waterfront

The first important interventions in the Genoese waterfront took place for the 1992 World Exhibition, celebrating the 500 years of the discovery of America by Columbus (allegedly Genovese, but its nationality is always a subject of controversy). The plan for the waterfront regeneration was made by Genoa´s most famous contemporary architect, Renzo Piano.

The project was developed in the “Porto Antico” (old port) area, a territory the port could no longer use, including old warehouses and cranes that later would become elements of industrial heritage. The project could be considered a success since it gave to the city a much needed public space and access to the water. In terms of program the focus of the project as putted in services and leisure activities. A new congress center was created in the magazzini del cottone, with several spaces for cultural activities, including a museum and a library. Another one of the main elements of the project was the new aquarium, the biggest one in Italy and an important tourist attraction. This new building, developed by the water was also a project from Renzo Piano, along with the congress center and other buildings. In the water plane a new marina was developed, where nowadays we might find some of the most luxurious yachts. For the management of these new spaces a new semi-private society was created named Porto Antico. In this new body the port, the city and private investors are present.

View of Porto Antigo Source:
View of Porto Antigo

Later on, in 2000´s, we could see more projects focused on improving the area and expanding the public space in the waterfront. These new development were related with the so called, big events policy. Two main venues took place in Genoa within a short distance in time: in 2001 the G8 meeting took place in the city and in 2004 the city was the European capital of culture. In the waterfront the public area was expanded towards the west, the Galata sea museum was built, and also new hotel and housing by the sea. In the city center we also saw several improvement, particularly the rehabilitation of several “palazzi”. In 2006 some areas of the city center were considered world heritage by the UNESCO.

During the last 15 years we have also seen some unrealized ambitions that could have improved even more the existing waterfront. Two main projects stand out, the new Ponte Parodi cruise terminal and the Silo Hennebique. The first one should have been a key infrastructure for both, the city and the port. It was a very ambitious project by the Dutch office UNstudio led Ben Van Berkel. It included the creation of a new mall and elevated public spaces, besides the cruise terminal program. The second mentioned project is the rehabilitation of an industrial building of considerable proportions. One of the challenge of this building was to find the appropriate functions for it. For a long period it was discussed if it should host several public offices. Since the project has not been developed the building remains abandoned.

Renzo Piano has played an important role in the relation between the port and the city for the last 25 years. His ascendant over the issue is a particularity of this case. In no other port-city has one single architect played such an important role. Besides the Porto Antico development and other relevant architectural projects, his office has also produced several plans for the urban waterfront, including the active port, not just the dismissed areas. The plans have been named “the Affresco”, designed in 2004, and more recently the “Blueprint”. In both we find ideas that have inspired the future port plan. His figure and impact will be analyzed in further detail in the next post as also both mentioned plans.

Affresco plan from Renzo Piano Source:
Affresco plan from Renzo Piano




The Marseille Experience

The Marseille Experience

During the last two weeks we stayed in Marseille. We were able to get to know the second city of France and analyze the port-city relation. Although in terms of national importance the hegemony of Paris is undisputed, Marseille has developed along the centuries a strong identity. Nowadays aims to become the symbolical European capital of the Mediterranean Sea, a title to discuss with other port-cities, such as Genova, Valencia and mainly Barcelona. When we talk about this French city we must always have in mind the considerable dimensions of it, is the second city of France by extension and it plays an important role for the regional and national economy.

For the analysis of the city we worked following the same approach like in previous cases. We were able to visit the historic center, were the city has its roots as port-city, the expansion areas and the port territories, both in Marseille and Fos. As we mentioned in the last post, the port was the reason why this city was created, it has clearly influenced the evolution of the urban core and it has played a major role in its history. During our stay we were able to see several cultural institutions in charge of divulging the identity of the city. For example we can find the Museum of the roman docks or the Museum of the history of Marseille, where the evolution of the city is explained, from the Greek roots of Massalia to the XXth century. In its collection we can identify the role the port has played and how in some cases it has conditioned the urban development. Another relevant museum is the recently open MUCEM museum of the European and Mediterranean civilizations. This institution is very relevant for our research since is placed in what it used to be J4 area, a former port territory that was freed up during the Euroméditerranée operation. Finally we can also visit the Musée de la Marine et de l’Économie, where we will find a collection of maritime artifacts and ship models. This museum is placed in the Palais de la Bourse, where the chamber of commerce is based.

Vieux port, the original location of the port before the industrial expansion in the XIXth Century. Nowadays a marina of considerable size and one of the main tourist attractions. Author: José M P Sánchez
Vieux port, the original location of the port before the industrial expansion in the XIXth Century. Nowadays a marina of considerable size and one of the main tourist attractions.
Author: José M P Sánchez


For the development of the research was important to meet with the local stakeholders, in this case we met with Mr. Alexandre Sorrentino (AS), Director of Strategic Foresight and International Relations of Euroméditerranée. We also were able to speak with the persons in charge for the port-city relation of the Grand Port Maritime du Marseille (GPMM), more specifically with Ms. Régine Vinson (RV), Head of the City-Port Department and with Ms. Claire Hallé (CH), responsible for the partnerships and synergies of the same department.

We also tried to speak with the Agam (Agence d´urbanisme de l´agglomération Marseillese) but unfortunately we received no answer to our contacts.

The relation between the city and the port


In the case of Marseille the port still is a strong identity element, both in the urban structure and the collective memory. When we walk around the city we perceive the presence of the port, mainly in the older areas or near the cost. The influence that the maritime activities had in the formation of the city is clear. Many of the neighborhoods we find along the coast, that now are included in Marseille, used to be fisherman villages. In the city center one of the main leisure area is the Vieux-Port were the people meet and we find several restaurants and bars. Although this is clearly one of the main tourist attractions still is one of the main meeting points. At the same time many important landmarks, like the fortresses, are placed in the coast. What once used to be the city´s defense structures are now places to visit and to enjoy the view of the sea and the port.

In general terms the locals acknowledge the port as an important feature for their identity. In many families the previous generations were somehow connected to the port, when it used to employ hundreds of thousands instead of the 40 000 today (still though a considerable figure for the region). However most inhabitants have a bucolic image from the port, as it happens in other port cities. As RV mentioned, currently the majority of the locals do not know exactly how the ports works and the romantic view remains in the collective mind. At the same time the people demands more and better access to the water. Even if the current situation is better than previously, is not easy to cope with a closed area by the water. For this reason, among others, the public image of the port has been affected. If we consider that the jobs in the port decreased and that the majority of the port activities take place out of sight, we might understand that is difficult for the people to relate with the port.

Marseille is particular in this aspect since the relation of its inhabitant with the port might vary depending on the area of the city we study. The majority might have the watered image we described, but we can also find people, mainly in the north part of the city, that have a stronger opposition to the port. There are two main reasons for this difficult relation: (i)the fact that the port developed where several popular beaches were and(ii) that is in this area where we can find the majority industrial activities in port territories. Some of the local elderly people remember the previous state of the coast, before the port expanded its east basin. This clearly has an impact in the way they perceive the port, especially for the ones whose job or pension does not depend on the harbour activities. The second reason is probably the one that might harm the port image in the future the most, since the port location will not change. The recent Port-City charter, that manifests the institutional acceptation of the port in the urban core, says that this area will remain as the industrial core of the east basin. Therefore the focus will have to be putted in other soft strategies to find a way to improve the relation.

antes y despues
Coastline evolution.: beginning of the XIXth Century vs send of the XXth.

Finally we have to understand that the port of Marseille, as mentioned in the previous post, has two main locations, in Marseille and Fos. This two areas have very different characteristics regarding their activities, their scale and the way they relate with the territory and the local populations. We focused in the city area, the east basin, since the main focus of the research is the port-city relation and is also where we can find the most interesting challenges and the new strategies. However, the fact that the port is placed in two different areas and that in Fos, where approx. 95% of the port territory is, the expansion is apparently easier than in the urban tissue of Marseille, has given arguments to the port critics. They mention that the port could expand in Fos and disappear from Marseille. This reasoning clearly does not consider the characteristics of the port activities and the consequences it could have in terms of employment and urban development.


