Initiatives focused on the Port-City relation II

Initiatives focused on the Port-City relation II

Last spring we noticed several initiatives focused in the port-city relation. This autumn we also have several events that will bring interesting inputs to the debate from different perspectives.

In this post we will also mention two congresses that took place during the summer months. The proceedings of these events are already available and include interesting papers.

15th AIVP World Conference Cities and Ports ‘Crossovers’

One of the main events focused in the port-city relation will take place this week in Rotterdam. From the 5th to the 7th of October more than 400 delegates will meet to discuss different issues related with relation between the port and the city. The AIVP in collaboration with the Port Authority of Rotterdam have prepared a dense program with speakers coming from different contexts and backgrounds. There will be interesting synergies between the professional and the academic worlds.

Here is the official statement explaining the conference:

Port cities everywhere are facing up to new challenges, both locally and globally. Factors such as energy, climate, e-commerce and “uberisation” of the economy, major geopolitical developments, are all overwhelming 20th century organisations and structures that are proving unequipped to deal with contemporary issues. New synergies, gateways, bridges and other crossovers need to be devised and developed, to ensure that ports, cities, economic stakeholders and citizens are able to play their part in the modernisation of port communities. The aim is to build a city-port relationship that is responsive, resilient, and competitive, while also taking into account the needs of the local population and the environment.

It is possible to work together. A whole host of initiatives have already been adopted, with increasing success. Our 15th worldwide conference in Rotterdam aims to showcase them, working with you to build YOUR future.

1. How can crossovers between cities and ports enhance the circular economy?
2. How can crossovers between cities and ports stimulate innovative business climate?
3. How can we use smart technologies for green logistics and industries in port and city?
4. How can joined urban and port planning facilitate the next economy – flexible frameworks of port and city?
5. How can crossovers allow the creation of resilient ports cities facing up to the challenges of climate change
6. How can port cities enhance social innovation, develop new skills and raise the profile and image of the port?

More information here

Port of Lisbon: the future is prepared today

During October a series of conferences and debates has been prepared to discuss several issues related with the port in the context of the Portuguese capital.

The port day in Lisbon. Retrieved from

Each week there will be a debate with presentation from various professionals, focused in different specific topics. The issues to be discussed will go from the port-city relation, to the role of the port in the metropolitan area or even the maritime tourism, a hot topic nowadays in Lisbon.

The conclusion of the program will probably take place during the celebrations of the day of the port, on October 31st.

We leave you here a brief glance of the program:

Friday the 6th : Maritime tourism – a new dynamic

Friday the 14th: Innovative solutions for the port-city relation

Friday the 21st: A port with two shores – Multimodal platform of Barreiro

Thursday the 27th: The port of Lisbon – The future is made today

More information here

ISOCARP YPP/YPTDP Workshop Glasgow

The Young Planning Professionals of the ISOCARP workshop will take place in Glasgow by the last week of October. In this meeting the participants, 20 young professionals, will have the chance to discuss the redevelopment of Clyde Waterfront in Glasgow. The  connection new infrastructure and the integration of above and below ground urban design will be the main challenge the participants will have to face.

One of the most interesting aspects of this workshop is the fact the work will be developed by an interdisciplinary team, formed by 10 architects/urban planners and 10 civil engineers.

The relation between infrastructure and public space to be discussed in Glasgow. Photo retrieved from:

3rd International Workshop “Cities from the Sea – Maritime identity and Urban Regeneration”

In the city of Naples, organized by the Federico II university the 3rd International Workshop “Cities from the Sea – Maritime identity and Urban Regeneration” will take place between the 26th of November and 3rd of December.

Cities from the Sea. 3rd International Workshop Retrieved from

In this workshop the participants, 30 student and 6 tutors, will have the chance to discuss the present and the future of the waterfront and port of Naples. The focus of the meeting will be development of port-cities from different perspectives, from urban planning to community psychology. There will an opportunity to interact with the local stakeholders and attend to several conferences from experts from different fields.

The Call for applications, both for students and tutors, is currently open. The deadline is October 14th.

We leave you here some information from the official website.


  • Urban planning and design in seaside cities, collaborative strategies, community psychology
  • Urban regeneration, place branding and urban marketing for seaside cities
  • Case study and field work areas: Port of Naples and San Giovanni Coast + Nisida Islet, Coroglio and Bagnoli + Historic Waterfront of Naples
  • Interaction with international referees and real stakeholders

Program Remarks

  • Integrated economic/enviromental/social approach
  • Focus group on port cities and coastal urban areas
  • Working with “hungry and foolish” people
  • Real interdisciplinary collaboration among planning, architecture, psychology, economics, ecology, art, social sciences, etc.
  • Interaction with key actors of Napoli metropolitan coast on the land and on the sea
  • “On board” site visits and views from the sea of Napoli metropolitan coast

4th World Port Hackathon

The 4th World Port Hackathon took place on the 2nd and 3rd of September, in the RDM Campus in Rotterdam. During twenty-four hours, 100 hackers took on the challenges from the port of Rotterdam and the port of Singapore. Throughout the World Port Hackathon, the hackers experienced active participation from the port community and there were also many visitors during the Expo and the Grand Finale. (Text retrieved from the official website).

17th IPHS Conference

Last July , the 17th Conference of the International Planning History Society was held in the TU Delft. In this event there several sessions with interesting papers. We can highlight one of them, more related with the port-city topic, titled: Resilience, Path Dependency and Port Cities. Several senior researcher ins the field of waterfront and port-city relations participated in the conference, such as Carole Hein (organizer of the event), Han Meyer or Dirk Schubert.

IPHS. Retrieved from


The proceedings are already available in the congress website here.

13th International Conference on Urban History

A second congress also in the field of urban history, that took place this summer was the 13th Conference of the EAUH – European Association for Urban History. The event, realized in Helsinki, developed sessions about many different topics, being two particularly relevant for the ongoing investigation. The first one was the M21 European Seaport Culture. In it, several researchers presented investigation concerning several study cases, some of them already analyzed here, such as Rotterdam, Genoa or Marseille. Considering the type of conference the approach was from a historic point of view, but it gave interning insights to specific issues, like for example the origin of the Hafengeburtstag in Hamburg.

