Questions and thoughts on the Port-City relation

Questions and thoughts on the Port-City relation

Last week Valentina Comitini, a student of Political Science for International Relations from Livorno, raised several questions about the Port-City relation, Port Centers and Port Authority. She is currently working in the Port Authority of Livorno and wanted to discuss these interesting issues.Here are the answers to the questions that might be worth sharing.

Port-City Relation

What kind of progress has RETE done in order to make the discussion on port-city issues more active and dynamic?

I assume you are already familiarized with the main characteristic of RETE. They have a very specific geographic scope, mainly Spain, Portugal and Italy, and South America. In my personal opinion their biggest strength is the academic network and the publications they produce. Portus and Portusplus have been, for over 10 years, an important reference in the field. Many of the best know scholars have contributed to with their articles and many study cases have been described with interesting approaches. Recently, couple of years ago, they transferred their paper publications to a very dynamic website with an important database available to everybody interested in the subject. As you know there are other international organizations, like the AIVP, ESPO, IAPH, AAPA, all of them produce technical documents very relevant for the different port and municipal authorities, however none of them has in my opinion this academic “muscle”. I would recommend to have a look at the book of their 10th anniversary, where many well known experts (Hoyle, Ducruet, Schubert, among others) wrote an article about their preferred subject.

Besides the constant academic activity they also give occasional lectures and workshops, not open to the public, and they have two annual meetings, usually reserved as well for members.

Which port cities that had invested in urban acupuncture projects could be used as a model to eliminate urban voids coherently with a sustainable development?

First of all it could be interesting to think about the value of the void in the urban environment. Perhaps the problem is the quality of the urban void or the integration in the urban tissue. Regarding this issue we can find considerable academic work from well know authors, as well as master and PhD thesis. The concept of “Terrain Vague”, defined by Solá Morales in his book Territorios, is a fascinating subject particularly due to its repercussion in the urban identity and the development of the post-industrial city.

Sola Morales

The theory of urban acupuncture from Jaime Lerner is a very interesting approach for the development of the urban tissue. The classical example is Barcelona, although the solutions were not always linked with the issue of the relation between the port and the city. I would recommend to have a look to the work of Oriol Bohigas. Another good example is Zaragoza, with the project “esto no es un solar“. Although this city does not have a seaport the initiative is worth mentioning.

From my experience I cannot point out many others port-city examples, perhaps Rotterdam, Marseille or even Helsinki. I do not remember of an organized initiative but rather isolated actions that after could be described as a development path. I think that Berlin, that has a river port, is probably the most relevant example nowadays, but again is not focused on the relation between port and city. The case of Seattle, the Olympic Sculpture Park, is also a worth noticing.

The question is very interesting and worth developing a serious investigation about it. During my architectural studies, along with some colleagues, we worked on this topic, almost contemporary to the Lisbon’s architecture triennale, also focused in the urban voids. In the master thesis we developed a model for Lisbon, in which using the existing urban voids in the port-city interface we could improve the connection between city and port and overcame the infrastructural issue. Again this is academic work. 


In the future of port cities, will be there a link between energy produced in the port and renewable energy sources?

There is already a link in some port-cities. In several ports around the world policies for producing clean energies are being implemented. Ports occupy vast territories in which wind or solar power plants can be developed. Besides this issue you already find several cases where the extra heat produced in the power plants in ports is being used for the heating system of villages that are placed near the port. I would advise you to have a look at the case of Rotterdam, probably one of the most advanced cases regarding the energy issue.

What I think it could eventually happen is a delocalisation of the power plants, since many of them are placed in the port because is where they receive the raw materials. If they did not have to use this energy sources they could be placed in other locations. On the other hand if you ask the big energy companies they might say that it is easier and cheaper to adapt the power plants to new systems than building new ones from scratch.

The energy issue is a problem that goes beyond the port and the port cities, it affects our entire society and development model. For example nowadays in several ports the transformation of raw material (coal, oil, etc) into refined products, like gasoline, kerosene etc takes a considerable amount of their industrial park and the cargo through. If we change the production model and the use of fossil energy sources (oil, coal) to a system where we produced the energy ourselves, e.g. using solar panels, the implication for the port territory will be very serious.

Port Center

What are port centers’ plans for the future regarding the communication issue?

First of all is important to understand that every port center should answer to their specific context. Although there are some issues than can be common to all port cities, the specificity of the context will change the priorities, the resources and the communication strategies.

We are currently working on a new document in the AIVP around the issue of the Port Center. The answer will be long and with different topics.