In order to better understand the relation we must first explain that the port of Marseille is different from the cases explained previously. In the European context we can find two main types of national organization regarding some major infrastructure like ports, centralized and decentralized. The ports we have analyzed so far were mainly city owned or the city had the leading role, mainly as shareholder in case it is an independent corporation. We could see this in ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg or Helsinki. This sort of state model is more common in the north/central European countries. In the southern countries we find a centralized model, where a state authority is responsible for the organization and control of the Seaports. This organization is more common in France, Portugal, Italy or Spain. In the current case we see that until very recently all ports remained under state control. This situation changed in 2008 and only the main ports considered of national importance remained under state control, changing their name to Grand Port Maritime, like Le Havre or Marseille. This change also meant the port evolved to more than the managing institutions; they changed to be the effective owners of the port territory. The port authorities gained a certain independence although always under the state control.

The different approaches regarding the national organization has, in many cases, conditioned the institutional relation between city and port authorities. When we spoke with the representative from the GPMM they told us that one of the difficulties they found was that the Municipality still sees often the port as something external to the city, a body that does not belong to them. This issue might possibly limit the city-port synergies that could be developed.

Regarding the institutional relation is also important to understand how the GPMM is managed. The port has two boards: the supervisory board and the development board. Both council are important for the port functioning but is the supervisory board the one that has decision making capacities. As we have said before the state is the main player in the GPMM, it has 5 out of 17 representatives in the main board. Besides the central government also the representatives from other territorial divisions, regional and municipal scales, have a sit in the board. Finally also the unions and several professionals with know-how relevant for the port are represented. Besides the boards there is also a managing team in charge of the operational duties in the port. The complexity of the port happens also in the territorial level in which it has to relate with up to nine groups of municipalities, each one demanding presence in the boards and looking out for its own interests. This universe of stakeholders and different bodies hinders a possible fluid relation with the different municipalities and at the same time adds complexity to the negotiation process and strategic vision. When we speak about major infrastructure a general vision is needed, the coordination between short term and long term strategies is crucial as it is that every player in the different level understands its role in the development process. In January 2016 another institution, the Métropole de d’Aix-Marseille-Provencewill start working to rule the Aix-Marseille metropolis in several topics.This new organization might give the GPMM the opportunity to discuss to on a larger territorial scale. The development of the port will be one of the arguments to study by the new institution, but the port governance will remain with the current management model, led by the state. In the near future we shall see if this new organization can improve the coordination or if it will add confusion to the current situation.

When we study major ports that affect a large territory, as is the case of the GPMM , we might have to choose to focus the analysis in one of the several concerned cities. In this case the obvious choice was Marseille. The port also has to prioritize the municipalities that are more relevant for its operation. Marseille and Fos are obviously the ones the port has to related more. Regarding the institutional relation between the city and the port in the case of Marseille, we can say that in last 20 years there has been a considerable evolution. All the interviewees agreed that since 1995 the relation has changed but also that there is space for improvement. We can identify two main stepping stones in this process, the Euroméditerranée plan and the City-Port Charter.

Marseille and GPMM East basin before the Euroméditerranée Source: Euroméditerranée presentation
Marseille and GPMM East basin before the Euroméditerranée
Source: Euroméditerranée presentation

Both elements here mentioned will later be described in further detail. It is important to realize that the Euroméditerranée operation is an ongoing process since 1995 that created a framework for the second element, the City-Port Charter. The main characteristic of both is the cooperation between several institutions with different priorities and goals, in some cases almost incompatible from an initial point of view. It is also important to notice that a certain pressure from the state was needed in order to impulse the project that later on would create the context for the charter.


Marseille was at the beginning of the 1990´s a city with many problems. The traditional port related industries had suffered with the several crisis of the second half of the XXth century and the shipyards were struggling with the competition of the eastern rivals. The typical industries of the region no longer were providing the jobs they used to and the unemployment rate was particularly high when compared with other French cities. At the same time the investment in the city was decreasing what gave as result a degraded urban environment. The city gained fame for being unsafe and the population was decreasing. One of the main issues was also the fact that the development model of the city was not updated to cope with the change in the industry. The education rates, regarding professionals with higher studies, was poor when compared with other French cities (still is nowadays). There were no real alternatives to the industry that used to be there. This issue can also be observed in other port-cites, in which the port was the job creator. When the crisis hits these cities the adaptation period is critical and very often the port workers, who have work in the port for generations, are the first victims. For centuries the work in the port did not required any sort of high-education. This meant they were particularly exposed to the shifts in the economic situation. Nowadays the reality has changed and more often the ports need qualified staff, which is sometimes hard to find.

We have to consider that for a country the size of France it can be very problematic to have its second urban agglomeration in a precarious state. It’s the first port of the nation and it should work as counterpart to balance the territorial development outside Paris.

The state, along with the municipality, decided to stablish a plan to reactivate the city. The strategy was focused on the urban redevelopment of specific areas near the city center and the waterfront. The operation was named Euroméditerranée, somehow expressing the subjective goal of redeveloping the city into a symbolic capital of the Euromed region. The project was considered an operation of national interest and a specific urban planning agency was established. The goals were mainly three: (i) to lead an urban renewal operation with an initial public investment and a clear strategy;(ii) to transform the public lead into a real estate and economic development, working with the private investors but under the rules established by the public organization and, finally, (iii) to improve the international image of the city, that had been seriously affected in the previous decades.

The organization, established in 1995, was led by the state but also included the city of Marseille, the Urban Community, the County Council and the Regional Council. Besides the main goals quoted before, one of the other purposes of the plan, as pointed out by AS, was to improve the relation between the city and the port. As mentioned before, the plan includes acting in port territory, therefore the cooperation between the different entities was necessary. The majority of the land the Euroméditerranée considered were industrial or railway brownfields. The exception was the area in the waterfront that belonged to the GPMM and, as it was stated by the RV, it was an active part of the port, therefore the negotiation was needed.

The urban renewal operation has a significant scale, is considered to be one of the main regeneration projects in Europe. Besides waterfront land another areas within the urban core were considered, like the Rue de la Republique, the railway station St Charles and industrial buildings in its surroundings. In the image we can see the main figures of the plan. It is also important to clarify that the goal of the project is not the gentrification of the area. Although some of the new buildings can be considered of high standards with expensive rents, the operation also includes 25% of housing with controlled pricing.

Main figures of the Euroméditerranée Source: Euroméditerranée presentation

Finally another important aspect is the financing of the project. The Support of the state is crucial in order make it viable, being in charge of 50% of the initial investment. The acquisition of the land is also made by a state agency, the établissement public foncier (EPF). The Euroméditerranée organization is in charge of managing the process between the land acquisition and the private development. The goal of the company, formed by several public partners, is not to make profit but to manage the operation and reinvest the gains in the city. The economic has proven successful since it has developed cautiously without creating an excess of plots for new buildings, or jeopardizing the operation during the crisis years. At the same time the new projects, whether they are for office or housing, are only allowed to proceed if they can assure the occupancy. This is also important since its avoids the creation of empty construction and the existence of negative degradation spirals.


When we asked the interviewees about the first phase of the negotiations both agreed that there were some initial difficulties. AS explained that there was a general misunderstanding about the scope of the Euroméditerranée. Many people and institutions thought that the goal was to push the port out of the city in order to get the access to the water and build several private marinas. This idea was also taken by the unions that fully rejected the plan even with protest, since it was seen as a threat to the port activities and, therefore, their jobs. RV and CH explained that for them was also not easy to explain the project to the port community since they also perceived the project as menace to their business. In an initial stage, as pointed by AS, the port was reticent to collaborate.