The second session relevant to the port-city relation was the S23. Reinterpreting Global History: Second Cities, an Alternative Road to Global Integration in the Nineteenth and Twentieth century. The discussion about the concept of second city, very often connected with the one of port-city, was particularly interesting. The papers were particularly incisive, discussing some cases aforementioned.



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.

Port-City governance. A comparative analysis in the European context.

Port-City governance. A comparative analysis in the European context.

This post is based on the paper to be presented in the AESOP YA Congress to be held in Ghent between 21st and 24th of March 2016.

1. Introduction

The relation between cities and ports has been thoroughly analyzed from different perspective in the last 50 years. We can find several investigations that try to explain the concept of port-city and the evolution of their interaction. Many authors, e.g. Bird (1963) and Hoyle (1989; 2000) among others, have developed spatial models that explain the different stages the relation between ports and cities goes through. Although the mentioned models present limitations they are widely accepted as the better abstraction of the evolution of the port-city interface. One of the critic that could be made to these schemes is the fact that not all port-cities fit the description (Kokot, 2008). However, in order to perform a comparative analysis, it provides a solid starting point. According to Hoyle’s model we currently find ourselves in the 6th Phase, when new links between the city and the port can be established. In this article we will not focus in the theoretical research or abstract analysis of port-city development, but rather in the actual governance praxis that we can find in Europe.

Stages in the evolution of port-city interrelationships according to Hoyle’s model (2000)

In order to better understand the role of the context, the different problems and solutions that we find in the European continent a research project was proposed. For this investigation a sample of six port-cities was chosen representing different realities: Oslo, Helsinki, Rotterdam, Marseille, Genoa and Lisbon. In this selection we can find some of the main ports of the continent, such as Rotterdam, but at the same time the Nordic capitals, like Oslo and Helsinki, in which the port is mainly relevant in the regional and national level. Also present are port cities that host the major national port for industrial activities but simultaneously tourism or passenger related activities, like Genoa and Marseille. Finally the port of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, that is suffering strong national competition and seen an important increase in the cruise sector.

Newman and Thornley (1996) have explained before the differences between the planning systems in the context aforementioned. These distinctions in the national legal framework and the particular physical and social conditions generate different  approaches and solutions for nuisances generated by port activities. These externalities are frequently very similar since the main harbor activities are very often alike. The PAs (Port Authorities)must have a policy to cope with the issues created by its activities in the cities since the positive effects of the port spread throughout the region but the negative externalities very often remain in the urban core (Ircha, 2013; Merk, 2013,2014). The combination between global problems and local solutions generates a diversity of management and planning practices worth observing and comparing.

The methodology for the analysis of the study cases was based on visits to the port-cities for periods of two weeks during which one of the main tasks was to perform semi-structured interviews to the responsible authorities in order to get first hand information. We were able to establish contact with the port authorities, municipalities, planning agencies and professionals.  In total 15 interviews were done.  At the same time we contacted the local inhabitants informally to better understand their perception of the port and the role this infrastructure plays in the social identity of the city. The methodology was completed with consultation of bibliography and official documents. For the analysis of the waterfront regeneration projects present in all the study cases we followed the method proposed by Schubert (2011), which includes quantitative and qualitative dimensions e.g. size of the project, start and completion dates, planning culture or location. Finally the time spent in each of the study cases allowed us to perform a photographical survey of the port-city environment and the interaction of the city with the water.

In the work developed by other researchers we can see that there are several key topics related with port-cities. For example in the series dedicated to port-cities from the OECD (Merk 2010-2013) the economic subject was predominant, although it also included information about the urban planning, environmental impact and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The waterfront regeneration projects are another issue that has been extensively studied by other authors, mainly with study case analysis, e.g. Schubert (2008, 2011) and Meyer (2003). Another important source are the guides of good practice developed over the last decade. Several of these publications have been supported by the existing internationals organizations focused on ports and port-cities, such as ESPO (European Sea Port Organization) the European ports lobby, the AIVP (Association Internationale Ville et Port) or RETE more focused in Mediterranean and south American  countries.

We were able to identify 3 main common topics in the port-city relation among the selected study-cases: (i) Institutional relations and role of the port authorities, (ii) physical interaction, including the port-city interface and waterfront regeneration projects, and (iii) the social relation between ports and cities.

2. Institutional relation – New synergies

In the European context most PAs follow the landlord port model [1]. Although the functioning scheme is very similar the political context of each port changes the governance capacities of each PA, being particularly relevant the national political system of each country. In the selected study cases we could also find one PA, Rotterdam, that has evolved from this model into a developer port (Vries, 2014) as we will later see.

We could find two main schemes for the national systems in the studied context, centralized and decentralized (Newman & Thornley, 1996). These two models for the national organization of the state create crucial differences between the European countries. In the particular subject we are concerned the major difference is related with the control of the PA. In the case of the centralized model the central government plays the leading role, in some cases being even the sole responsible for the PA board. This model is mostly seen in the South European countries, in our case sample we could find it in the cities of Genoa, Marseille and Lisbon. The main issue of this scheme is the fact that many decisions regarding the strategic planning and the allocation of economical resources are not taken in the PA itself, but in the central authority, usually the ministry or national department. In this decision making process the priority is given to the economical aspects of the port activity and the resources are mainly dedicated to the major infrastructural works. Regarding the relation with the city, the issue that might surge is the fact that frequently  it is not considered a priority and the investment in projects or activities that could improve the synergies is very often declined. During our interviews we could see that for example in Genoa the PA does not fully controls the revenues its activity generates, therefore does not have capacity to decided where the majority of the investment should be made. Regarding the studied cases that have this model, we also found that when the PA is mainly controlled by the central state, there is a certain institutional and emotional detachment between the city and this infrastructure. This was visible in the Marseille case, where, besides the strong presence of the central state, the complex configuration of the boards hinders the negotiation process.

The alternative on the other hand is more common in central and north European countries. In the study cases this option could be found in Rotterdam, Oslo and Helsinki. In the decentralized model the city has a prominent role in the control of the PA, very often being the majority shareholder in case is a semi-private company, like in the Dutch case (Vries, 2014), or even the PA is under the “umbrella” of the municipality. Previously, in some cases, this institution used to be a department of the municipality, like in Helsinki, but recent reforms to improve the management transformed them into semi-public companies controlled by the local authority. In these cases the state also plays an important role although not so determinant as in the alternative model. In some cases is also present in the shareholding and, in most countries with this system, is in charge of the national coordination of these key infrastructures. For the port-city relation the decentralized model is more beneficial since the city has  a stronger voice in the management decisions, they receive benefits from their shares and the urban issues in the interface are considered important as well.

