AIVP Days – Personal Comment

AIVP Days – Personal Comment

AIVP Days – Le Havre – June 2017

The theme of congress, port-city animation, invited from the beginning to have a holistic approach, considering different perspectives, from academia to practitioners, from municipalities to port authorities.

The same week before the congress, we had the opportunity to discuss the most innovative practices in terms of social interaction between ports and citizens, during the 4th meeting of the Port Center Network. This tool, empowered by the AIVP, has evolved from simple explanation centers, with the typical port model and ancient images, to interactive platforms where the local residents can actually play a more active role in the port clusters and planning. We saw innovative examples from private companies, such as Contship, education and cultural institutions, like the STC from Rotterdam. Also Port Authorities participated, such as Livorno and Marseille, explaining the development process of a Port Center in the different scales and strategies. Urban agglomerations, like Lorient, proposes first to establish a local network and only after to consider a physical location and the associated investment. All these approaches contribute to enhance and clarify the role of the port in society, explain their importance and give disclosure to aspects that often remain hidden, only seeing the light for the most negative reasons. The local inhabitants, either port neighbors or city residents, sooner or later will become involved in the port development process, being either participants in the externalities, or, worse case scenario, players in NIMBY phenomenon. It has been proved that it is better to prevent than to fight, to avoid the conflict, to bring them inside the planning process, and find common strategies. It is important that the peopled feel as part of the solution, not of the problem.

During the congress we were able to see the combination of different strategies, from more traditional perspectives, to others more innovative. The keynote presentation, by landscape architects Michel Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, introduced their project for Le Havre’s waterfront, that tries to establish a new contact with from the street to the port. One of the key features of their design is flexibility. It is achieved by creating a new simple public space where temporary facilities and events can be made. In their presentation they introduced an important concept, that of port beauty, and how challenging it is to share it.

Base Projet N&B  A0_1-500
New waterfront Project for Le Havre. By Michel Desvigne. Source:

The following round table brought representative from different European cases, with different backgrounds. We could see initiatives from Genoa Porto Antico, Rotterdam STC, and Dublin Port Authority (DPA). One relevant detail is the fact that, with the exception of Dublin, the other organizations were not the usual players in the port-city animation, showing the different paths that can be taken to increase citizens presence on the waterfront and provide them a more complete image of the port.

Mr. O’Reilly, from DPA, highlighted a relevant point, that two realities were being discussed. On the one hand, the animation of regenerated waterfront locations that historically hosted port activities, e.g Genoa Port Antico. On the other the challenge of developing a sustainable social relationship with the active port, such as what happens in Marseille Bassin Est, Lisbon or in Dublin itself. The core issue is the possible combination of both strategies.

In academia the descriptive geographic model developed by Bird, Hoyle and others, describes the separation process and port exodus from central historical waterfront location. Although this model has been broadly accepted, it can also be discussed. Waterfront regeneration projects, as the ones presented by the keynote speakers of Le Havre, the one from Las Palmas, or Quebec, still do take place. However, as more restrictive environmental legislation and ecological public conscience is developed, blue and green field port development will probably find stronger opposition and limitation. As said in other publications, port retrofitting is an alternative to consider. This strategy raises the problem of peaceful coexistence and the acceptance of certain port landscapes within urban tissues. Further on, the ISPS code presents additional challenges regarding the port-city-citizen interaction. However, the code has existed since 2001, giving enough time for creative solutions to be developed, as it was indicated by Mr. Renaud Paubelle, from the GPM of Marseille, mentioning  the Terrasses du Port project in the same city.

Terrasses du Port Source:

Port retrofitting can be seen in some cases aforementioned. Although challenging , it might be the most sustainable alternative when we consider the global scale. The fact of being “under surveillance” of the public eye forces companies and institutions to innovate taking advantage of new technologies that are already available. During the conference, examples of this technology were discussed, such as the ships that are able to produce more energy than the one they consume, the electrified docks, providing power to the ships avoiding fossil fuels, or the use of LNG on cruise ships. These advances require initial investment to later produce economical benefits. In cities is where port companies will feel the pressure to implement these innovations, that later will also benefit them.