The new project demanded a serious reflection about the role of the port in the city. This necessary change in the general mindset happened along the negotiation process, particularly when the state directly pressured for an understanding. The agreement, in the early 2000´s, was only possible when the port administration and the port community were aware of the possible positive outcome. The deal was that the port territories would remain under their control, the industrial part of the port would remain active and that the other involved actors acknowledged the important role of the port in the urban economy. Another important factor was the fact that a solution was founded, which would allow the coexistence of certain port activities and urban ones. The port on his side should do two main things: first it should leave the space for the creation of the new boulevard du Littoral; second it should give the J4 quay for the development of the MUCEM and Villa Méditerranée. In exchange for the J4 area the port had to make a landfill and change the coast line nearby, between the J3 and J2.

City-Port Charter

The agreements aforementioned improved the cooperation and led to interesting mixed use projects and the City-Port Charter. This document, signed in 2013, was mainly the crystallization of the negotiation process described. One of the most positive aspects of this document is the fact is an official agreement, signed by eight stakeholders: the State (Bouches du Rhône prefecture) GPMM, Euroméditerranée, the PACA region, the county, the metropolitan area, The city of Marseille and the chamber of commerce. For this reason the compromise is clearer and stronger than other initiatives. In this new statement the importance of the port in the urban and regional economy was acknowledge and a commitment was made to respect its presence in the urban core, its East basin.

The City-Port Charter meant also the reorganization of the East basin until the year 2025 towards a new more compatible urban port. The port territory in Marseille was divided in three main areas: North, Center and South. In the North part, from the fishing dock until L´Estaque, the waterfront would be rearranged into a pole of leisure and tourism. The existing marinas would be maximized and some leisure facilities created. In the central area the industrial activities of the port would be respected and it would remain as closed area with no public access. The shipyards activities would be expanded with the reopening of the dry-dock 10, closed during recent years. The south part of the port would be dedicated to develop projects that allow compatible uses with the city. This change should allow a greater porosity and better access to the sea, although only visually. Example of this strategy are the Terrase du Port or Silo d´Arenc. Simultaneously the passenger and ferry activities within port territories would be reorganized. The terminals for the ships coming from countries outside the Schengen area would be placed in the central part and the ones coming from the EU would be relocated in the south part, where they could allow an easier access towards the sea.

South part of the East Basin, where the relation between the port and the city will change the most Source: Euroméditerranée presentation



Representative projects of the new era

In the south part of the east basin, where the port and the Euroméditerranée meet is where we see some of the most innovative buildings of the plan, that represent the new stage of the relation between the actors.

Main projects in the Euroméditerranée waterfront area Source: Euroméditerranée presentation


One of the first project of this group to be built was the Silo d´Arenc, placed in the north end of the first phase of the Euroméditerranée. This industrial building was reconverted into a concert hall with 2000 places and office area (4000 m2). In the ground floor the port activities continue to work, mainly allowing the cross traffic in the area. The ownership remains from the GPMM, although the majority of the investment, 30 mill€ out of 42, was made by the City of Marseille. The inside of the Silo has been rented to a partner for 50 years and since its opening in 2011 it has become one of the main concert venues in the city.

Silo d´Arenc Source:
Silo d´Arenc


The warehouse area formerly known as the J4 was one of the places where major modifications happened. This waterfront location placed in the south corner of the Euroméditerranée next to the Fort Saint-Jean was given to the city in exchange of a compensation in order to develop a new cultural pole and to give to the fortress a more noble context. In this area we can now find the MUCEM (museum of the European and Mediterranean civilizations) and the Ville Méditerranée, an International Centre for Dialogue and Discussion in the Mediterranean. Besides the new cultural facilities and rehabilitation of the fortress, the city has also gained an access to the sea. This is a very relevant aspect since from the vieux-port until L´ Estaque in the north the access to the water for the citizens is block by the port infrastructure.

MUCEM Source: Euroméditerranée presentation
Source: Euroméditerranée presentation

Terrasses du Port

Near the square of La Joliette a new mall has been developed. The particular feature of this building is the fact that allows the coexistence of the port activities under the commercial area, without compromising either of them. It opened in May 2014 with 52 000 m2 of commercial areas, 13 000 of terraces and 3000 parking places. The ground floor, excluding the entrance of the mall, is dedicated to the ferry terminal and existing port traffic, as well as the area for the passenger boarding near the quay. The project has been developed with a long term contract with the firm Hammerson. A call for proposal took place and the firm foruminvest won the bid who later would sell the project to current developer.

Terrasses du Port Source:
Terrasses du Port


The last building in the waterfront to be developed is the J1, a warehouse near the Place de la Joliette. This construction has already hosted temporary exhibition during the year 2013 when the city was the European capital of Culture. Since then the future of it is not clear. According to AS the decision about this building should have been reached some years ago, but so far the port has not agreed with the proposals that arrived, from possible partners such as the municipality. In the past it  was considered to relocated the port headquarters. Nowadays the GPMM is working to launch a new call for proposals for the building, following a similar scheme like in the previous cases. Regarding the physical configuration it should allow the coexistence of both port and urban uses, although the priority would be given to activities related with the maritime economy.

J1 Warehouse Source:
J1 Warehouse

 Second Act

The Euroméditerranée perimeter was expanded in the year 2007 towards the north. There are several differences when compared with the first part of the plan. In this new stage the port territories are not directly affected, therefore the negotiation between the institutions is less intensive. Another key difference is the fact that for this part they will have to cope with existing industries and there are local inhabitants that actually live within the perimeter. In the first phase the majority of the operation took place in brownfield, as we have already seen, with no need of affecting local population. This added difficulties will require a new approach. AS explained that they will work more in a small scale and the dialogue with the locals will be more active in order to allow a better transition and to accommodate the local interests. Also the financing of the project will be different. If in the first the state has been responsible for 50% of the funds, in this second stage this share will be reduced to approximately 20%. The program to develop will also be more focus in housing than in the first phase, during which the priority has been office area, public space and leisure and cultural facilities. Some housing project have also been built but it was not the main concern.

In the second act one of the most interesting aspects will be the development of the Mediterranean eco-city project. This plan will build housing units using what AS defined as “Low cost easy tech project”, so that high sustainable standards are reached without forcing big changes in the Mediterranean lifestyle. Another key project will be the Parc des Aygalade, which will take the place of the current Gare du Canet, a railway terminal for cargo. This infrastructure, necessary for the logistic operations related with the port, will be redeveloped combining it with the existing one in Mourepiane in port territory, to be later finally Terminal de Transport Combiné de Mourepiane . This change will not just replace one terminal but combine the two existing ones and improve the logistic chain, stimulating the rail traffic. For the port though, as mentioned by RV and SC, it might create problems with neighbors since it will intensify the industrial activity of the area. As we have seen the communities placed near the industrial port are probably the most critical towards the port location. New efforts will be necessary for the relation with this part of the city.

Euroméditerranée act 2 Source:
Euroméditerranée act 2

Coexistence strategies

In order to have a healthier relation with the inhabitants, the GPMM has developed a series of workshops where they try to explain the current development projects and listen to the complains of the locals. This has been one of the main coexistence actions the port has developed. The GPMM is aware that they have, as most ports, a relative negative image among the population. The communication strategies are improving slowly, however, the port community needs to understand that, if before there was no need to explain what they were doing, the situation has changed and now, in order to be accepted by the public, a certain transparency is required.

During the last years there used to be an open doors day, but apparently this initiative has ceased because of the economic impact it had. In other terms the cooperation with schools and universities continues, organizing visits and participating in workshops, for example from the architecture faculty.

In the present moment there is a small information center about the port in Fos, but we were not able to find it. In the future we might see a proper Port-center, what could give a significant boost to the public perception of the port.

The issue of public relation with the locals is also very relevant for the Euroméditerranée organization. AS explained us that initially the operation was better known outside Marseille than in the city itself. As we mentioned, during the first years of the project many thought it was a private operation that would end up gentrifying the area. This view changed mainly when the people started to see results, in 2013. Since then the public acceptance has increased.