The two models aforementioned condition the port-city relation in the institutional field, but are not the only elements that affect this interaction. Another issue is the land ownership. In the analyzed cases we found three types of situation. In the first scenario the port land is owned by the PA and it can be used as a resource for financing port projects in case a waterfront regeneration plan takes place. We could see this in Oslo, where the PA was able to finance the Sydhavna terminal through the revenues of the real estate operation involving the port territories near the city center. Another similar case would be Marseille. The GPMM (Grand Port Maritime du Marseille) controls the port land since the last legislation reform in 2008[2]. For this reason when the port released the area for the waterfront regeneration, it received a compensation from the planning agency.  Another situation regarding the land ownership is when the port territory is owned by the city. In this case there is a leasing contract which ends when the port activities are ceased in a certain waterfront section and the land is released without the need of a compensation. This scheme can be found in Rotterdam or in Helsinki. The Finnish capital can be considered an extreme case since the municipality is one of the main land owners in the city. In this case the PA only owns the constructions and machinery built in its territory. During the interviews the port representatives claimed that the land issue puts them in a disadvantage position in the case of a negotiation regarding urban issues. Finally we can find cases in which the land is owned by the central state and there is a standardized procedure for the ownership transition. We can find this situation in Lisbon, where the law[3] states that in case the port territory does not have a current or foreseen use it should be handled to the local authorities if there is a clear plan regarding its transformation for urban uses.

In the institutional relation we could also observe another issue that affects only certain ports. These are major infrastructure that even in the smaller cases include a vast extension of territory. In the sample we studied the size of the port varies from 125 Ha  of land in the port of Oslo to 12500 Ha  along 40 km of the river Maas in the case of Rotterdam. This dimension affects the territorial management that in some cases it includes several municipalities. The two most extreme cases among the selected port-cities were Marseille and Lisbon. In the French case the port territory is divided into two main locations, Marseille (east basin) and Fos (west basin). Besides the two very different realities, the port activity also affects a broad number of small municipalities, at least 3 communauté [4] from Marseille to Fos sur Mer (Bertoncello & Dubois, 2010) that demand a sit in the management board. The negotiation with so many stakeholders, each one with very different priorities and development goals, is considerably complicated. In the Portuguese capital we found that the port limits with 11 municipalities. In this case each one has a different relation with the port authority and different openness towards port activities. These issues that could seem subjective might affect the port development. In the Lisbon case one of the factors that influenced the decision of the new container terminal location was the political relation with the local authorities[5] .

Another issue that affects this relation is the fact that the PA is not the same as the port community. Therefore, the concept or agenda of the official institution is not always welcomed by the companies, workers, unions and other individuals or organizations from the port. In some cases, mainly Genoa and Marseille, we noticed how this diversity of actors might difficult the dialogue and in some cases delay important reforms. In general terms we could see that the port communities are not so open to change, particularly if it is brought from outside the port. The PA plays a crucial role since it has to properly explain the necessary change and convince this very resilient community to accept it.

In the investigation we were also able to understand the importance of the negotiation process necessary between all the involved stakeholders. In port territories very often we find other institutions besides the port authorities, such as railway companies, road authorities, customs, public transport companies, cargo and ferry terminals, etc. In all the study cases the negotiation and willing to dialogue was crucial for the urban and port development. For these negotiations the existence of dialogue platforms, sometimes linked to a project, was considered to be a useful approach.


3. Physical relation – Interface and Waterfront regeneration projects – Dialogue and negotiation

In the selected study cases we could observe how different sorts of urban projects in the waterfront are taking place or have been developed in the past. Since these port-cities have been studied previously by other scholars into more detail, we will only mention the main aspects of them, specifically the most recent developments.

3.1 The interventions

3.1.1. Helsinki

In Helsinki, after the relocation of the industrial port in Vuosaari, several urban development are taking place that will change the relation of the city with the water. Particularly relevant are the ones in Jatkasaari and Kalatasama. In the first one we shall also see the interaction with port activities (Laitinen,2013), more specifically the ferries, that brought in 2015 10,7 mill passenger[6] and also a considerable figure of ro-ro cargo[7], approx. 25% of the general throughput (Merk et al. 2012).

© Adactive Ltd
Helsinki West Harbor Waterfront development (source:

3.1.2 Oslo

In Oslo the Fjord City plan is being developed since 2000, when the municipality chose to implement the urban strategy focused in improving the contact of the city with the fjord rather than the one more harbor oriented (Kolstø, 2013; Gisle Rekdal, 2013). This decision was also very representative of the different types of relation that cities have with their ports, not always considered an identity element. In this case the dialogue and negotiation has played a crucial role, since the land, as mentioned before, is owned by the port. One of the most important features of the plan is the new coherent vision for the waterfront. In the case of Oslo the new promenade along the urban shore plays an important role, since it is the link between the different areas, that go from new port terminals in Sydhavna in the south to the new centralities in Bjorvika. The plan will proceed with the development of Filipstad and Vippetangen. These sections of the waterfront will require more negotiation than in previous parts since there are port related industries operating there and the solution for connection with the urban tissue implies not just the port but also the railway company.

3.1.3 Rotterdam

The case of Rotterdam presents two main examples for waterfront interventions, Kop van Zuid and Stadshavens. The first is entering its final stage and is an example of “port out-city in” type of project. In this case a port brownfield was transformed into a high standard mixed-use district. The clear gentrification we can see it was considered positive, being one of the goals of the project, since the city needed greater variety in a dwelling market dominated by social housing (Daamen et al., 2015). The second intervention could be considered a model for the future. Its scale and complexity is greater than other cases since it implies an area of 1600 Ha, of which 600 Ha of land (Vries, 2014) with many active industries. This last section of the port inside the highway ring began to be discussed in the year 2004, with an initial approach similar to the Kop van Zuid. In 2007, before the world financial crisis, it was clear that the scheme could not be replied and that a different strategy was necessary (Daamen,2010; Vries, 2014). The model changed from a “port out-city in” approach to a real coexistence among port and urban uses. The industries are considered to be important, particularly innovative ones related with the port, and the transition will be developed in a slower rhythm, with a more flexible implementation agenda. The housing program will be built in the areas that allow a compatible use. This case is considered to be very innovative since, as mentioned before, the project no longer takes place in a port brownfield, but in a active port sector. The integration can hardly be achieved, but the coexistence between port and city can be a reasonable goal.