In order to achieve what is commonly known as the (Social) License to Operate (LTO), ports have to use all available resources. The simple hard figures expressing the economic impact in terms of employment or turnaround traffic are not enough. As Mr. O’Reilly mentioned, Soft Values (Van Hooydonk, 2007) have to be explored. The

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.

associated cultural and social elements, explained by Hein, that ports used to produce as unplanned externalities provide an opportunity to explain the port and other positive, often intangible, values, such as port-city identity. This concept, studied mainly in the academic world, is key for a sustainable port-city relationship. If Lynch (1960) once was able to define the image of the city and how people absorb information in the urban environment, our challenge is the definition of the image of the port-city, a task to which all stakeholders can and must contribute. In this sense social sciences are one of the key paths, as pointed out by Hein, where innovations can be made, also to inspire and set the course for institutional change and later concrete actions in each port-city.

If we use Soft-Values, we have to consider unquantifiable elements such as “port beauty” as mentioned by the keynote speaker, Mr. Michel Desvigne. Although “beauty” can be considered a subjective element, it is undeniable that even modern ports are able to have a certain fascination beyond logistic or economic values. This is a key element, combined with extensive socio-economical projects that involve the community and spread out through the entire port-city, including all kinds of actors, from private companies to educational college such as what we saw in Barcelona´s maritime cluster or Rotterdam STC.

To conclude, two remarks. The first one refers to the composition of the audience. The presence of delegates from very different geographical regions highlights one particular characteristic of the port-maritime world. Although it is one of the pillars of globalization, with private actors and organizations often operating in a continental or global scale, each context has its own idiosyncrasies. It is not possible to copy-paste solutions seen during the conference. The goal of these meetings and of the AIVP is the exchange of experiences that can inspire to animate each port-city adapting global strategies to the local context and available resources.

The second remark refers to the return on investment, probably one of the main challenges port-city animation faces. It is not easy to explain and convince certain sector and political leaders to make the investment into port-city animation. Sociological, management and other academic studies could be used to explain the issue and gather the necessary support. However, if we consider the alternative, not doing anything, as it happened during most part of the 20th century, we should find some justification for the investment. If we observe the consequences of this long lasting inaction in the social port-city relationship during decades, the opposition that has gradually emerged, the lack of awareness we can find a strong enough motivation to invest and take action. As Eamonn O´Rielly said regarding social initiatives, and by extension port-city animation: “we do it because we have to”.

Art Installation by Vincent Ganivet. One of many works and events celebrating the 500 anniversary of the city. Source:



Bird, J. H. (1963). The major seaports of the United Kingdom. Hutchison.

Hoyle, B.S. (1989) The port City Interface: Trends, Problems and Examples, Geoforum Vol. 20, 429-435.

Lynch, K. (1960). The image of the City. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Van Hooydonk, E. (2007). Soft values of seaports. A strategy for the restoration of public support for seaports. Antwerp: Garant.


Port Centers, the spearheads of Seaport Culture disclosure

Port Centers, the spearheads of Seaport Culture disclosure

Several authors have studied the evolution of the relation between cities and ports, developing different models, identifying a conflict situation that in many cases continues until today[1]. In this article we will try to briefly summarized some of the causes of the conflict and their impact in the relation. After, we will mention some strategies used by the port authorities and communities and how they can be complemented by the Port Centers. Finally we will see how this concept works and how it has evolved from the first generation to the second, explaining two examples from each one.

The Port-City relation

We can find complains regarding the port infrastructure and how they cut the access to the water already in the late 19th century[2]. However, the positive outcome of having a port at that time it was clear. The number of jobs associated with the port activities and the economic advantages granted a certain social support for the port development. The evolution of the logistic chain, the maritime technology, the world economy, planning practices or new legislation[3] forced changes during the 20th century in the port configuration and functioning. Due to these changes, among other things, the positive effects of the port activities began to spread over the region or the country, while the negative externalities, mainly related with the environment and traffic, remained in the port-city (Ircha, 2013; Merk, 2013,2014).

Port of Lisbon in the first half of the 20th Century Source

Along with the diminishment of the positive externalities, the raise of an ecological conscience[4] during the second half of the 20th century had as well an impact in the way people saw ports. This phenomenon created social concerns about the environment and the negative effects certain industries could cause. These concerns eventually resulted in a movement opposing some industrial infrastructures, including ports and their expansion projects.