Personal Opinion

The case of Marseille shows several strategies that have brought positive results for both the port and the city. Probably the most relevant issue for the ongoing investigation is the fact that the interaction in institutional terms has given a great leap towards the future. If twenty years ago the relation was harsh or inexistent, now we see that there is a serious commitment for a positive synergy. The existence of a document specifically focus in the relation between city and port and signed by all the stakeholders is a good example and could be followed by other cities. The Euroméditerranée operation meant a new beginning for this issue and presented the opportunity to reflect about it. Is very positive that the initial reluctance was overcome and an agreement was achieved.

The urban regeneration plan has proved to be very effective and with positive outcomes. Although the first phase still is ongoing at the moment, we see that the city has gained several important new places where it can relate with the sea. The projects before mentioned are good examples of alternative approaches to the necessary mix of functions in port-cities. The implementation of these new facilities are the result of the aforementioned negotiation process.

In this article we have focused in the urban interventions, but there are also several other initiatives by the GPMM regarding the relation with the territory and the environment worth knowing. For example the project Climeport, the geothermic central or the GIREL program. All these initiatives can be seen in the Guide of good practice from the AIVP.

Regarding the communication and the use of soft values, is where we think greater improvements could be done. If the port is aware of its relative negative image, it should consider developing a more effective strategy towards better explaining itself. Although is clear that the port is an important part of the identity of the city, it could be positive if it invested in a closer public image. The goal is not to have people walking around the containers but to pursue a larger identification of the inhabitants with the port and port community. The soft values, as we have mentioned in other posts, are an important asset for the port-city synergies and in the case of Marseille they could be better explored. The possible new port-center in the J1 warehouse could improve the relation. It has an appropriate location, in the city center but inside the harbour, and the context helps to understand the current and past importance of the port.

We look forward to know how the first stage of the Euroméditerranée will end and how will the second act develop. Marseille was identified by the French geographer C. Ducruet as a Maritime city, along with Lisbon and Izmir, according to the role they have in national structure and the importance of their port in the international logistic chains. These cities share several characteristics; we shall see if they can share solutions.

Oldest city in France: Marseille

Oldest city in France: Marseille

Marseille, Mediterranean port-city

The city of Marseille was created in the 6th century BC when Greek explorers met with the local tribes, in the north bank of today´s Vieux port, and decided to settle taking advantage of the natural conditions to stablish a port. The colonist from Phocaea named the new town Massalia. Later on, in the year 49 BC, Caesar conquered the city in the expansion of the roman empire. The name changed to Massilia and the economic activities focused on the port continued to expand.

Mediterranean sea in ancient Greece. Source:
Mediterranean sea in ancient Greece.

Few centuries after the conquer of Marseille the Roman empire started to decline. At the same time Christianity spread along the roman territories including this city. This change left several new buildings in the urban tissue, like the old cathedral or the St. Victor basilica.

During the first centuries of the first millennium, while the roman empire was collapsing, the city suffered several invasions, from tribes like the Visigoths, Burgundians, Ostrogoths and Franks. This instability affected the trade and consequently the port. Only under Charlemagne and its successor, in the 8th and 9th century a certain stability was regain. During this period it became part of the Kingdom of Provence . At the same time the Muslim invasion of certain territories, particularly the Iberian peninsula, did not allowed the maritime commerce to fully recover until the 11th century. Marseille regained an important role as port for the crusades and stablish itself as the door for the east Mediterranean.

The city continued to expand and the maritime activities had an even greater impact in the urban core. During the 15th century it was the main port of the Mediterranean Sea. Within its infrastructure we could find an important arsenal, but also shipyards. Along the middle ages and the renaissance, Marseille kept a certain autonomy although integrated in the kingdom of Provence. It condition of port city gave a certain power and rebellious identity. During this time, until the 17th century, the city was involved in several conflicts and suffered aggressions from different enemies. At the same time, and also associated with its port-city condition, it suffered outbreaks of plague that decimated the population.

The resistance of Marseille to obeying to a centralized power in France took the King Sun, Luis XIV, to come from Paris to lead its army and submit the city to his command. In order to stablish a permanent control, new fortress were built in the mouth of the port. More specifically the fort St. Jean and fort St. Nicholas. Simultaneously the new arsenal was built in the south part of the current Vieux-port. Another important urban changes were taking place during this period, the 17th century, for example the city expansion was being planned. This project implied the creation of a new north-south axis, including Cours de Belsunce and Curse Saint-Louis. This plan would start the urban expansion of the city away from the cost. Later on we could see this axis expand from Place Jules Guesde to Place Castellane, and further on to Avenue du Prado in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Expansion plan for Marseille in 17th century Source: <
Expansion plan for Marseille in 17th century
Source: <

At the French revolution the battalion from Marseille sang the “Marseillaise” for the first time, this song would later become the national anthem. The city and port started growing again after the 2nd quarter of the 19th century, when two important processes began, the industrial revolution and the rise of the French colonial empire. Along this century, as it happened in many other port-cities, the new technologies accelerated the rhythm in the port and increased the size of the ships. Simultaneously the second empire, as the French colonies were also known, meant more traffic for the city. The new activities and technologies demanded the expansion of the port. Between 1855 and 1863 we see the first port areas in the north side of the city, what is known as La Joliette and Le Lazaret.

The port would grew until becoming the 4th port in the world and one of the main industrial areas in France. At the beginning of the 20th century the famous transporter bridge in the mouth of the vieux port was built. Unfortunately it was destroyed during the WWII. In this period we see the rapid expansion of the port until L´Estaque, the natural limit of the basin. Before the WWI, took place the first discussions regarding the creation of a port outside the city area, to allow better expansion when necessary. The plans would be postponed due to the WWI and WWII that seriously affected the city and the its infrastructure. Particularly damaged was the vieux-port area, where the Nazis destroyed several blocks, up to 1500 buildings, for considering it a criminal neighborhood.

Pont Transbordeur Source:
Pont Transbordeur

In 1964 we finally see the expansion in Fos-sur-Mer. This new territory would initially host mainly the petro-chemicals plants. Only later on would we see the container terminals and other activities.

During the second half of the 20th century Marseille would go through several difficult situations. Particularly complicated was the fall of the empire, that would bring to the city many immigrants. The city is well known for its multicultural society but in certain moments of its history it has also seen social conflict regarding the coexistence among people with different backgrounds. At the same time Marseille gained a reputation of dangerous and degraded city. During the last two decades we have assisted to several initiatives to change this situation.

Nowadays the city of Marseille is the second urban agglomeration in France, after Paris. It has a population of 850 000 inhabitants and almost 1,8 million in the metropolitan area. The port still plays an important role in the economy and the labor market. The city has stablish itself as an important tourism destination and is integrated in the PACA region (Provence, Alpes and Cote d´Azur) which is one of the most attractive regions for tourism and leisure activities. The physical geography is typical from this part of the Mediterranean, with an accidental topography, including mountains entering directly into the water with very few flat area.

View of Marseille Author: José M P Sánchez
View of Marseille
Author: José M P Sánchez

The Port

The GPMM (Grand Port Maritime de Marseille) is the 5th port in Europe and main port on France regarding tonnage. Also, if we consider containers, is competing with Le Havre regarding this sort of traffic. More specifically last year it had a traffic of 78,5 million tons and 1.2 million containers. One of the main characteristics of this port is the fact that the liquid bulk, mainly oil and related products, take a large share of the traffic, almost 70% in 2012. The GPMM also has a strong passenger traffic, both in regular lines and in the cruise industry. In 2014 it had a combined traffic of 2,5 million passenger, of which 1,2 million were from the cruise sector.

The port has its territory divided in two main areas, east basin in Marseille and West basin in Fos. In the section placed in the city we will find all the activities related with passengers, also ro-ro, container and short-sea shipping terminals. In this area we can also see the fishing port and the shipyards. In the west basin, 50 km away, is where the port has the majority of its land (95% of over 10 000 Ha). There we can find the petro-chemical refineries and a major container terminal, besides other industries related with this sectors.