3.1.4 Marseille

Marseille is also undergoing an important urban transformation. After the industrial crisis of the 1970-1980 the city went into a process of social and physical degradation, unemployment rates grew considerably, the lack of private investment caused a degradation of the urban tissue with several brownfields and the productive model did not evolved from the previous scenario. The port, as in many other cases, was no longer the job provider it used to be. At the same time the city gained a negative reputation. To invert the negative development tendency the central government decided to act by implementing an urban regeneration plan in 1995, the Euroméditerranée (Bertoncello & Dubois, 2010; Martin, 2015). The operation was destined to change the image of the city and its productive model, with a new CBD where several industrial brownfield used to be, near the urban port. The operation required the cooperation of all the involved actors, including the GPMM.

One of most interest facts about this case for the port-city relation is the vertical integration of port and urban activities in several key projects. Terrasses du Port, Silo d’Arenc  and in the future the J1 Warehouse show the compatibility of port activities with cultural, service or shopping programs. Besides these specific projects the process also allowed the city to regain an access to the sea in the J4/MUCEM section. Another important element was the flexibility of the plan, since the construction was only developed when a high rate of occupancy (70%) was assure, avoiding the risk of empty buildings and the possible degradation. Most importantly, the commitment achieved was translated into the city-port charter, a document that summarized the negotiation process and granted the presence of the port in the urban core, easing the acceptance of the project by the port community, not always opened to change. The plan is still ongoing and in the next years it should start its second phase, this time without affecting directly port territories.

3.1.5 Genoa

The case of Genoa presents a different reality from the ones discussed previously. In the Italian city currently there is no waterfront regeneration project in the classic meaning of the concept, i.e. acting in a port brownfield to generate an urban tissue near the water. This sort of intervention already took place in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s and in the early 2000’s, in always linked with a big events policy (Gastaldi, 2010, 2013). The particularity of the Genoese context is the need to intervene in the active port, to give answer to specific technical issues and, in the process, use this opportunity to improve the relation of the city with the port and the sea. The Blue print project developed by Renzo Piano is a conceptual plan for the east section of the port territory focused in reorganizing the shipyards industry, improving its infrastructure and implementing a better distribution of the existing activities, which include a yacht club and water sports. Simultaneously the exhibition fair district, outside the port boundaries, should also be affected by this plan, since it also requires an intervention to invert its current degradation process. The project plans the development of 11300 m2 of housing, 25 000 m2 of tertiary activities and 12 000 m2 of commerce in the sector focused in the urban regeneration[8]. This figure is relatively small when compared to the previous cases, which also shows the different scope of the project. One of the main features of the plan, as we can see in the image, is the creation of a new blue buffer, i.e. a water channel separating the city from the port.

Genoa Blue print. In the image we see the water channel following the line of the old city walls. (Source: Official document of the project)

3.1.6 Lisbon

In Lisbon the most important waterfront regeneration project took place in the late 1990’s, the regeneration of a port brownfield in the east part of the city for the EXPO 1998. After the event the area suffered several changes to adapt to its post-expo use, hosting a new business district, several housing projects and key cultural infrastructures. The main critic to this project was that it created an island of new urbanity disconnected from the existing urban tissue (Ressano Garcia, 2011).  In 2007 the general plan for waterfront interventions was published, in which the future use of riverfront areas and port territory to be dismissed was described. This plan was developed in the strategic level and the partial projects were developed in a closer scale. The economic crisis that affected the world economy, and particularly the Southern European countries, burst short after the release of the document and several project there hosted suffered significant delays, being developed only today. In this period the absence of activities in the released areas increased the negative image of the port, although the port itself was not responsible of the situation. The importance of temporary uses was clear in this case, since they could have allowed an appropriation of the space by the inhabitants that later on might ease the integration.

3.1.7 Synthesis table with the dimensions of Schubert model

tabla Shubert-7 copy copy
Dimensions of waterfront (re-)development for comparative perspectives, adapted from Schubert (2011). In the case of Lisbon there is no current major waterfront regeneration project.

3.2 Conclusions of the physical relation analysis

3.2.1 Contracts

One of the elements that are most relevant for the waterfront regeneration projects is the situation regarding the contracts with the existing companies. The majority of the PA, as we have already mentioned,  follow the landlord model, therefore there are companies developing their activities in the port territory which have made an investment based in a long term commitment. These contracts are usually signed for several decades and imply considerable compensation sums in case they are broken. In the waterfront project they might form an impediment for the implementation of the plan. We could find this issue in several cases. In Oslo there are operating firms in Filipstad and in the silo in Vippetangen. In Rotterdam there are several companies with long-term contracts in Merwerhaven, Eemhaven and Waalhaven, that in case they had to be relocated the necessary compensation could affect the outcome of the project[9]. One of difficulties of acting in the active port is the issue of respecting the contracts, in this context the flexible planning and negotiation skills might prove to be determinant for the success or failure of the project.

3.2.2 Agencies

The waterfront and the port-city interface are a very specific situation, the issues affecting this part of the city are very particular and the solutions applied in other locations of the urban tissue might not work here (Hoyle, 1998). At the same time in this context the municipal authorities deals with another institution managing a vast territory, the port authorities, with different priorities and goals, that counterbalances the negotiation process. In order to find solutions very often an specific planning agency is created. In the analyzed study cases we found several agencies, frequently linked with a project, instead of a steady organizations meant to follow different plans. In Rotterdam the Stadshavens evolved to be a dialogue and coordination platform after the approach to the project changed (Daamen,2010; Vries, 2014).