The process aforementioned, particularly the decrease in the economic impact of the port-maritime activities in the local society, has been named by other researchers as demaritimisation (Musso et al. 2011). This term can also include the decrease of the cultural presence of the port in the port-cities, which results in a loss of maritime character. The lost of port conscience could eventually lead to the reallocation of public resources into other sectors, further harming the port development. It is also possible to observe that the ports, and more specifically the port authorities, have not, for the major part of their history, maintain a transparent communication with the city or the local citizens. As result, the physical and symbolic distance between cities and ports has been increasing.

port 2
Port of Rotterdam. Port Landscapes of the 21st Century. The port areas are no longer open to the inhabitants and the port is in many cases totally separated from the city Author: José M P Sánchez

Simultaneously a new type of project began to take place in port-cities, the urban waterfront regeneration plans. This sort of intervention, which started in the 1960s in the USA, was initially based in the transformation of port brownfields near the city center. By the end of the 20th Century, the evolution of this type of projects and the changes in the urban development tendencies had transformed the waterfront area into one of the most appealing locations for new city districts, changing the previous industrial activities for housing projects, office buildings, public spaces or cultural facilities (Schubert, 2011). Among other issues, the increase of value of the waterfront plots put more pressure on the port to leave the locations close to the city center. In some cases, like Oslo, the port authorities also saw this process as an opportunity to finance new port infrastructure outside the urban core. The result of these changes was that in numerous cases ports were no longer visible nor existed close to the everyday routines of the city as it was before, separating themselves from the general image of the local identity.

Waterfront project for Seattle Waterfront

The evolution of the port-city relation as previously described have resulted in a significant diminishment of the social support of ports. In the late 20th century and beginning of the 21st, we could see a shift in the priorities of the port authorities. They start to include the social integration of ports in their program and projects (Merk,2013). In the early 21st century several documents from European initiatives were published showing the concern about this issue[5]. In this context one of the aims of the port authorities was granting the Social License to Operate. As explained by other authors (Dooms ,2014, Boutilier and Thomson,2011) the SLO is, in its broader concept, fulfilling the expectations of stakeholder and local communities in dimensions that go beyond the creation of wealth, i.e. the social acceptance of port activities by local communities, that take in consideration other elements, besides the economic impact of the port.

Soft Values

To achieve the SLO, a common strategy has been to appeal to what was named by Van Hooydonk as the Soft – Values, “the non-socioeconomic values which include among others historical, sociological, artistic and cultural sub-functions that form the soft-function of seaports” (Van Hooydonk, 2007). In some of the bigger port-cities, such as Rotterdam or Hamburg, the port festivals have been an important event in the festivities calendar. This sort of events are being implemented in port-cities around the world with relative success in terms of local participation. The use of the soft-values has been enhanced by different port authorities, developing a socio-cultural agenda, from movie festival to concerts or sport events[6].

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.

The practices using soft-values have been able to attract people to the port territory, create a visual relation with the port atmosphere and in some cases help to keep the port-maritime identity of some port-cities. However, there is a tendency to a certain romanticism in the cultural events, sometimes detached from the real functioning of the port. As mentioned by Verhoeven (2011), both soft and hard values are necessary to regain the public support of ports. In order to develop a process of remaritimisation of port-cities, it is mandatory to combine innovative port activities, that generate new port related jobs and locally created added value, with the aforementioned Soft-Values and a clear communication channel. Considering the discredit of many political institutions and the tendency of the bottom-up planning policies, it seems reasonable to look for new tools for the port-city relation, adapted to the new scenario, such as the Port Centers.

The Port Center Concept

The Port Center concept can be described as  a ” museum and didactic structure oriented to the diffusion of port and maritime awareness and knowledge” (Ghiara, 2012). This structure has a physical location, a permanent exhibition and staff focused in the organization of visits to the center and the port territory. This structure has been used to articulate the relation between the port and the citizens, including local and foreign visitors. As we will see in the examples, the Port Center has also been created as a two way communication channel where, not only the people can get information about the port, but also is possible to organize a debate about the port-city relation or the port expansion projects. In most European countries the public discussion of large infrastructural projects is mandatory by law, which is also an opportunity to involve the locals in the port development debate and generate a certain feeling of appropriation of the port.

Port Center Schema
Port Center Concept. Adapted from Marini et al. 2014

The Soft-Values of seaports, as mentioned before, are one of the main assets ports can use to regain the social acceptance and visibility. The management of these values can also be made using the Port Center as the hinge for the port-city interaction, developing the socio-cultural agenda and the educational programs, fostering the public debate or implementing new information channels. The Port Centers form an alternative way to communicate with the citizens, complementing the existing initiatives. We can identify two different generations of this sort of structure since they started to be used in the late 1980s.