Regarding jobs, the port of Marseille-Fos creates over 40 000 direct and indirect jobs. In 2012 the port had an direct and indirect impact of 3% of the GDP in the PACA region. From these figures we can see that the GPMM still has a notorious presence not just physically in the city, but also in the economy.

Port of Fos Source:
Port of Fos

Two of the main projects that we have seen in recent times related with the port are the Marseille-Fos 2XL and the Euroméditarrenée. The first one was the expansion of the container terminal in Fos. It started operating in 2012 after 5 years of construction period, and a cost of 400 mill. €. The future 3XL and 4XL are in consideration, but on the long term plan. The Euroméditerranée project took place in Marseille and it affected the port mainly in the south part of the east basin, changing the physical configuration of this area and the activities related with the ferries.

The waterfront  

The coast of Marseille has evolved considerably along its history. As we have seen the city was born near the current vieux-port and later expanded occupying a considerable territory. The first improvements in this part of the city we could see them in the reconstruction after the WWII. The vieux-port was the most affected area and the regeneration was urgent. Nowadays we can find here one of the main recreational marinas and mostly tertiary activities, such as leisure, offices and tourism. We can also find several housing areas, many from the reconstruction period. The typical image of Marseille is from this part of the city, with the different fortress creating a strong character that has also been used as attraction for the many tourist that visit the city. For the European capital of culture event, in 2013, there were several improvements in order to rearrange the traffic and create more pedestrian areas. Different facilities were created, such as the shading structure from Sir Norman Foster that has become a major attraction. The regeneration process should continue until 2020.

View of the Vieux-Port Author: José M P Sánchez
View of the Vieux-Port
Author: José M P Sánchez

The main second urban regeneration project that also affected the waterfront and the port is the Euroméditerranée. This project is very particular for several reasons. First of all the leading role is taken by the state, instead of the municipal authorities as we have seen in other cases. Second, the project is not limited to the waterfront area, but comprises a significant part of the city center. The main goal is its regeneration and the improvement of the image of the city. Included in the plan were for example the train station or industrial brownfields, unrelated with the port. Another important feature of this intervention is the fact that in some port territories the port activities coexist with the urban ones. Therefore the port still is part of the city and the strategies developed could be an example for other cases looking for new synergies.

During the next week we will interview several key actors of the process, we will get to know how it developed and what is expected for its expansion, the 2nd act.

When this post was being written the terrible attacks in Paris on the 13th of November were taking place. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and French friends. Together we shall rise and overcome the tragedy.


The Rotterdam Experience

The Rotterdam Experience

In the previous post we already mentioned that the case of Rotterdam was in many ways very particular. Although we might not like to give the rankings excessive importance, in the end is the biggest port in Europe in many aspects. This issue must not be forgotten regarding its relation with the territory, the city and the region.

The visits, the city

Regarding the development of the investigation this was also one exceptional case. In previous cases we usually have two weeks to do the case analysis, consult the sources and make the Photographical survey. This time we only had half the time since the ISOCARP congress took one full week. For this reason, and because of the complexity of the case, we also consider that in the future a second field trip will be necessary. This situation is even clearer if we think that some of the main experts and ongoing research relate with the port-city subject are taking place in universities in or near Rotterdam, for example the TU Delft, the Erasmus University or the Hogeschool.

In the available time we were able to perform the necessary field work to have an initial idea of the relation between the city and the port. Following the usual steps for this work we developed a photo survey in some of the city and the port areas. Also we visited several cultural institutions that could contain valuable information, such as the Maritime Museum, the Nai (Netherlands Architecture Institute), the city library or the FutureLand port center, one of two existing ones.

Aerial view of Rotterdam Source: "Port-city development in Rotterdam: a true love story"
Aerial view of Rotterdam
Source: “Port-city development in Rotterdam: a true love story”

The Interviews

During this time we were also able to do three interviews to relevant professionals from the port and city authorities. In the case of the Port Authority (PA), we were able to speak with Ms. Isabelle Vries (IV), Senior Advisor and Program Manager in Corporate Strategy. From the municipality we spoke with Mr. Martin Aarts (MA), senior urban developer advisor and with Ms. Stijnie Lohof (SL) responsible for urban development in southern areas of Rotterdam, who could give the view for the more specific land development. During our interviews a major part of the discussion was on the strategic level. For a second visit we will try to focus the interviews more on the specific development areas where the friction might occur. Also for the future remains a meeting with the communication responsible from the PA, since a reasonable part of the relation with the city and the explanation of the soft-values is made by this department.

The relation between the city and the port


Rotterdam is the port-city par excellence. The creation, growth and future of the city is greatly connected with the past, present and future of the port. As explained in the previous post, the reason of being of this city is its role as a logistic and trade center for the European hinterland. We can see this characteristic when walking on the streets and when we appreciate the existing heritage in some of the areas regenerated on the waterfront. The presence of canals in different spots of the city structure constantly reminds that we are in a water city.

When we study the history of the city we realize that until not so long ago many of the business and families were somehow connected with the port activities. The industrial character of the city has remained for long periods and indeed we find that, although several waterfront regeneration project have been made, a certain roughness of a port-city remains. In the authors opinion this is a positive feature of the city identity, since as said by other Julian Stubbs in the Oslo Urban Arena congress, a city should be its best version of itself, not an imitation of something else. During the stay in Rotterdam we could, in several occasions, witness the existing rivalry between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, just like happens in many other countries. In the case of the Netherlands, from the foreigner point of view, we appreciate that the port-city identity of Rotterdam has been relevant in its development as creative center for architecture and urban planning, among other fields. The fact that port-cities still have in their identity a more open mindset might have allowed Rotterdam to produce bolder projects that perhaps would not have been possible in other contexts. For this reason we consider the new waterfront strategies appropriate for the context.

Port skyline Author José M P Sánchez
Port skyline
Author José M P Sánchez

The citizens acknowledge the port as an important part of the identity, however as pointed out by SL this connection might not be as strong as it used to be. This gradual disconnection could happen for several reasons. The evolution of the port towards the open sea certainly affects the perception of the citizens. As pointed out by different authors: out of sight, out of the heart. Although this is not the only reason, since we still see many ships in the river Maas, the cranes are visible from a major part of the city and the atmosphere still is that from a harbor-city. Another motivation for this detachment might be that, although the port still creates many jobs, is no longer seen as an attractive place to work. This issue is very concerning for the responsible authorities and several measures are being developed as we will later see. The concern about younger generations should be considerable, especially if we consider the increasing number of newcomers to the city. The new youngsters without roots outside Rotterdam might find it difficult to relate with a place and an infrastructure that is not so visible and no longer provides so many jobs for the people less prepared for high skilled positions.

The people still love the image of the ships in the rivers. The manmade landscape the port is, still generates a certain fascination among the inhabitants and there is an intense activity regarding the usufruct of the port soft values, as we will see later on. However, as it happens in other port-cities, there is an increasing pressure from citizens to get activities and leisure areas by the water. This sort of areas already exist in the southwest outskirts of the city, far from the port. The question is how this demanded uses will be made compatible with the existing port areas and port-related industries that exist in the port-city interface.

Not wanting to be alarmist, the issue that might rise is if the relation of the citizens with the port will be proportional with the role the port plays in the economy of the city and region, as we have already seen. Is obvious that Rotterdam is a port-city, but is reasonable that efforts are made so it remains as such in the mind and heart of the inhabitants.