In the case of Genoa we found precedents of these sort of initiatives, created by both sides of the relation. For the port plan the PA established an agency for the development of the port Masterplan. This new office counted with the collaboration of world renowned architects and planners, e.g. Rem Koolhaas, Solá Morales and Bernardo Secchi, to provide new ideas for the port-city interface (Boeri,1999). Later on another agency, the Genova Urban Lab, was created to solve the existing urban issues, among them the relation with the port. The synergies created in the process have helped to improve the dialogue between the municipal and port authorities.

In Marseille the Euroméditerranée was created by the national state with the scope of the urban regeneration of the city. The participants in the new public agency were also the GPMM, the urban community, the county council, the regional council and the municipality. The agency forced a dialogue almost inexistent until that moment. One of the greatest achievements of this initiative has been the connection between the national and the local decision makers. This agency is linked to the project development and its destiny is to disappear when the plan is finished. However it has already left a document that should work as guide for the future of the port-city relation, the “city-port charter”.

The other cases have not developed an specific waterfront agency, but in certain moment have established joint venture dedicated to specific projects, such as the Frente Tejo in Lisbon, focused in three major public projects and later extinguished.

3.2.3 Two tendencies

Waterfront projects have been studied by several authors since the pioneer interventions in Boston and Baltimore in the 1960’s. Ever since we have seen an evolution in the development models. In Europe we could until now find several generations of waterfront revitalization (Schubert, 2008 and 2011). The first one exemplified in London, the Canary wharf, contrasting later with what took place in Barcelona or Genoa where the public space and leisure had the dominant role. Later the focus changed to mixed- use and housing very often linked with a landmark cultural project, following the example of Bilbao.

In the studied port-cities we found two main sorts of waterfront revitalization plans. In the Nordic countries the concept has followed what we have already seen in other locations e.g. the Netherlands. The relocation of the port industrial harbor created the opportunity of a waterfront project. In Oslo the new port terminal in Sydhavna has been developed with the revenues from the Oslo Havn KF, which also benefited from the real estate operations . In Helsinki on the other hand the decision of moving the industrial port to Vuosaari released a considerable space for new districts in the city.

While in Oslo the free market law prevails, therefore high standard housing for high income class, in Helsinki the role of the municipality as landowner allows a greater social mix in the new city districts in the waterfront. The composition of both social structures might provide in the future different perceptions of the public space and the urban environment by the water.

The second type of waterfront intervention is the one that acts in the active port territory, as we see in Rotterdam and Genoa. In these cities the plans are not limited to port brownfields, but propose the reconfiguration of the active port, considering at the same time the urban needs and the harbor related activities. In this cases the interface between both realities changes and technical needs from the port are used to improve the synergies with the city. When comparing both we could say that Rotterdam takes the concept further since the transformation is not physical but also social and economical. The RDM campus is one positive example of interaction between city and port in the educational sector, in the boundary between both territories (Aarts et al, 2012). This sort of plans could be considered a new generation of waterfront regeneration projects since they offer a new approach to the port-city reality. The Euroméditerranée plan in Marseille has elements from both, since this operation has not altered significantly the configuration of the port territory and only in a small section the PA has released area by the water. The main innovation was the coexistence of port and urban activities, as we have seen in several projects.

Plan of the Euroméditerranée project. In the lower section we see the part handled by the PA to the city for the development of the Mucem and Villa Méditerranée. The PA also agreed in shrinking their urban border in order to allow the creation of the Boulevard du Littoral. Source: Euroméditerranée presentation

The waterfront interventions have clear development stages (Schubert, 2008). Starting with the abandonment of the area and relocation of port infrastructure, to the emergence of a port brownfield, later proceeding to the implementation of plans and its revitalization. In the last decade we have already seen that the process was starting to change, since the real estate development were proving to be economically very convenient. The pressure to the port to move it mains infrastructure to another location was not only due to the technical and logistic needs for more space, but also from the different urban stakeholders. We might have achieved a new stage, the waterfront intervention no longer happen after the port released the area, but rather take place in the active port. At the same time also the model of intervention has changed in these cases. If previously the main goal was to develop green public spaces, cultural venues or mixed-use and housing developments, what could be named the “beauty waterfront”,  now it seems we have an alternative “productive waterfront” model, where the industries are considered important for the city and the effort has to be made for the compatibility and coexistence between the port and the city. This evolution in the waterfront projects and the dangers of the previous model, more focused in housing and leisure programs, were already detected by other authors, e.g. Chrarlier (1992), who named it “the dockland syndrome”, Bruttomesso (2009) and Ducruet (2013), who considered a mistake to remove all the port activities from the regenerated waterfront, denaturalizing it from its original function.

4. Emotional relation

During the study case visits and analysis we were able to observe a third dimension of the port-city relation, the interaction between the citizens and the port. Until very recently the PA’s in general terms had not considered the importance of the public image and the communication with the inhabitants of the city where they were placed. Several scholars have already studied the negative image of the port, e.g. Hooydonk (2007), but the responsible authorities did not considered it an issue for their governance until recently.

Regarding this topic one of the key concepts is the SLO (Social License to Operate). As explained by Dooms (2014), 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. This subjective dimensions are often difficult to measure. In port-cities the SLO is not achieved easily since, as we mentioned before, the cities that host the harbor have to deal with the majority of the negative consequences of the port activity. In order to grant this license, the ports have to look for values that go beyond the usual port arguments regarding their economic impact, jobs, tons of cargo, etc. The soft values of seaports have in this context a key role. They are defined by Hooydonk (2007) as “the non-socioeconomic values which include among others historical, sociological, artistic and cultural sub-functions that form the soft-function of seaports”. In the selected port-cities these soft-values were presented in several ways, from education to heritage to cultural or communication initiatives.

During our research we observed that the different actions taken in this field could be organized in four main categories: education, communication, heritage and social agenda. Besides these key issues, the matter of the port as an identity element was considered to be transversal to all subjects. The problem of the urban identity in port-cities has been studied by several scholars, e.g. Hooydonk (2009) Warsewa (2011). In the concerned port-cities we were able to see that not all of them that host a port consider themselves a port-city, or the port as a key element of their identity. We can mention Oslo or Lisbon for example, in which the citizens and the authorities acknowledge other features as more important for their identity. In the Norwegian case, as stated before, the fjord has a dominant role, the people are more related with the natural element than with the artificial port landscape. In the Portuguese capital the same happens with the Tagus river. Although is very clear how the port activity and development has affected the character and morphology of the city, the inhabitants are not able to relate with the port, sometimes even considering it an impediment to a more fluid relation with the river.