First Generation

Antwerp Port Center

The impact generated by the larger ports usually requires them to develop innovative strategies to reduce their negative externalities and increase their social integration, including innovative ways of information disclosure (Merk, 2013, 74). In 1988 the first Port Center was created in one of Europe’s biggest ports, Antwerp. This new facility was, and still is, located in the center of the port territory, on the right bank of the Scheldt river, next to the Lillo fort, 20 Km. from the city center. The scope for which it was founded was mainly educational, seeking to change the negative perception the port had, mainly among the younger generations. This issue is particularly relevant, not just regarding the social acceptance, but also concerning the lack of qualified workers.

The educational scope of the Antwerp Havencentrum, previously also known as Lillo Port Center,  was clear since it was initially thought exclusively for school classes. The fact of being far from the public transport was not a problem since the groups would arrive directly with their own means. Later, the Center allowed different types of groups, increasing their impact in the local society, welcoming pensioners and company delegations visiting the port.

Location of the Antwerp Port Center in the middle of the port territory

The Port Center of Antwerp is mainly financed by the province, responsible for 70% of its budget. In an initial moment it did not included other organism in the board of directors, but this situation changed in 2014 when the representatives of the logistics and industrial sectors of the port were invited to the board. The integration of the different stakeholders of the port community is important, not just for possible economic support, but also for the legitimacy of the project and the organization of the port visits.  Secondary financing strategies have also been developed, including an entrance fee for the visitors and the sublet of meeting rooms as venue for the interested companies.

The exhibition space (800sqm) explains the functioning of the port and its impact in the regional, national and international level. The pedagogic project has been developed following the principle of edutainment, combining the explanation of the logistic chain, the ships and the port territory with interactive games in order to captivate the attention of the students. This strategy was inspired by the science museums, and later was followed by Port Centers developed afterwards.

Images from the Lillo Port Center

The integration of former employees in the guides team is another positive aspect of the project. This initiative allows to maintain a certain sense of port community and gives first hand testimonies to the visitors. In order to grant the correct communication between the youngsters and the retired port workers, the latter received an specific training for the interaction and explanation of their experiences.

So far the Antwerp Port Center has enjoyed reasonable success according to the number of visitors, over 47 000 per year (AIVP, 2016). The coordination with the educational community has been as well positive. Other forms of collaboration have been developed, particularly relevant with the high schools focused in the maritime education and with the institute of maritime management and transport from the university of Antwerp. The main critic could be that, for the moment, it has not been possible to organize a two way interaction as some examples of the second generation, limiting the possible communication (Ghiara et al. 2014). Another issue could be the fact the Port Center of Antwerp still is reserved for groups visits from the target audiences, not allowing individual visits, limiting its social impact capacity.

Rotterdam EIC

The second Port Center of the first generation is the EIC (Education and Information Centre) of Rotterdam. This structure was created in late 1993 by Deltalinqs (Association of port companies of Rotterdam) and the port of Rotterdam Authority. It shares several characteristics with the case of Antwerp regarding location, scope and type of visitors. It is placed next to Rozenburg and the Europoort terminal, 20 km from the city center and without a good public transport connection.

The main goal was to explain the port to the new generations and show them that the port can be a good option to pursue a professional career. As it happens in Antwerp, the port was no longer seen as an attractive location to work (Aarts et al., 2012) . The strategy to explain the ports is similar as well to Antwerp. It includes a permanent exhibition with games and didactic activities and organizes port visits for the groups that come to the center. It also offers their services and facilities to the port companies, including the possibility of hosting private events. This service, along the entrance fee, provides a secondary financing source. In the website we can find educational material to assist the school teachers to better prepare the visit and take the maximum profit of it.

EIC Rotterdam

The success of this initiative is clear, receiving 22 000 visitors per year (Merk, 2013) but, as the aforementioned example, for the moment it does not allows individual visitors. Nevertheless the Port of Rotterdam decided to develop a second Port Center, already part of the second generation, including some changes in the model followed so far.

Second Generation

The concept of the Port Center has been implemented in different contexts and we can find examples in port -cities in and outside Europe. It took more than two decades for the concept to be used by other port-cities. To this second wave, developed since the first decade of the 20th century, belong for example the cases of  Genoa, Melbourne, Vancouver, Busan, Rotterdam- FutureLand, Le Havre, Ashdod and Livorno. In the initiatives that integrate this second generation we can find a greater variety of solutions for the challenges faced by the centers from the first one.

In terms of financing we can see different approaches. On one hand, there is possibility of a collaboration between different institutions, related with the port, including port authorities, municipalities and regions or the chamber of commerce. This approach can be found in Genoa, Le Havre or even in the port museum of Dunkirk[7]. On the other hand, we can also find initiatives that are full responsibility of the port authorities, for example Rotterdam-FutureLand, Melbourne, Ashdod or Livorno. This second model reveals how the concern regarding the social acceptance and integration has grown in the port authorities. In the first generation the port authorities were not so present in the financing or the organization, mainly done by the province or the association of port companies. The option of a joint project gives more credibility to the center since it is more unlikely that is perceived by the visitors as a public relation from the port authority.

The location issue has also been handled in different ways. We can find two main options: The Port Center placed in the port territory, as it was in the first generation, or located in the boundary between port and city, near the urban core. In Melbourne and Ashdod the structure is placed in the port area, being the second one in a restricted access location. The visit is only possible in groups, often with their own transportation. This solution allows a direct impression of the port, but it reduces the options of individual visitors. The second possibility, implemented in Genoa and later in Livorno or Le Havre, has an easier access to the facility. This second option allows an easier access to the general public, broadening the target audience. However, it is important to notice that, in several cases here presented, the choice of the location was very often more related with the available facilities than with other criteria. The majority use existing locations, in some examples occupying heritage buildings owned by the port or one of the partners, giving a stronger sense of attachment to the place and a more recognizable space.

Regarding the target audience, the majority of the Port Centers are focused in the younger public, particularly the children and teenagers deciding the educational path they want to take. In some cases, like Genoa or Le Havre, it was decided to welcome a wider audience, occasionally developing content and activities for a more mature public. For example, Le Havre developed the technical Thursdays program, during which experts from port different activities or port development do presentations about specific topics in a more detailed level.

Another element that has changed is the entrance fee. In most cases of the second generation the entrance fee is no longer applied or with a symbolic figure. The majority of the project financing has been done by the participating partners.

Simultaneously to the second generation the AIVP created the Port Center Network. This work group was established in 2011 (Morucci et al. 2016) with the goal of connecting the existing Port Centers from both generations and share the best practices. One of the main inputs of this initiative has been the Missions Charter of a Port Center, a document published in 2013 with ten key points explaining the goals and challenges if this type of projects

From the mentioned cases that form the second generation we will explain in further detail two, the Italian Port Centers of Genoa and Livorno.

Genoa Port Center

The Port Center of Genoa was one of the first cases of the second generation. The project was supported by five different institutions: the Genoa Port Authority, the Maritime Authority, the Province of Genoa, the University and the Municipality of Genoa (through the Porto Antico SpA) (Ghiara, 2012). The chosen location for the new facility was in the Porto Antico area, next to the city center and other urban attractions, like the Bigo or the aquarium, with an easy access for the general public.

The Magazzini del Cotone, where the port center is located

The university of Genoa, more specifically the faculty of economy, developed the necessary research collaborating with the port community. The main motivation of the project was not to explain the point of view of the port authority, but to include all the different perspectives of the port-city relationship.

Around the Port Center a socio-cultural agenda was developed. During the first years a series of events took place, such as the port run, movies on the docks, or activities coordinated with other museums and science centers. This panoply of actions was destined, as pointed out by Ghiara (2012), to promote the soft-values and articulate the relation between both realities.

Although the general public was the target audience, the school groups still received considerable attention. Besides the exhibition and the tours to the port territory, other activities were programmed. One of the main examples was the “Let’s adopt a ship” project, by which the student groups would be able to remain in contact with the crew of a ship (Ghiara et al, 2014).

During the first years the project received 14000 visitors each year (Merk, 2013), including almost 6000 students per year in average (Ghiara, 2012).

Genoa Port Center Source:

The Port Center of Genoa is since mid 2014 closed due to a lack of understanding between the participant partners. The goal after the first years was to give the management of the center to the port authority but for the moment the situation is unclear. This problem shows how difficult and complex the collaboration between the different institutions operating in the port-city can be. This issue will affect the image of the port and the aimed social support, in this case particularly necessary since the port has a direct boundary with the city along the entire urban waterfront.

Livorno Port Center

On November 2015 the most recent Port Center of the second generation opened its doors in the port-city of Livorno. In this case the project is developed by the port authority of Livorno, that since 2007 has developed several initiatives aimed towards a better social integration of the port. Among these actions, the one that has received greater recognition, is the Porto Aperto program, during which social activities in the port are organized, mainly during the school period.

There are several aspects from the case of Livorno that differentiate it from previous cases. The center is located inside the Fortezza Vecchia, a fortress from the 16th Century. This heritage construction is placed in the boundary between the city and the port and offers a historic context for the Port Center, as well as different points where the visitors can see the port from an elevated location. The port authority was able to use its own resources for the refurbishment of a section of the fortress since it would host the Port Center, what can be considered a port function. This issue is particularly relevant since, in the case of Italy, the law very often does not allows the port authorities to finance projects that are not related with the port activities.

Fortezza Vecchia

The Port Center includes a permanent exhibition and a library. However, when compared with other cases is considerably smaller, adapted to the local context. Regarding the exhibition itself another innovation is its layout. Although the principles of edutainment are still present, the final solution used new available technologies, such as virtual reality or kinetic games, to give a more interactive experience. Besides the fact of being more attractive to the teens and children visiting the center, this new approach allows a certain flexibility and adaptation capacity, since the necessary equipment is easier to move and transport[8].

One of the original motivations of the Port Center of Livorno was, besides explaining the port, to develop a forum where the ideas about the port-city relation could be shared and discussed (Corradini & Morucci, 2012). This goal became a reality during the spring of 2016, from April to June, when the port debate took place in the fortress and included the port center as one of the main tools to explain the port and the development project planned. The figure of the debate is planned in the regional law of Tuscany[9] in cases where the project budget exceeds 50 million €. In this case there were two proposals to be discussed, the Europe Platform, including different infrastructure related with the logistics sector, and the new maritime station, mainly destined to passenger traffic. The project would be located in a position that could create new port-city interaction, including interventions in the existing heritage. During the different debate sessions, the public got to know the issues related with both projects, besides general information about the port functioning. The debate also worked as a two way communication, since the citizens were also able to give their inputs to the discussion, although the port authority is not compelled to follow the conclusions of the debate. During the initiative the participants could also make port visits. The organization created as well an online user-friendly platform where all the information was available.

Port debate session


In the evolution of the relation between port and city we have seen how the interaction and communication has changed. The need to obtain the SLO forced many port authorities to include the social integration as one of their priorities. In an initial moment it was noticed that the use of the soft-values could help to regain the port identity of many port-cities. The development of a socio-cultural agenda has became a reality in many cases. However, we have seen that it is necessary to explain the port reality as it is nowadays, complementing the romantic vision often presented with updated information.

The port-cities are territories open to urban planning innovation, as we have seen in numerous waterfront projects. In this case, the Port Center is an element around which is possible to articulate the relation between port and city, including the local citizens., while contributing to the social acceptance of the port. These structures offer the inhabitants the opportunity to re-appropriate themselves of the port and identify it as an important element of the city’s identity.

The success of the policies developed by the different port-authorities, including the management of Soft-Values and Port Centers, is yet to be measured. The study of these actions and their results is a relevant subject to be studied, which should be approached with a holistic methodology. The investigations would have to be formulated including several perspectives from different fields. The study of the policies impact would determine their validity and how they must be adapted to the ever changing reality of the port-cities.


This paper was presented in the session about European Seaport Culture in the 13th Conference on Urban History that took place in Helsinki, between the 24th and 27th of August.



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[1] Among these authors we can find for example the work developed by Bird, Hayuth, Hoyle or Meyer. All of them have explain the evolution of the relation between port and city and the port-city interface, often linked with the economic cycles.

[2] For example in the case of Lisbon we can find texts from journalists and writers from the end of the 19th Century or beginning of the 20th, such as Castilho or Proença, that complained about the options taken in the port development plan and how they affected the relation between the city and the river (Barata, 2010)

[3] It is generally accepted that the first major change in the port-city relation took place during the industrial revolution, when many port development projects took place forced by the improvements in the maritime technology. Also in this period is when the first port authorities were founded. Another important change took place during the 1960’s, when the container, invented in the 1956 by Malcom Mclean, started to be a universal cargo forcing changes in the ports layout. In terms of legislation the most recent example is the international ISPS code, which implies that the port areas must have restricted access and have to be separated from the surroundings by a wall or fence.

[4] Aldo Leopold was the first author to mention the idea of an ecological conscience in his book “A sand county almanac” from 1949. In his work, the author claimed a change in the worldview, from an anthropocentric perspective to an ecocentric one, being the man part of nature and not above it. This work, along with the book “Silent Spring” from R. Carson, published in 1961, inspired what can be known as the “Age of ecology” (Sessions, 1987).

[5] Documents from European projects such as: the “plan the city with the port” initiative, the SUDEST and CTUR projects, both integrated in the Urbact program, and the “People around ports project” from which the “Code of Practice on Societal Integration of Ports” from ESPO resulted. During the same time span the AIVP (Association International Ville et Port) also published several documents mentioning the topic of social integration of ports.

[6] The port festivals of Hamburg (Hafengeburtstag) and the Rotterdam (World Port Days) are two of the most well known events of this kind. Both attract hundreds of thousands visitors and the port is in the center of the celebration. Another sort of example could be the port run in Valparaiso or Porto, or the music festivals in Hamburg (Elbjazz) or Las Palmas (Temudas).

[7] Although not technically a Port Center, it fulfills a part of its mission and is an example of cooperation among several local institutions.

[8] The exhibition is formed by different stations and a central media table. The stations include a beamer, a white screen and a movement sensor. This sort of technology can be easily moved and adapted to other location in case the Port Center has to move.

[9] Regional Law  46/2013


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.

Talking about Port Centers

Talking about Port Centers

Since the last post there has been no time to write about the ongoing research… until now. Over the last month the main topic in the investigation has been the social integration on ports and how affects the relation between cities and ports.

During this time we have been collaborating with the AIVP or the development of a guide of good practices focused in the Port Centers. In this post we will explain this concept and how it has evolved since the creation in the 1980’s. The text here presented is partly shared with a contribution for the next AIVP World Congress, that will take place next October.

Next AIVP Congress will take place in Rotterdam and it will be focused in the crossovers between cities and ports

The Social License to Operate

During the ongoing research we have come to notice that, in order to have a peaceful coexistence between ports and cities, the concept of Social License to Operate (SLO) is of great importance. As explained by other authors like Dooms or Boutilier and Thomson, the SLO is, in its broader concept, fulfilling the expectations of stakeholder and local communities in dimensions that go beyond the creation of wealth. In other words: the SLO is the social acceptance of port activities by local communities. This issue has started to gain attention from researchers and practitioners, particularly related with the relation between ports and cities. In several studies published in recent years the importance of the SLO has been enhanced, like for example the Port-City program from the OECD led by Merk.

The relation between ports and politics is clear. In case the port activities are not approved by the citizens, it could later transform into a lack of political support to the port and finally condition the expansion of the harbor or the increase in the port activity. In this situation seems important that the port is able to have a positive relation with the local society and overcame the isolation in which remained in the past.

Soft Values of Seaports

To reach this goal ports count with an asset that most industries do not have, the soft values. This concept, defined by Van Hooydonk as “the non-socioeconomic values which include among others historical, sociological, artistic and cultural sub-functions that form the soft-function of seaports”, gives to the ports an additional advantage. They are not just industrial areas on the waterfront, but, in the majority of cases, the main identity element of the city. The port is an element of great cultural values that should be appropriated by the citizens.

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.

The Port Center Concept

Over the last two decades one of the instruments that has proven more efficient for the explanation of the port and the disclosure of the soft values has been the Port Center. This sort of initiative is focused on explaining the port to the inhabitants, particularly the younger generations, and to change their vision of the port as something of their own and important for the future of the city as explained by Marini, Ghiara and Dooms in an article in 2014. Two different generations of Port Centers can be identified since the late 1980´s when the first one was created.