In order to fully understand how the institutional relation between city and port works we must first see the status of the PA and the land ownership. In the case of Rotterdam the PA is a semi-private corporation. Until 2004 it was still a department of the municipality, but the status changed in order give operational freedom to the port and improve the general efficiency of the port. The shareholders are the city (70%) and the state (30%). For this reason the PA is not fully independent. Its economic plans and business models are approved by the municipality and there is a constant dialogue between the mayor and the PA CEO, meeting every two weeks. When the port was established as a separate company its scope and responsibilities were clearly described. The PA would have the duty of all the matters related with the ports, including administrating its territories. Within these responsibilities might be included educational collaboration with universities or start-ups if they are port related or might improve the port activities. The boundary, as explained by IV, was that the PA will not be responsible for urban development.

Kop van Zuid. Port Authority Headquarters, second tower from the right. Architect: Sir Norman Foster. Author: José M P Sánchez
Kop van Zuid. Port Authority Headquarters, second tower from the right. Architect: Sir Norman Foster.
Author: José M P Sánchez

It is also important to understand that the port is autonomous for its development. This means that the municipality does not pays port infrastructure. The PA must carry its own investment for the improvement or expansion of the facilities, as it has happened so far. The municipality does get revenues from the PA as the main shareholder.

The land the PA administrates is leased by the municipality for port purposes. MA explained that for this reason in case the existing industries in the port areas come to an end and there is no clear continuation, or implementation of new port related industries, the land might then move back to municipal control. At the present moment this process is agreed only in the M4H area. Since the land already belongs to the city the port does not get a compensation for it, simply the leasing contract ends. Although here the process has been simplified, it probably is more complex if we consider the PA must be sure there will not be developed any more port activities.

The relation itself has been described as positive by the interviewees. Particular in the strategic level. In this field there has been a considerable improvement over the last decade. The coordination and dialogue between both entities has been intensified, particularly regarding the economic agenda and development goals. The evolution of the relation has been probably induced by a change in the way both entities look at each other. The city has moved from the previous vision of waterfront regeneration, port out and city on, to a new model where the industrial tissue responsible for jobs is also acknowledge as an important urban function. The port cluster is seen as a resource for the city, therefore the respect to the existing port activities in the urban interface as grown. At the same time the port has realized it must improve its interaction with the city. This is particularly relevant if it wants to change its current economic model, very based in the fossil energies industries, to a future model based in new energy resources. At the same time the need for high skilled professionals and the need of the citizen’s support pressures the port to find a sustainable relation with the city and the inhabitants.

When we asked MA about the relation between the city and the port, he mentioned that the biggest critic it could be made was the pace of the implementation agenda of the new economic model. Although the risks related with keeping major fossil fuel industries are clear the rhythm of change towards alternative models is to slow. We might understand the criticism when reading this recent press release from the PA. On the other hand, although the PA might understand the critic, we have to see that, as pointed out by IV, the Port of Rotterdam cannot act by himself in this issue. The global economic model has not changed yet, national and international organizations must provide a more ambitious plan regarding sustainable energy models. Besides these plans there must also be pressure and support to private companies for the change from national and European governments. The evolution must be worldwide and in this scenario the port could and should take a leading role within its context.

In the operational field is where we might find the majority of the frictions, in the closer development scale. In the case of Rotterdam they might occur regarding the use of the land and the rhythm of the goals implementation. As we will see, in the projects implied in the Stadshavens platform, there is discussion about when and where to implement some of the goals defined on the strategic level. Particularly regarding new urban uses or existing industries. However, the consulted authorities confirmed that so far all possible conflicts have been solve by negotiation.

The waterfront of Rotterdam

In Rotterdam the relation with the waterfront has change since the 1980´s. After the postwar reconstruction, the main concern for the municipal authorities regarding urban planning were two: the lack of relation between the city and the river and break between the north and south sides of the river. In order to solve these issues the “Rotterdam Waterfront Program” was developed. This plan, besides dealing with the two issue aforementioned, also interpreted the port brownfields near the urban center as an opportunity to discuss the identity of the city and to improve the existing housing areas. One of the problems was the lack of housing for medium and high class groups. In the case of Rotterdam gentrification was seen as a positive element in order to provide variety to a city where, as pointed out by MA, around 80% of the housing was social housing.

We can find several articles and research about the waterfront of Rotterdam. In the one titled “Port-city development in Rotterdam: a true love story”, we see how the tow waves of waterfront regeneration worked. The first one started with the Oude Haven (Old Port), focused in developing new quality housing, leisure areas and offices. Short after it expanded to other areas near the city center, more specifically Leuerhaven, Wijnhaven and Zahnhaven. Later on the Scheeprartkwartier and Parkhaven also were regenerated with high class standards. Finally, in the late 1980´s, the Kop Van Zuid was also planned. In the last post we already saw to some detail how this plan as developed, so here we will just point out that the two main goals of the waterfront program were also very present. This last area still is under development, the connection between both sides of the Maas has been strengthened and high class apartment and single family houses have been developed. As mentioned before there is a strong gentrification in this part of the city, especially if we consider that in this area used to live many dock workers before the port expanded to the west and that the district of Feijenoord was one of the poorest.

Rotterdam, Kop van Zuid Author: José M P Sánchez
Rotterdam, Kop van Zuid
Author: José M P Sánchez

The question whether gentrification is positive or negative is a never ending debate in the field of urban planning, however it is important to look at the particular context of the case. In Rotterdam there was the need of creating diversity in housing market and also densifying the city center. The process of bringing more people to the urban core is neither easy or cheap, therefore it is almost inevitable that the prices would rise. At the same time the variety within a city could be seen as a positive aspect, particularly if we consider that this would make the city social structure more resilient to crisis or changes in the economic model. It is also important to notice that although the municipality might have been more focused in the high class development during the first waterfront regeneration wave, for the second one the scope changed.


The second wave of the waterfront regeneration in Rotterdam is integrated in the Stadshavens plan. This project started in 2002 and included the remaining port areas inside the city´s highway ring. All together it is area of approx. 1600 Ha. As mentioned in previous post, the scale of this intervention is considerable, particular if compared with other waterfront regenerations in Europe, for example Euroméditerranée in Marseille has 480 Ha or the Kop Van Zuid itself with 80 Ha.

When we look at the map we see that the areas included in the Stadshavens project are: Merwehaven and Vierhaven (M4H) in the north side of the river, Waalhaven and Eemhaven, including the RDM campus on the south bank, and Rijnhaven, with Kathendrecht, and Maashaven on the east part of the plan.

Stadshavens: Source:
Stadshavens Source: “Port-city development in Rotterdam: a true love story”

Initially the idea was to follow the same scheme as in other redevelopment plans. At the same time the port expansion towards open sea, the Maasvlakte 2, was also been plan. The concept would be that the port activities would move to the new area and the place would be free for urban development. There are some particular characteristics that later would condition the success of this initial approach. First of all the size of the intervention did not allowed the same concept as followed in the other areas, the problems and challenges were not the same. Also the location of these areas was different. If in the first wave of waterfront regeneration we observe that is mainly land placed near the city center, therefore more attractive to urban development, in this case not all the territory was directly connected to the urban core. Some of the areas are far from the center and the existing links are not so strong. Another key different was that during the plans developed in the 1980´s there were mainly port brownfields, where no specific activities were taking place. In this case most of the area had an industrial port tissue, with working companies. Finally the role the municipality played in the Kop van Zuid could not be proportionally extrapolated to this case. If in the other project there were several key public investment, like the Erasmus bridge or the expansion of the subway network, in the Stadshavens plan it was not so clear whether the public authorities would be in a positon to act likewise or if would have the resources to it. Finally the Maasvlakte 2 also went through troubled water and the move of the existing industries was not so clear.

In the years previous to the crisis was already clear that the model would not work. The ambitious goals regarding houses were not realistic and the organization was not functional. The presence of two major stakeholders with different goals and priorities together with a third new founded company was not productive. In the year 2007 a new agreement was made in which the Stadshavens would remain as an “umbrella” corporation, which main duties would be to facilitate the dialogue, communication and coordination of the different agendas. The change also implied new goals and a better relation between the stakeholders. The municipality acknowledged the value of the existing industries and an analysis of the companies and contracts was perform in order to have a realistic schedules of the transition in the concerned areas. The idea was to improve the existing maritime and port cluster, potentiating the companies that could help to develop the future model of the port-city economy. At the same time the educational links would be reinforced and the relation with the communities would be improved.