In the other cases the port is considered an important characteristic for the collective image of the city. When we observe the different cases is clear that this key infrastructure does not has the same weight in the identity of each city. The role the port plays in Rotterdam cannot be equal to the one in Helsinki. However we have detected that there might be a growing detachment towards the port. For this reason the need to improve the social relation is clear. In some cases the goal is to strength the role of the port, in others, to create a social relation with it. Therefore the four categories above mentioned have to work jointly to achieve the desired result.

4.1 Education

The relation with the educational institutions has been one of the fields where the PA have made the greater efforts for the social integration. In all the visited port-cities the PA had organized school visits to the port facilities for groups of children of different age. In another level the collaboration with the universities is also very frequent. In Marseille the PA participates in workshops with the architecture faculty. In Rotterdam the cooperation with educational institutions goes beyond visits or workshops. In the RDM campus the start-up companies focused in port activities give the students the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge. The education programs are also being use to deal with another issue, the fact that to younger generations the port is no longer seen as an attractive place to pursue a professional career.

Regarding the issue of understanding the port, an specific infrastructure can be found in some port cities, the port center. This space is focused in explaining the port to a broader audience, particularly children and teenagers, to allow the inhabitants to regain a sense of ownership of the port (Marini et al., 2014). Very often their exhibition and educational activities are complemented by boat tours where the students can see what they have learn before. In two study-cases, Rotterdam and Genoa, we could visit the port-center. Both cities have this kind of centers[10], although the one in Genoa has been closed since 2014. There is a Port-Center Network organized by the AIVP which coordinates the relation between the different institutions. In the future is expected to find more centers in the different ports. In some port-cities we could also find maritime museum that often have a section dedicated to explaining the port.

4.2 Communication

In the paper “Lipstick on a Gorilla” (Van Stiphout, 2007), we could read that the port is now a reality that must be explained. The communication has been another field in which we have assisted to important changes in recent years. The use of social media to explain the port and interact with the inhabitants has become a regular activity. Most PAs have a communication strategy but often does not reach the targeted audience. The port of Rotterdam has been active in many channels to spread the news about the port activities. They produce a free newspaper and have an online TV channel, an initiative we can also see in Hamburg[11]. Another useful strategy is the information signage, where the port and its history can be explained to the inhabitants. In Oslo the information strategy in the Fjord City project was particularly effective since it was linked to the waterfront promenade project. The possibility of joining a coherent urban vision with user friendly information boards proved to be useful. The port history is explained where the current waterfront regeneration projects are being built. The explanation of the transition could help to develop an emotional connection with the port heritage and improve the port identity role.

4.3 Heritage

The next category where we can find soft-values strategies is the heritage. In old port areas we can often find harbor machinery, cranes and warehouses. During the field trips we could see the different role this heritage has played in the port regeneration projects. In Oslo, Helsinki, Rotterdam and Genoa we could see the cranes working as sculptural elements in the public space. The use of warehouses and other buildings like silos is also frequent. In Marseille the Silo d’Arenc was refurbished into a cultural venue, keeping the port circulation underneath. In Genoa the congress center is the old cotton warehouses. In Rotterdam, in the Katendrecht district, we should see in the near future several projects in industrial buildings take place, which could allow a mixed use of the space. In the same city we can also find the historic harbor associated with the maritime museum. In this space, besides the cranes and boats we can also see the workshops where they are repaired, allowing a relative coherent atmosphere. The use of heritage to connect with the history of the port is one of the most effective and accepted strategies. In case the buildings or cranes are kept, is important that they are integrated in the new urban plans but with the right context, otherwise, they might be isolated elements losing their strength as a whole.

Real Estate development in Katendrech. In the future the relation with the industrial heritage might be tighter than what it is today, passing the musealization and integrating it in every day uses (Source:

4.4 Social agenda

Finally, the last type of strategy is the social events for the port integration. The open door days and port festival, like the ones in Rotterdam, Helsinki or Lisbon constitute the typical example of this sort of action. In most guides of good practice they are mentioned as an effective method of bringing people to the harbor and rising the interest of the general audience for the port issues. These sort of event might be characterized by a certain folklore and detachment from what really a port is nowadays. Nevertheless they do attract attention and must be complemented with the educational programs and infotainment from the port-centers and maritime museums. Besides these venues, the port also can be active in the other events, such as the city marathon, concerts or exhibitions, that put the focus in the port, or the port can work as background. This way, the harbor image is introduced in the life of the inhabitants, what could lead to a broader acceptance of its presence.

All the strategies aforementioned are correlated, the cultural venues are often associated with the port-centers which can be placed in port heritage buildings. The soft-values can be explained in different ways but their effects in the general mindset cannot be measured from one year to the other. The successful cases that use these strategies have been applying them for the long term results. However, it is important to have a realistic idea of the perception of the port by the citizens by performing studies, like the one from Lisbon in 2007[12], where the actual image of the port is evaluated. The effects of these policies could lead to higher acceptance of the port.

In this article we have not focused in the environmental policies followed by the different PAs, although is clear they are the first priority regarding the coexistence with the city and CSR. This is a broader subject to be dealt in another article, but we can notice how important they have become in the different ports we visited. The control of the different pollutants using sophisticated sensor system is an usual practice in the European ports. At the same time there is a constant dialogue with the responsible authorities for an effective control of the nuisances and the companies operating in the port. In another dimension we can also see how the new terminal or port expansion projects have environmental concerns regarding the fauna and flora. In the Maasvlakte 2, in Rotterdam, the creation of the breakwater reused material from the original Maasvlakte. The new port territory in Vuosaari is placed in a Natura 2000 reserve, therefore the nuisance had to be reduced to the minimum. For this reason the sound barrier in the east border is a wall made with concrete blocks that allows the integration of vegetation to reduce the impact of the port.

5. General Conclusion

After analyzing the different study cases one of the original assumptions proved to be correct, it is not possible to achieve a real physical port city integration, only a sustainable coexistence (Bruttomesso, 2011). The current technical requirements and security limitations will constantly hinder the full integration that belongs to the early phases of Hoyle’s model. In this case the description of Hoyle’s 6th phase might be correct, since we did found new links between the port and the city, and in the future they might even be reinforced due to the economic development associated with port industries and port-clusters.