Port Center Schema.jpg
Port Center Concept: The founding partners (Port and public authorities, as well as some private partners) form the Port Center that through a series of initiatives (exhibitions, tours, events, etc) and collaborating with different stakeholders (companies, universities, cultural institutions, etc) will have a positive impact in the social integration of the port in several dimensions.                                                                                                                                                  Author: José Sánchez, based on a previous model from Greta Marini


First Generation

The first generation is formed by two centers in two of the main European ports, Antwerp and Rotterdam. The first one, created in the Belgian port in 1988, had a central location inside the port territory. The Lillo Center, founded by the province, has achieved great success receiving 50000 visitors per year. The second one, named EIC, was created in Rotterdam in 1994, it is also centrally located in the port area and hosts 22000 visitors per year. The target audience of both centers is the youngsters, which have been developing a certain detachment towards the port and no longer consider it an attractive place to develop a professional career. This issue might later have serious consequences since in some cases a shortage of qualified professionals could be detected. The access to these centers was reserved to the school groups in visits previously scheduled, including the payment of an entrance fee.

Images from the Lillo Port Center. Source:
Images from the Lillo Port Center. Source:

The port authority was only present in the Rotterdam project although it was not the leading partner, a role taken by Deltalinqs, an organization of the private companies operating in the port.

From this first generation we can see that the location can have an important impact in the visibility of the port center. Although it might be convenient to be placed inside the port territory it might also hinder the impact or the possibility of opening to a broader audience. In these projects was also clear that the port visits, either by boat or bus, are one of the most attractive activities for the visitors and is the best way to explain the complexity and scale of the port. Finally they both were pioneers regarding the use of the infotainment concept applied to the port.

Second Generation

In the early 2000`s we can identify a second generation of port. The renaissance of the concept and its broader application could result from two factors, the success of the first generation and, mainly, the acknowledgement by the ports of the necessity of explaining themselves to the citizens, going beyond an agenda of single events. They need a physical location in which they have a constant disclosure of the port value. In cities like Genoa, Ashdod, Le Havre, Livorno, Vancouver, Melbourne or Rotterdam, we can identify new centers or similar structures that fulfill the goal defended by the first generation, with several innovations.

The time gap has allowed the development of new technologies improving the edutainment, allowing greater interactivity and making them more appealing to the younger generations. The core target group remains the same: the youngsters. However, in some cases, the general public is also allowed to visit the Port Center on their own initiative, therefore reaching a broader audience.

Regarding the location it seems clear that opening up to the general public requires a better accessibility. Several centers of the second generation are placed near the urban center, in the limit between the port and city, in some cases in buildings with a historical value, increasing their visibility and the interest of the inhabitants.

We can also find changes in the partners structure. In several centers the Port Authorities have a leading role or are the single developers of the initiative. However we also find projects in which a greater number of partners have cooperated for the development of the center, including public entities like the municipality or the region, but also private companies or the chamber of commerce.

The financing model has also evolved. The entrance fee has in most cases been reduced or even disappear. The main financing sources  still are the founding partners but we can also find initiatives, like the FutureLand in Rotterdam, that have developed secondary resources, such as the cafeteria or the bookshop.

rotterdam post 3
FutureLand, Maasvlakte 2.  Author: José M P Sánchez

Simultaneously to the second generation, the Port Center Network inside the AIVP was created. This initiative links the different centers and shares the good practices. At the same time it gives information  to new projects, that can count on the existing expertise.

Future Challenges

We have seen the evolution of the concept and how it is being increasingly used by port cities around the world, however several challenges arise. One of the main issues is the financing of future projects. Although  there is growing awareness of the importance of the social integration of ports, the Port Centers have proven fragile regarding their financing schemes; hence the diversification of the economic sources is necessary in order to increase the resiliency of the new initiatives. There are lessons to be learned from other cultural venues that could be applied to the centers.

The integration of these structures with the existing Soft-Values agenda can also be improved. In some cases we have seen that the Port Center has not been as active as it could in the social activities related to the port. One of the main goals of this sort of initiative is to work as a central element for the Soft-Values agenda; therefore they should also play greater roles than what they have done so far.

Finally it seems important to highlight the issue of linking with other existing organizations and networks that could increase the divulgation of the port-center, for example with the tourism offices. There is a growing trend of industrial tourism that could be an opportunity for increasing the disclosure of the Port Center beyond the local network and gain support of the port in a regional or national basis.

The Port Centers have contributed to improve the communication between the city and the port and allowed a better understanding. In the future they should go even further, developing the port identity present in all the port cities around the globe and allowing the emotional appropriation of the port by the citizens.