5 main strategies

For the development of the plan five main strategies were decided: Re-inventing the delta technology, volume and value, crossing borders, floating communities and sustainable mobility. We will just do a brief comment about these strategies instead of explaining in detail all the different points since they are well described in several articles and brochures.

Regarding the delta technology the main goal is to make Rotterdam a reference in a field in which already has an important role. The technologies associated with deltas and flood management are well developed in the region, already leading companies in the world are installed in the city. This path will be exploited and the Stadshaven will become a reference with new companies, bringing the benefit of the associated jobs to it. The industries from this field would be mainly placed in the Waalhaven and RDM campus.

RDM Campus Source:
RDM Campus

In the volume and value strategy the goal is to develop the area into a mix of added value companies working in the port-maritime cluster and short sea hub for transshipment to secondary harbours. Regarding the new industries, one of the goals, besides creating wealth, is to stablish synergies with the local communities and therefore improve the public perception of the port activities. Along with this target is also fulfilling the needs of new employees for these companies by creating links with educational institutions.

When the organization mentions the crossing borders strategies, they mainly intend to develop a different kind of interaction between city and port, better than the one being carried so far. The main point is developing activities that so far might have not been so present in the port, like the educational institutions or the creative industries. In this strategy the RDM campus has played the leading role so far. Another new type of interaction will be the creation of new housing areas, mainly in the eastern part, Rijnhaven and Maashaven.

The floating communities strategy is self-explanatory. In the Stadshavens project we shall see a new sort of urban development, directly on the water. This sort of building is not new in the Netherlands, but the new approach should bring interesting results. There are already prototypes being tested in the Rijnhaven for housing and near the RDM campus for floating trees and offices spaces. Very recently in these facilities, the aqua dock, a floating office space, started to be built.

Floating communities Source:
Floating communities

The last strategy is the sustainable mobility. About this point the most relevant innovation will be the development of the waterborne public transport system. In order to give a new relation to the city with the port, this new transport should play and important role. The waterbuses and watertaxis accentuate the port identity. In this case if we see the map we notice that the option of blue transport is logical also for practical reasons. The closest connection between both sides in the majority of the Stadshavens territory is by water, and some of the main points will need an efficient public transport system, like the connection from the RDM to the city center or M4H.

In the organization´s office and in the website we can find information about the planned schedule of the Stadshavens project. The short-term phase is coming to an end this year, the second phase should go until 2025 and the third phase will expand until 2040, coordinated with the regional development concepts. The plan has been developed more on a strategic bases rather than a blue print with closed designs. This flexibility will allow an adaptation margin in case is necessary or even the renegotiation of the goals for certain areas, like perhaps the fruit cluster in the M4H.

As we can see the plan has evolved from the initial approach and some of the main goals as well. The intention of developing housing areas was rethought. In the project, as pointed out by MA, this program would be implemented only in the land where it would be compatible with the existing activities. Therefore we would find it more easily in eastern part, Rijnhaven and Maashaven. Also in the areas placed in the north side of the river, which eventually will fully move to municipality control, housing developments are plan, but only in the long term scenario. Nowadays we find here a major fruit cluster for the production of juice and other port related industries. At the same time in this area the transition has already started, some land is already administrated by the municipality and the front-runner creative companies are already functioning there.

In the southern areas the PA will still be in charge of its administration. This decision is mainly connected with the fact that the existing and new port related companies will bringing added value to the city and the port. In Waalhaven and Eemhaven we can find different sort of industries from container terminal to fiber optic cable developing companies.

Closer scale

During our meeting with SL we came to know that there was already an existing dialogue between the different parts involved in some projects in the Stadshavens areas, before the platform existed. She also explained some of the operational aspects in the development of the projects in the nearer scale. For example not all projects must be organized by the Stadshavens platform, probably just the strategic level and some key developments or complex plans that might require major negotiation between the stakeholders. In other cases the projects can be directly developed by the local organizations.

Another interesting aspect regarding the discussed was the existence of “beauty committees” that must approve the implementation of the plans for the local projects. These committees are formed by several independent professionals and citizen representatives. They exist in the areas under municipal supervision, but in some cases they must agree with the port quality committees which would have another point of view. Occasionally in this level we might find some frictions that are solved via negotiation.


Included in the Stadshavens area we can find a very particular case, the village of Heijplaat, placed between the harbours of Eelhaven and Waalhaven. This area was developed at the beginning of the XXth century for the shipyard workers. When the activities ceased the village began to be more isolated from the city center. In the 1980´s faced the risk of being demolished, but the public pressure sorted effect and an agreement was found for keeping the villages intact. At the same time, since the village is in between port areas with safety legislation, it cannot grow more than the 200 houses that currently form it.

This area presents an interesting contrast with the surroundings since is made mainly of small single family houses and in the background we can find several port industries with heavy machinery. For the village the Stadshavens plan might bring very positive outcomes. The development of the RDM campus in the old shipyard facilities creates new activities and possible jobs in the start-ups growing there. At the same time it might also be an option for the educational path of the local inhabitants. Also, until the arrival of the new campus, one of the main issues was the lack of direct connections with the city center. This problem is already solved since now there is a waterbus connection that should be more intense in the future as the activities in this area grow further.

Heijplaat: contrast between village and cranes Source:
Heijplaat: contrast between village and cranes

World Expo 2025

In the relation between city and port in the context of Rotterdam there is another ongoing interesting debate, the World Expo 2025. A group of entrepreneurs has been preparing a possible application of the city for the 2025 expo. The main topic of the expo would be “changing currents”, very much related to the need of developing an alternative economic model. Within the general theme another relevant subject would be “deltas in transition”, an issue very relevant in the Netherlands, that is obviously connected with matter of the water and the port.

When we asked the municipal and port authorities about the issue, both agreed that, if done properly, it could bring very positive results to the city. The problem might be what it means to do it well. MA explained that it could be reasonable to make the expo in waterfront location if it is related with the water, however always having in mind the consequences of the decisions to be taken, particularly regarding the location and the effects in the whole economic model and existing industrial tissue. It is necessary to develop a long term goal and, if considered appropriate, use the World Expo as an accelerator for the project. MA was also favorable of developing a model that would engage the whole city instead of having the focus on just one area. IV agreed with the need of having a very clear long term goal, not thinking just in the 6 months the venue lasts, and a vision or need for the transformation of an area in the waterfront. Regarding the discussion of the location it was clear for her that a similar approach like in the Stadshavens plan should be made, that is to develop the expo in areas that are brownfields or in the process of becoming one. For this reason it would only be logic to develop it, for example, in the M4H area and not in the Waalhaven or other land with functioning port related industries. This possibility, as she explain, would only make sense if the goal is very clear and if it is really necessary for the transformation of the area.

Port of the future investigation

The concerns about the public opinion regarding the port are not something new. Already in 2007 “the port of the future” project was developed. In this project the PA and the NAI asked six renowned architecture and urban planning offices of Rotterdam to develop an investigation about the aesthetical qualities of the port and how they could be enjoyed by the public. In this theoretical exercise the firms, MVRDV, West8 or Mecanoo, among others, acknowledged the port as a fascinating manmade landscape, with aesthetic values difficult to find in any other context. In the proposal we could see different approaches, from giving a representative role to the roads to and around the port, the plans for implementing a system of viewpoints, alternative uses of the Maasvlakte 2 dune, the enhancement of the new clean technologies as a new element of this artificial landscape, even in same case the office propose to treat the port territory as a national park, a landscape to cherish.

As conclusion to the study Wouter Van Stiphout wrote an interesting essay with the provocative title “Lipstick on a Gorilla”. In it the author notices the change in the relation between the port and the city and points out the new stage of the relation, in which the port is something that requires explanation.

Current coexistence strategies

Port territory

In the images we can see the port of Rotterdam extends over the territory, from the city to the open sea. This extension, over 40 km, implies also a relation with bordering towns, like Maassluis, Westvoorne or Hook van Holland. In order to have a positive relation with these settlements, as explained by IV, there are meetings twice a year with them, to discuss the issues that might affect them. The PA follows tailor-made approaches to cope with possible negative externalities. At the same time the companies are also implied in this process.

Map of the Port of Rotterdam. Different areas and several towns in the boundary Source:
Map of the Port of Rotterdam. Different areas and several towns in the boundary

There is a structure of buffer areas to diminish the nuisances caused by the industries placed in the port, mainly noise, dust, odor and gases. For this purpose there are electronic system to detect if the different pollutions are within the legal parameters, in case they are exceeded the responsible authorities are warned to act. Simultaneously we see a discussion regarding “smart” urban planning, mainly concerned with not developing housing areas in land near port activities that might later cause problems to inhabitants.


The case of Rotterdam is a good example of how to explain the soft-values of the port. The effort developed for the social integration of the port is remarkable and proportional to the size of the port itself. As we have already seen a considerable part of the effort is being made in the relation with the educational institutions. At the same time that we see increasing synergies in the higher education level, also in the primary and secondary school several actions are being developed.

Besides the improving the opinion about the port among youngsters, the main goal is to show how the port can be an attractive place to develop a professional career. This concern comes also because the port is foreseeing a possible shortage of qualified workers in the future, particularly when the change in the economic model takes place.

Port center

In Rotterdam we can find two port center, the EIC Mainport Rotterdam in a center position in the port land, and the more recent FutureLand in the Maasvlakte 2 expansion area. During our visit we were only able to visit the second one since both are not easily reachable with public transport.

Both centers have different scopes. The EIC is focused in explaining in general terms the functioning of the port. It was open in 1994 and is a joint project between the PA and Deltalinqs. The FutureLand on the other side is far away from the city center and is focused on explaining how the expansion project of the port works, its consequences and benefits. The investment in this second one, the one we visited, is considerable. In it we can find different spaces with hi-tech infotainment devices prepare for the interaction with adults and children from different ages. Besides there is also a restaurant, exhibition areas and the sightseen terrace. Both centers offer guided tours to the port facilities. In the case of FutureLand one of the main attractions is the boat tour, since we can navigate near the giant container ships.

FutureLand, Maasvlakte 2 Author: José M P Sánchez
FutureLand, Maasvlakte 2
Author: José M P Sánchez

Besides these port centers we can also see the newspaper done by the port for explaining the ongoing activities. These light publication is available not just in the port centers or in the PA head office, but also in some public areas, like the access to the tunnel that crosses the Maas river.

Port as a place to visit

During our visit to Rotterdam we could see for the first time in the research trip that the port is not just the economic motor of the region and key infrastructure, but also a tourist attraction. There is a specialized company, Spido, focused on providing tours around the port. This activity manifest the interest in the port, not just for the locals or the port workers, but also for the visitors. The tourism industry is growing fast and different sort of visitors are surging. It is interesting how something that is not at all thought or prepared to become an attraction for this activity as grown to a point where it became a very demanded activity. Certainly we see this mainly in harbours with a reasonable scale, where the visitors can see the big ships and cranes that form the image we see so often in magazines or websites when looking for Rotterdam or Hamburg.

The rise of different kinds of tourism represents an opportunity to enhance the public view of the port. In Rotterdam, besides the company aforementioned, we find that are dedicated to industrial tourism, like this one. If the PA is able to associate themselves with this sort of activity, going beyond the education and port centers, we could have a better acceptance of the port in the cities and perhaps a better understanding of it. The port is not just an industrial area by the water, the meaning it carries for the society and the place it takes in the collective memory should be cherish. Particularly if, as we see, the general interest in it is already growing.


The industrial port heritage in Rotterdam has an important role for the cities identity. If we consider that during the WWII the historical city center was tear down during the air bombings, we understand that any element that might retain a memory connected to the past is of great importance. However, as pointed out by SL, this appreciation of the industrial heritage has grown along time. These building might be protected but are not intend to stay crystalized, as museum or monuments, the general approach is to integrate in them urban functions.

We can find buildings that will go through an interesting transformation in Katendrecht. In this area of the city there still are functioning industrial facilities which in the future will hold an interesting mix of uses. In some cases we might even see the coexistence of industrial activities with housing. If this happens it will probably be only with certain types of activities that might be compatible with other uses.

Maritime Museum, historic harbor

Just like in many other port-cities in Rotterdam we can find a Maritime museum. In this case it is placed in the city center, by one of the many water canals. The museum has a remarkable collection, from old maps, paintings and pictures to old clothing from fisherman. Also has recreations of the interiors of cruise ships and several areas dedicated to the children. Another part of the exhibition is dedicated to the harbour. They have a detailed model where we see the evolution of the port, the importance of its presence and how many goods from our daily life come through it. The museum also has a library dedicated to maritime themes, including port bibliography.

Besides the building, the museum also has an important feature that might have greater impact than the collection itself, a harbour for historic boats. In this area in a water canal we can visit several boats, cranes and other port machinery. Next to this space we will also find a workshop dedicated to boat and engines repairs, that we can also visit and get to know better the inside of some ships.

If we consider that the maritime museum is in the city center and that also contains a fairly detailed explanation of the port, we could understand why is not so problematic that either of the port centers are not placed in the urban core. All three facilities form a powerful tool for explaining the maritime world and the port, each one of them with its own scope, more historical one in the museum, a general view in the case of the EIC and the future of the port in the case of the Future Land.

Historic harbor Author: José M P Sánchez
Historic harbor
Author: José M P Sánchez

Personal Opinion

The case of Rotterdam, as we said in the beginning of the post, is a very complex one. The dimension of the port magnifies many of the issues and solutions that could see in other port-cities. For this reason is a very good case to study the relation and detect future models that later might serve as inspiration for other port-cities.

After the initial analysis here perform we can clearly see that one of the most positive aspects of this case is the existing dialogue and cooperation between the city and the port. The coordination of agendas and goals in the short, medium and long term development is crucial for the success of the alternative waterfront development model they are following. The fact that the city was able to change the vision towards the existing industry and adapt its housing strategy should bring positive outcomes in the near future. On the other side we see how the new role of the PA´s could be in the next decades. Alternative solutions are necessary for the change in the economic model and the engagement of the PA in port related activities, going beyond territorial management and containers, could be the path to follow.

In this city, where the port has played such a vital role for its development, the weight it has in the urban identity is very clear. The support and pride of its citizens in the port is clear, however the necessary measures must be taken in order to keep that way. At the same time, as pointed out by MA, the evolution is necessary so the inhabitants identify themselves not just with the ships and cranes, that someday will be a nostalgic image of the past, but also with new more sustainable model.

The Stadshavens plan is one of the most interesting ongoing waterfront regeneration initiatives in Europe. We should pay attention to its evolution to notice if they are able to fully develop all the strategies. The goals are very ambitious but, if the collaboration continues, the context seems to be the most appropriate to experiment with alternative to the previous pre-crisis schemes.

The initiatives done for the social integration of the port are in Rotterdam very advance. As we have seen, there is a coherent set of facilities working for the diffusion of the port soft-values. The attention they get from the public is clear, however it would be interesting to see the repercussion they really have. For example what has really changed since before they were open, or what is the general public opinion regarding the port expansion. It is important to notice that due to the limited time this issue should be studied in further detail in visits to come.

In conclusion Rotterdam could be seen as pioneer in the port-city relation field. The initiatives and strategies here developed should be looked up by other cases. In Lisbon we could definitely learn, for example, regarding the dialogue or the alternative approaches towards the relation with the river. The future seems to be nearer in Rotterdam, we will see how it happens.

Continue reading “The Rotterdam Experience”