In the selected port-cities we found common problems to all of them, e.g. environmental issues, traffic associated to port activity or the barrier effect. However, the physical, political, emotional and institutional context plays a key role in all the cases, requiring specific solutions for the mentioned general problems. We also found that the abstract models proposed by several authors and the rankings do not fully express the reality of the port or the complexity of the port-cities.

The two existing schemes regarding the national governance, centralized and decentralized, can affect the relation between the port and the city, particularly in the institutional level. These differences can later be seen in the effort the PA is able to do in order to improve the interaction with the city. The allocation of resources controlled by a central authority might difficult the investment in the disclosure of the soft-values of seaport, what could in the long term increase the positive synergies with the inhabitants.

In the waterfront we have seen how the intervention model has evolved, although in the selected study cases the plans developed in the 1990’s and 2000’s are currently under development. The new strategies are focused in intervening in the active port, in some cases generating new types of interaction between both realities. The need of a port-city combined strategy affects both the physical and economical development. One technical improvement might cause an spatial redistribution, which  could imply a new access to the water or new associated industries. This change, that in this article we took the freedom to name “from beauty waterfront to productive waterfront”, might introduce a more balance relation and better acceptance of the port presence. At the same time this sort of plans could help to maintain the port identity, providing a certain variability to the necessary coherent vision for the waterfront.

Finally, during the analysis of the study cases, it was clear that the role of the PA has to go beyond the management of the port territory and activities. The port has to assume its role as constituent element of the urban structure and collective image. The disclosure of the soft-values of seaports by the PAs should help the port to achieve greater acceptance by the citizens. If we consider that very often the PAs are politicized institutions it seems reasonable that an investment is made for the improvement of its public image and obtaining the SLTO. We have seen that the full physical integration between port and cities will not be possible, but the social integration of the seaports should be considered an important goal to be achieved by the PAs.

[1] According to the AAPA (American Association of Port Authorities) at a Landlord port the PA is responsible for the basic infrastructure which later leases to private operators for the different port activities.

[2] Law n2008-660 4th of July 2008

[3] Law DL 100/2008 of June 16 2008.

[4] The term communauté de communes refers in French to a federation of municipalities. In this case the three communauté in question gather 27 communes. On January 1st of 2016 a new administrative body, the Métropole d’Aix-Marseille – Provence, was created which gathers the aforementioned municipalities and Aix-en-Provence. This new institution should easy the territorial management and the relation of the municipalities with the port.

[5] Source

[6] Source: Port of Helsinki,

[7] Ro-Ro is, as defined by the AAPA, Short for roll on/roll/off type of cargo. This sort of cargo is not lifted inside the ship with cranes, but rolls on and off it, since it goes in cars, trailers or other type of vehicles.

[8] Source: Official project document and website:

[9] Another case where the importance of the contracts situation can be seen is Hamburg. For the 2024 Olympic proposal, that finally was rejected by the citizens in a referendum, one of the bigger challenges was the figure of the compensation for the companies operating in the Kleinen Grasbrook, port territory, where the Olympic village was supposed to be built.

[10] The port of Rotterdam has two Port-Centers: the EIC, placed in a central location in the port territory with the scope of general explaining the harbor and the port activities, and the Futureland center, in the Maasvlakte 2, focused in explaining the port expansion project.

[11] Both PAs have channels in the online platform YouTube

[12] Sustainability report from the year 2007, available in:

Conference Presentation


AESOP YA – Jose Sanchez – final2


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Daamen, T. (2010). Strategy as Force. Towards Effective Strategies for Urban Development Projects: The Case of Rotterdam CityPorts. Delft: IOS Press.

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Hoyle, B.S (2011) Tomorrow’s World? Divergence and Reconvergence at the Port-City Interface. In Alemany,J & Bruttomesso,R. (eds) The Port City of the XXIst Century, New Challenges in the Relationship between Port and City. RETE, 32-47.

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Kokot ,W. (2008). Port Cities as Areas of Transition – Comparative Ethnographic Research. In (Eds.) Kokot,W, Gandelsman-Trier, M., Wildner, K., & Wonneberger, A. Port Cities as Areas of Transition: Ethnographic Perspectives. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

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Guides of Good Practice:

SUDEST-Sustainable development of Sea Towns (2007)

PCP: Plan the city with the port, strategies for Redeveloping City-Port linking spaces (2007)

Waterfront Communities Project -The Cool Sea Toolkit (2010)

ESPO “ode of Practice on Societal Integration of Ports (2010)

CTUR-Cruise Traffic and Urban Regeneration  (2011)

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AIVP: Plan the city with the port (2015)

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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”

The biggest port in Europe: Rotterdam

The biggest port in Europe: Rotterdam

The city

Rotterdam is the second city in the Netherlands and an important transport hub in the continent. It has a population of approximately 620 000 inhabitants with a high percentage of immigrants. In the city we can find several industries connected to the port that create jobs. In 2015 it was selected city of the year by the academy of urbanism.

In 1340 Rotterdam received municipal rights from Count Willem IV of Holland. Later on, in 1872 the Nieuwe Waterweg was opened allowing a better connection between the port and the North Sea. This new construction would be crucial for the future development of the port and the city. Short after, in 1877, the new railway line connecting Rotterdam with Paris was opened. This new infrastructure would also boost the urban development of the city and its international connections.

Rotterdam 1649 Source:
Map of Rotterdam 1649 by Joan Bleu Source:

At the beginning of the XXth century it was already one of the main European ports. The ever increasing harbor activities and an incipient industrial sector attracted many workers from the countryside. For this reason the city experienced a significant demographic growth during this time.

During the WWII Rotterdam suffered the strongest air attack from the German Luftwaffe in the Netherlands. In 1940, after five days of fight, the city and the country surrendered to the invaders. The destruction in Rotterdam downtown was considerable, 25000 houses were destroyed and 900 person killed, mainly civilians.

After the war the reconstruction process began inspired mainly by the American urban planning examples. The main goal was to recover the city center, from which almost no building was standing. One of the characteristic of the reconstruction scheme was the idea of leaving the downtown for services and almost no housing. Later on, during the 1980´s, the consequences of this path would be clear and the priority changed to bringing back the people to an empty downtown.