The communication issue has been one of the main problems for ports and industries. Ports have the characteristic that, in most cases, they have been a crucial element for the city identity. Over the last century ports became closed territories in all senses, physically and socially. The Port Centers and the use of soft values have come up as some of the most

The book Soft Values of Seaports by Prof. Van Hooydonk (2007). In this publication the soft values are explained, as well the evolution of the relation between the ports and societies. In order to improve their disclosure the author proposes a new figure in port authorities, the soft values manager.

efficient tools to recover the relation between the city and the port. In my opinion the biggest challenge these spaces will face is the people’s engagement in the port-city agenda. The Port Centers can develop very interesting exhibitions using infotainment, particularly with the new technologies – Livorno is good example of this, however that might not be enough. The links with the existing local institutions and the creation of debates around the topic of the port-city relation should be, in my opinion, one of the ways to proceed. The social media, if properly used, can help in this mission. In many cases the Port Center is created by the PA or the PA is one of the main partners, the issue that might come up is the fact that the people might doubt their independence. Therefore they must be able to show all aspects that affect the port-city relation, including the possible negative externalities, and transform this into a debate/dialogue, where the local population is active and can participate in the quest for a solution. I believe that we must find a way where all stakeholders (port, municipality region, civic society, companies …) feel their ideas are taken into account. This way, including everybody in the solution for the port-city problems, would grant a bigger commitment and also to share the responsibility of the decisions.

The procedure above described is probably only possible for the Port Centers that are well established, after a first phase focused in information, when the locals can have a more passive role.

Obviously the main target group of most port centers is the younger generation. The education of the children and teenagers is crucial for the future of the port-city relation, and for the port itself. The tools that we know already seem to be efficient, however there is a constant need for adaptation to the new technologies and the generations. For this issue the cooperation with pedagogic experts is very important.

I believe the port visits are the best tool that the port community has to explain the port and generate a certain fascination among the youngsters and adults. The “wow” effect of being near cranes and ships cannot be replaced by games, maps or posters, though they are complementary. The people are getting more curious everyday about the world we live in. The amount of information available is greater than in any other time. We have to provide the experiences than are unique of the port and cannot be done in a computer screen. There is a growing trend related to industrial tourism, this could be one example of activity that Port Center could relate with, complementing their usual exhibition and events agenda

Port Authority

What are the new main strategies of port authorities for getting the Social License to Operate?

There are several key vectors that in my opinion PA can develop to achieve the Social License to Operate (SLO). First of all transparency and information. The majority of PAs are public companies, the common good it’s supposed to be the main goal. Port Centers and communication strategies can play a key role in this issue. The people will probably better accept the port activities if they understand what are the main port activities, what impact they have in their daily life, where does the PA invest the money and they will benefit from it.

Second strategy is the innovation regarding the role of the PA. If you check Rotterdam for example, they have evolved from landlord to a more active role. They are involved in a project call the RDM Campus, where they collaborate with university to help start up innovative companies. Ports no longer provide the jobs they used to, this is clearly linked to less social support. If the PAs are able to be more active in this field, and the people notice it I believe the SLO will be easier to achieve.

RDM Campus Source:

Finally I think that the proper “use” of the soft-values could raise the awareness regarding the Port-City identity. If the people understand that the port is part of their history, it is more likely that they accept their presence and support the port activities.

Which soft values could be improved by PAs ?

In many port-cities we can find cultural institutions that develop the port-city identity and the soft values. Regarding the PAs we can find different levels of engagement. The support of related initiatives could be the base line that PA can develop. From social events like port days and marathons to cultural initiatives such as movie or photo festivals. Most PA’s in Europe are already active supporting this type of events.

In a different level they could in many cases improve the management of port heritage. From cranes to warehouses and other constructions, we can find many examples in which these elements are not handle properly. Very often they do not play any role in the port activities any more. These are assets that can be use for urban activities or port business possible to combine with the city. Usually they are difficult to manage but in several cases the PA could ease the process. For example the Silo Hennebique in Genoa, or the J1 in Marseille.

j1-marseille (2)
J1 Warehouse Source:

In general terms there should be a better strategy to cooperate with institutions that are focused in the same issue, the soft-values of seaports, in order to increase their disclosure and have a more holistic vision of this subject.

What are the best strategies to make negotiations between PAs and municipal authorities easier ?

In the study cases that I had the chance to analyze one of the common issues was the lack of understanding between both authorities. In most cases when the representatives of both institutions sit in the negotiation table they are too focus on their own problems rather than in the greater picture, and/or do not make the minimal effort to understand the other side. I believe this issue happens in more institutional negotiations. The problem is that if nobody is willing to understand the other side is harder to find a compromise.

 I think that one possible strategy would be to have a workshop or lecture for the participants in the negotiations where they learn the difficulties of the other side. If everybody is aware of the existing problems in both sides they should be more willing to find a commitment.

In some cases there have been experiences where a common work group with representatives from both sides work together, therefore the negotiation does not have a specific date or deadline with opposed partners, but it is a common work, developed for a long time integrating all the issues into a single proposal. If you look at the analyzed study cases you will find that in some of them new platforms with people from both sides have been created, for example Stadshavens in Rotterdam.

Stadshavens Rotterdam

To all the answers above you can add the human factor as a crucial issue. The future of Port Centers, Soft Values management, how to obtain the SLO or the negotiations will be handled by persons that will eventually be responsible for the success or failure of all these issues. The quality of the professionals in charge, their attitude towards the problems and the commitment with the city and the port will affect the development of the relation. The quality of the solutions and the port-city relation does not depend of the size of the port or the city, is not a matter of rankings. We can find very interesting approaches in some leading port-cities like in Rotterdam or Antwerp, but also in smaller cases like Livorno, Ghent or Dublin. It will be very interesting to see how the synergies between port and city evolve in the future and how we are able to find a sustainable development model.