The development of the city continued linked to the port activities. In the 1990´s the port of Rotterdam was the most important in the world, before the Asian growth of the years after. In last decades we have seen several waterfront redevelopments, but mainly we could highlight two, the Kop van Zuid and the more recent one Stadhavens.

The port of Rotterdam

The impact the port has in the identity, the urban structure and the economy of the city is obvious. It is deeply connected with the history and will play a major role in the future development of the city, the region and the country. Along history the port went through continue expansion. From its original core near the city center evolved towards the sea.

Expansion of the Port of Rotterdam Source: OECD
Expansion of the Port of Rotterdam
Source: OECD

Nowadays the port of Rotterdam is the only European one that can compete with the Asian rivals. According to recent data is in the 8th or 11th position, pending the source, in the world rankings regarding tonnage. It had a total cargo throughput of 444,7 million metric tons. From this figure the main types of cargo are liquid bulk, including oil and its products, around 45%, container 30 %, and dry bulk approximately 20%.

In the harbor we can find several other activities, such as shipyards, companies in the maritime cluster with industries related with the port, and cruise ship. It is relevant to say that Rotterdam is mainly an industrial port, the passenger traffic is relatively reduced when compared with other cases, particularly with Mediterranean ports.

The port has a significant role in the city and regional economy. It generated in 2013 93 766 jobs directly related with the port, and had an added value of 12 506 million € according to the Port Authority of Rotterdam. The total port area, as explained in the same document, is 12 603 Ha (126 sq km). The figure is quite relevant when compared with the municipality which has slightly over 200 sq km.

In terms of organization the port is owned by the city (70%) and the country (30%), but functions as a semi-independent corporation. The land where operates is owned by the municipality leased with long term contracts. At the same time the port manages the area by leasing it to the different firms which develop its activities in the harbor. This means it is a landlord port, where the Port Authority is in charge of providing the basic infrastructure for the companies there placed.

One of the main advantages of the port of Rotterdam are the connections with the hinterland. It has several ways to distribute the cargo, including road, rail and canals networks.

Maasvlakte Autor: José M P Sánchez
Autor: José M P Sánchez

The ports faces many challenges in the future. Since the oil sector has a significant impact in its cargo throughput it must develop alternative strategies for the scenario in which this sector diminishes its activities. At the same time it has one major advantage when compared to other Europeans ports, like Hamburg, the expansion land. The port of Rotterdam does not faces the problem of finding land for its future needs, it is currently developing the expansion projects in the Maasvlakte 2. This new area placed in the mouth of the Maas river will increment significantly the available territory for logistic operations, mainly Container shipping.

Rotterdam Waterfront

During the last decades we have assisted to several waterfront regeneration projects in this city. From more central areas with a relation with the past to port brownfield that changed to urban use, like the Kop van Zuid. More recently we can identify a very ambitious operation that is very particular regarding the organization, the goals and the existing dialogue. This project is the Stadshaven. We will make a short comment from both and in the next post they will be analyzed into further detail.

Kop Van Zuid

This area placed near the city center on the south side of the river Maas used to be part of the port land. Until the WWII integrated several functions of the port, but during the reconstruction years, the decision was made to expand the port towards the west. The creation of the Europort with more efficient infrastructure led to the decay in the Kop van Zuid (head of the north in English). In the 1970´s and 1980´s the area was a mix of port brownfields and neighborhoods with several social problems and high unemployment rates.

In the end of the decade the plan started to be prepared with two main goals, the integration of the river Maas in the city structure and to finish the perception of the river as barrier between the two sides. Besides there were other secondary goals like providing the city with more housing alternatives, mainly high class and single family dwellings. The plan was developed by Prof. Riek Bakker and Teun Koolhaas. The new development land was organized in 6 different areas: Entrepot, Wilhelmina Pier, Landtong, Zuidkade, Stadstuinen and Parkstad.

Kop van Zuid plan Source:
Kop van Zuid plan

The plan granted official approval in 1994 promising the creation of 5300 new housing units and 400 000 sqm of office space, besides new connections with the north and cultural venues. The construction began with the transportation infrastructure and in 1996 the Erasmus bridge was opened.

In the project the preservation of several heritage elements was contemplated, as old cranes, bridges or warehouses. Also the old offices of the Holland-American line, now converted into a Hotel.

High-rise in the Kop van Zuid Author: José M P Sánchez
High-rise in the Kop van Zuid
Author: José M P Sánchez

The new district became a new high-rise area for the city, particularly the Wilhelmina Pier. In this land several star-architects have left their mark. Sir Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, Alvaro Siza and more recently Rem Koolhaas have all designed a building in the pier.

Nowadays the project is heading towards the final stage. There are several active construction sites for new apartment and office buildings. This was a complex and ambitious project that suffered with the economic crisis from 2008. Therefore we observe delays in the expected conclusion dates.


The plan for Stadhavens  is one of the most innovative ones in Europe regarding waterfront regeneration. This project could be assumed as new model for this sort of projects, more efficient and adapted to the pos-crisis scenario we currently are.

Stadshavens Rotterdam
Stadshavens Rotterdam

In 2004 an agreement was reached between the city and the port for the redevelopment of the port areas that were still placed inside the city´s highway ring. The area considered is relatively large, 1600 Ha. To put it in perspective the Hafencity project in Hamburg has 165 Ha.

The project started with some ambitions to “urbanize” the areas, but short after was seen that this model was not appropriate for the size and location of the intervention. The platform remained as a structure for the dialogue, negotiation and coordination of the several projects.

One of the most remarkable features of this plan is the fact that the main goal now is the transition from port area to port cluster and in a later phase to possible urban programs compatible with the existing industries.


For Rotterdam we will follow the same methodology applied in the other cases. Therefore we will visit the relevant institutions and have interviews with representatives from the port and city authorities. However there is an exception regarding this case-study, the available time. During the first week spent in the city we participated in the ISOCARP congress. In this event we did a presentation named: “Port-City relation: integration – conflict – coexistence Analysis of good practices. Hamburg and Genoa.” In the workshop: “How to develop unprecedented port-city synergies?”.

You can see the presentation here: