Talking about Port Centers

Talking about Port Centers

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

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

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

The Social License to Operate

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

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

Soft Values of Seaports

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

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

The Port Center Concept

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

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


First Generation

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

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

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

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

Second Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future Challenges

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

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

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

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

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


Aarts M, Daamen T, Huijs M, De Vries W. Port-city development in Rotterdam: a true love story. UPM Departamento de urbanística y ordenación del territorio revista digital – territorio, urbanismo, sostenibilidad, paisaje, diseño urbano in 2/07/2015 15:41

Boeri, S. (1999). Designed Concepts. In Molinari L. (Ed.), Piano, Porto, Città. L’esperienza di Genova (pp. 19–22). Milan: Skira editore – Autorità Portuale di Genova.

Bertoncello, B., & Dubois, J. (2010). Marseille Euroméditerranée – Accélérateur de Métropole. Marseille: Parenthèses.

Bird, J.H. (1963). The major Seaports of the United Kingdom, London: Hutchinson.

Brutomesso, R. (2009). Transformaciones del paisaje portuario contemporáneo: del negocio al ocio… y al negocio, otra vez. Portus 18, Pag 10–15.

Bruttomesso,R. (2011) Port and City: from integration to coexistence. In Alemany,J &  Bruttomesso,R. (eds) The Port City of the XXIst Century, New Challenges in the Relationship between Port and City. RETE, 102-117

Charlier, J. (1992) The regeneration of old port areas for new port uses. European port cities in transition: 137-154. In: Hoyle B.S. (ed.), European port cities in transition, Belhaven Press, London British Association for the advancement of science , Annual Meeting, University of Southampton

Dooms, M.(2014) Integrating “triple P” bottom line performance and the license to operate for ports: towards new partnership between port cluster stakeholders. In Alix,Y. Delsalle & B. Comtois, C. (eds) Port-City governance. Editions EMS,55-75

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

Daamen, T., Aarts, M., Huijs, M., De Vries, W. (2015) Rediscovering the waterfront in Rotterdam. Trasporti e Cultura, n. 41, Year XV, Venice.

Ducruet,C.,Lee,S.W. (2006) Frontline soldiers of globalization: Port-city evolution and regional competition, GeoJournal, 67(2), 107-122.

Ducruet,C. (2011) The Port City in a multidisciplinary analysis. 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.

Ducruet, C. (2013) Waterfront redevelopment: the fragility of local benefits, PORTUS: the online magazine of RETE, n. 25, June 2013, Year XIII, Venice, RETE Publisher.

Fernandes, A. (2015) Essay on the valorization of heritage and cultural identity in waterfront redevelopment processes. PORTUS plus: the online Journal of RETE N. 5, Year V

Garcia, P R. (2011). Public Spaces at the urban conversion of Lisbon Expo’98, PORTUS plus: the online Journal of RETE N. 2, Year II

Gastaldi, F. (2010). Genova. La riconversione del waterfront portuale. Un percorso con esiti rilevanti. Storia, accadimenti, dibattito. In M. Savino (Ed.), Waterfront d’Italia. Piani politiche progetti (pp. 88–104). Milan: FrancoAngeli Editore.

Gastaldi, F. (2013). Great events, urban regeneration and gentrification in the historic centre of Genoa. Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal 31, 7, 31–41.

Ghiara, H., Demoulin, P., Marini,G., (2014) Port Center: to develop a renewed port city relationship by improving a shared port culture. In Alix,Y. Delsalle & B. Comtois, C. (eds) Port-City governance. Editions EMS, 233-245.

Gisle Rekdal, P. (2013) About the Fjord City from the Port’s point of view, Portus: the online magazine of RETE, n.25,(online) RETE publisher.

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

Hoyle, B.S. (1998) The redevelopment of derelict port areas. The Dock & Harbour Authority, Vol. 79, No. 887, page 46-49

Hoyle, B.S. (2000) Global and Local Change on the Port-City Waterfront. Geographical Review, Vol. 90, No. 3, page 395-417

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.

Ircha M C. (2013) Social License for Canadian Port, PORTUS: the online magazine of RETE, n. 25, Year XIII, Venice, RETE Publisher.

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.

Kolstø, S, (2013)  Oslo Fjord City Course is Set, Making Good Speed!, PORTUS: the online magazine of RETE, n. 25, Year XIII, Venice, RETE Publisher.

Laitinen, T. (2013) Helsinki experiencing a period of growth: the Daughter of the Baltic Sea gazes out over the sea, PORTUS: the online magazine of RETE, n.25, Year XIII, Venice, RETE Publisher.

Martin, T. (2015). 1995-2015 Les 20 ans d’Euroméditerránée. Marseille: Euroméditerranée.

Merk, O. (2013), The Competitiveness of Global Port-Cities: Synthesis Report, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, 2013/13, OECD Publishing.

Merk, O., Hesse. M. (2012), The Competitiveness of Global Port-Cities: the Case of Hamburg, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, 2012/06, OECD Publishing.

Merk, O., Notteboom, T. (2013), The Competitiveness of Global Port-Cities: the Case of Rotterdam, Amsterdam – the Netherlands. OECD Regional Development Working Papers, 2013/08, OECD Publishing.

Merk, O., Hilmola, O-P, Dubarle, P. (2012), The Competitiveness of Global Port-Cities: the Case of Helsinki, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, 2012/08, OECD Publishing.

Merk, O., Comtois, C. (2012), Competitiveness of port cities: the case of Marseille-Fos, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, 2012/11, OECD Publishing.

Merk, O. (2014), The effectiveness of port-city governance, In Alix,Y. Delsalle & B. Comtois, C. (eds) Port-City governance. Editions EMS, 233-245.

Meyer, H. (1999). City and Port. Transformation of Port Cities London, Barcelona, New York, Rotterdam. Rotterdam: International Books.

Newman,P.,Thornley,A. (1996) Urban planning in Europe, International Competition, National System & Planning Projects. Routledge.

Osmaa,K. (2013) Helsinki converting waterfronts into residential areas. Portus: the online magazine of RETE, n.25,(online) RETE publisher.

Schubert D. (2008) Transformation Processes on Waterfronts in Seaport Cities – Causes and Trends between Divergence and Convergence. In (eds.) Kokot,W, Gandelsman-Trier, M., Wildner, K., & Wonneberger, A. Port Cities as Areas of Transition: Ethnographic Perspectives. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Schubert, D. (2011). Seaport Cities: Phases of spatial restructuring. In Hein, C. (Ed.), Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks .New York: Routledge.

Schubert D. (2013) The last frontier of urban waterfront regeneration: Northern Europe, PORTUS: the online magazine of RETE, n. 25, June 2013, Year XIII, Venice, RETE Publisher.

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

Van Hooydonk, E. (2009). Port city Identity and Urban Planning. Portus, 18, pag 16–23.

Van Stiphout, W. (2007). Lipstick on a Gorilla. Haven van de toekomst investigation consulted in 2/02/2016 15:41

Vries, I. M. J. (2014), From Shipyard to Brainyard – The redevelopment of RDM as an example of a contemporary port-city relationship, In Alix,Y. Delsalle & B. Comtois, C. (eds) Port-City governance. Editions EMS, 233-245.

Warsewa, G. (2012)  The Role of Local Culture in the Transformation of the Port–‐City, Portus Plus -2, the online journal of RETE.

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 Port and the City – On board diary

The Port and the City – On board diary

The port-city tour finished after Christmas with the final stop in Lisbon. Since September until December we traveled over 14 500 km visiting the study cases. The photography survey implied taking more than 15 000 photos to be able to get the essence of the difference cases and recognize their identity as port-cities. All the effort as been here narrated and will remain as a research database for the next stages in the investigation as well for other persons that might be interested in the topic.

During this time we have been able to identify what are the main problems affecting the port-city relationship, what are the main solutions been carried out and the important role the context still plays in a globalized world that tends to underestimate it. The inputs provided by the interviewees was precious and we will always be thankful for their time and patience.

The work developed has been summarized and edited into a book with all the posts, the photo essay of each city and the final article to be presented in the AESOP YA congress. This last element will also be published in the blog in the next days. The book is available in the issuu platform and it can also be downloaded in the link indicated at the end of this post.

One of the themes that stood out the most was the issue of social integration of ports. For this reason in the next step of the investigation we will focus on the initiatives that can be done to improve this integration. Fortunately we have the opportunity of collaborating with the AIVP in a current investigation related with this issue. We will be able to know more about the subject, meet with experts and increase the study sample to a worldwide research. In this area one of the most interesting initiatives are the port centers, as we have seen in some cases like Rotterdam. During the work with the AIVP we shall analyze this sort of “tool” and see how it has evolved, from the pioneers in Antwerp and Rotterdam to the most recent one in Livorno.

During the next research stages the focus will turn towards Lisbon, the main study case. Parallel to the collaboration with the AIVP we analyze the Portuguese capital into greater detail in order to identify the specific problems that hinder its relation with the port and the river. At the same time we will keep track of any news related with the research topic. According to the calendar we are currently in the midpoint of the PhD investigation. So far the experience has been rewarding and we will try to keep the work pace to be able to finish the project and deliver an interesting final thesis that could bring new knowledge to the field



Book Download

Final stop: Back to Lisbon

Final stop: Back to Lisbon

The final stop of the Port-City tour was again Lisbon, where the trip first started in September. After visiting several port-cities in different countries we came back to the main study case in order to make the final analysis, complete the information about the Portuguese capital and reach some conclusions. In this post we will focus in the gathered information in two new interviews with the Municipality and the Port Authority. The conclusions of the trip will be published in a final stop after Lisbon. Also a paper about the developed research will be written and presented in the AESOP Young Academics congress in spring in the city of Ghent.

Lisbon’s study case has already been described in the blog in the beginning of the trip, hence for this post only the new information is relevant. In all the previous study cases we interviewed representatives from the main organizations. In this case in our first stop we were only able to speak with Mr. Rui Alexandre from the APL (Lisbon Port Authority). This time we were able to contact with Mr. Pedro Dinis (PD), Architect head of the public space department in Lisbon’s Municipality (CML). We also spoke once again with the APL, this time with Ms. Mariana Teixeira from the development and institutional relations department and Ms. Carla Matos, architect from the same institution.

The relation between the city and the port

When we asked the interviewees about the issue both mentioned that in the last decade the relation has evolved positively, more significantly in the institutional field.


PD pointed during our interview that the key moment for the current stage of the relationship was the passing of the law DL 100/2008 of June 16 2008. In this new legal document it was stated that the territory under the Port Authorities control would be moved to municipal control in case there was no port activity or port expansions planned in it. The importance of this document is obvious; previously we had already seen waterfront interventions, like the EXPO 98, or important plans, like the POZOR, criticized for its excessive construction near the river. The main step forward of this law was the normalization of the port land release process. An official procedure for this sort of change was created, prepared for improving the urban integration of these territories and avoiding industrial brownfields.

The next step releasing the unused port areas was the creation of a strategic plan in order to grant the correct and promptly transformation of the concerned territories. In the case of Lisbon this mandatory document, as pointed out by PD, was the General Plan of Interventions in the waterfront of Lisbon. In this document, we can find the different partial plans for the released sectors of Lisbon’s waterfront, back then with 19 km length. At the same time the plan established which areas would remain as active port and also which ones would have a mixed management.

pg_intervencao copy
General Plan of Interventions in the waterfront of Lisbon. Source:

In the first posts about Lisbon we saw that the active port is mainly concentrated in two sectors, the one from Poço do Bispo to Sta. Apolonia, and the one in Alcântara. Here the APL has total autonomy regarding the planning although generally the APL contacts the municipal authorities regarding new interventions, as confirmed by both sides. We have not seen major changes in the port infrastructure and as we know the main interventions will happen in the south side of the river.

The three mixed use areas at Lisbon’s waterfront are: Pedrouços dock, Santos and the waterfront sector where the new cruise terminal is being built. These territories will later be explained as well as other waterfront interventions.

In our interview we also asked about a possible collaboration or a public company for the management of the waterfront territories, just like we have seen in Oslo (Fjordcity) or Rotterdam (Stadshavens). In Lisbon we already had public agencies of joint ventures for the development of waterfront projects with two cases being particularly relevant: the Parque Expo and the Frente Tejo. Both platforms produced visible results in the city. The first one was in charge for the management of the EXPO 98 area, and later on it developed several urban plans and waterfront regeneration projects in the scope of the Polis program. The second one was responsible for the three key projects Lisbon’s waterfront, the Museu dos coches (Carriage Museum), the Praça do Comércio and the Ribeira das Naus. Unfortunately both platforms were closed due to political or financial reasons. PD agreed that it could be an interesting option for the future perhaps not a public company but rather an organization focused in the management process of the waterfront, with fixed meetings for discussing the matters related with this particular territory.

Museo dos Coches. Project from Arch. Paulo Mendes da Rocha in Belém. The new museum was responsibility from the extinguished Frente Tejo organization. Source:


In our first posts we already saw that for the local inhabitants Lisbon is a maritime city but not necessarily a port-city. In this issue we find similarities with the situation we encountered in Oslo, where the Fjord is the main identity element and not the port. In the case of Lisbon the Tejo (Tagus River) is indeed a constant presence in the arts and the history of the city. It was the connection with the sea and the source of inspiration for poets and painters.  On the other hand, as all interviewees confirmed, historically the city was not so much open to the river, there was a clear connection and the river was an important economic resource, but at the same time was something to protect themselves from. From the river several threats could arrive to the city so only in certain areas the contact with the water was open, although until a certain point there were constructions directly in the coastline. We could say the current public quest for the access to the river is not a re-conquest of the waterfront, as we find often in the media, but rather a first conquest. Also is important to notice, as pointed by the APL professionals, that the industrial Port of Lisbon did not developed using urban territory, but by creating landfills in front of the city. It is clear that we have seen this situation in other cases, like Oslo, but also Marseille and Genoa.

One of the main challenge for the APL regarding its relation with the city and the citizens is clearly the communication and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). If the people from Lisbon are able to understand how important the port is, perhaps they might embrace it as an element for the urban identity.

The Waterfront

One of the most intriguing features of Lisbon’s waterfront is the relatively scarce construction near the water. When we compared with other cases we see that in the north-central European cities, like Oslo, Helsinki, Rotterdam or Hamburg, the urban tissue reaches the water line. In the Portuguese case, except some port related buildings such as old warehouses, silos or terminals, we find very few new buildings. The new constructions on the waterfront are almost exclusively in the Expo area, or in Cais do Sodré. When we asked PD his onion about this characteristic, he explained there might be several explanations for this issue. The POZOR plan, as he mentioned, included a considerable amount of construction in the waterfront and it was not well received, therefore it might have been a reaction to it. On the other hand the concept of leaving the waterfront free from dense construction had the support of all political groups which was considered to be a necessary common ground for the future development. At the same time the construction constraints are stricter regarding housing projects. We can find new buildings in the waterfront related with other uses, such as offices in Cais do Sodré, or research, the Champalimaud Foundation. The limitation for housing projects is due to the fact that this sort of development changes the perception of the river, creating spaces that might be perceived as semi-private, harming the public identity pretended for this sensitive section of the city. The exception to this rule can be found in the Expo area, far from the historic city center, where small amount of housing were allowed near the water. In the neighbor municipalities we can find more projects of this kind, mainly in Oeiras and Cascais. Finally another important issue is the fact that Lisbon is the center of the metropolitan area with almost 3 million inhabitants that come to the city, therefore it is necessary to have large public spaces able to answer the demands of this population.

East part of the city

We have previously seen that there are several important projects planned for Lisbon’s waterfront. In the initial posts we explained that some of these projects had a doubtful future. For these reason we asked Arch. PD about them. Apparently, the economic crisis that stroke Portugal in 2008, and that we still suffer nowadays, was the main reason for the delay of these projects. The plan for Matinha, the area contiguous toward the south to Parque das Nações, is being developed into further detail. Next to it, the Jardins de Braço de Prata from Renzo Piano, is currently being revised, we can imagine it is necessary to update the project since it was originally designed in 1999. In the same area the eastern riverfront park should also be developed as compensation for the housing development. Since the project did not advance when it was expected, we can imagine that for this reason the investor did not built the park. As we mentioned in the previous posts about Lisbon, the competition for this new green area took place but it was cancelled due to irregularities in the process. Its development should be resumed in short time.

Plan from the Braço de Prata housing development, original project from 1999. In the image we also see the plan for Matinha. Source:

Central section

Near the historical city center is where we find one of the first mixed management areas, the Doca da Marinha (Navy dock), Also here we can find the Cais do Jardim do Tabaco and the old Doca do Terreiro do Trigo. In this location is the passenger terminal of Sta. Apolonia which will be replaced by the new Lisbon Cruise Terminal (LCT). In October 2015 the building contract was signed and the construction is already taking place. The new infrastructure should be finish for the first months of 2017. The location of this new terminal caused much discussion back in 2010 when the architectural competition took place. Its location in a sensitive context was seen with some reluctance by some planners. PD explained us why this place and this project were chosen. There were three main reasons: (i) one of the main goals was to create a direct pedestrian connection with the main tourist attraction areas and avoid the traffic generated by the large amount of tourists that arrive in the cruises. If the terminal would have been placed in the other possible location, Alcântara, the traffic problem would continue and new public transport lines would be needed; (ii) the context where the new construction will be built is indeed very sensitive, but at the same time is considerably degraded, it is expected that the new terminal will help to regenerate the area and the local commerce; (iii), another key goal was the creation of public space on the waterfront, the project from Carrilho da Graça generates new public areas on the ground but also on an elevated level.

The new Lisbon Cruise Terminal (LCT), a project from Arch. João Luis Carrilho da Graça. Source:

In the central section of the riverfront we can find two new projects that will improve the relation with the river. Near the Sta. Apolonia cruise terminal the same architect won the competition for the Campo das Cebolas, next to Praça do Comércio. This new space will have a green area near the river and improve the living conditions of this neighborhood, which due to its dense medieval urban structure has almost no green spaces. The other project, in Cais do Sodré, will improve the existing square opening it to the river with a new space by the water. Between both interventions the Ribeira das Naus project is already in use, since mid 2014, with very acceptance from the citizens.

New project for Cais do Sodré. Arch. Bruno Soares. Source:
Campo das Cebolas, a new public space in Lisbon’s Waterfront. Arch. João Luis Carrilho da Graça.Source:

In the area of Santos, one of the mixed management sections, there is still no specific project for it. In the strategic plan there are guidelines to what could happen in this area, mainly destined for leisure facilities. In the same document the main goal was to improve the visual and pedestrian connections between the consolidated urban structure and the river.

West waterfront

Alcântara is the second part of the waterfront where we can find the active port. Besides the cargo and cruise terminal we can also find the general offices of the APL and the historic cruise terminal that hosts paintings from Almada Negreiros. This building, as we mentioned in the initial posts, will be refurbished to host the APL headquarters and the documentation center that we will describe later.

Along the river, the next area where most important changes will take place, besides de new museum in Belém, is the Docapesca- Doca de Pedrouços, the third mixed management section of the waterfront. In this territory we used to find the fishing activities that unfortunately were moved outside Lisbon, to the MARL (Mercado Abastecedor da Região de Lisboa) and Nazaré. MT mentioned that the existing facilities were already in poor condition, therefore change was necessary. In this case a new agreement regarding this area was signed between the municipality and the APL during the port’s day, on the first of November of 2015. The main goal for this collaboration is the development of a sailing center including training facilities and a marina for teams from the Volvo Ocean Race, in order to allow them to stay the whole year and not just during the event. The municipality agreed to this new activity since they are also potentiating the water sports among the schools of the city. Also as compensation they demanded a new pedestrian connection with the waterfront to be built in Belém, what would allow the replacement of the existing ones, which were supposed to be temporary but ended up remaining for several years. In the same sections we should also see in the following years the second stage of the Champalimaud Center. For the development of this area the APL also collaborated with Oeiras, the bordering municipality. Ideally this project could be extended until the national stadium sport complex, regenerating a major section of the waterfront with 2 km, joining municipalities and port.

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Champalimaud Foundation. Project from Arch. Charles Correa. Source:

Communication Soft Values

Talking with the neighbors

We have seen previously in this research how important is the communication and interaction with the local communities for the relation between city and port. In the case of Lisbon we asked the representatives of the APL what initiatives were being taken in this matter. Regarding the communication we were told that the contact with the local communities is done mainly through the official channels, collaborating with the municipality and the freguesias, the neighbor or parish representatives. Apparently in recent years there was no need to establish a direct communication with the inhabitants of the areas near the active port in the north side of the river. Nowadays the main effort is been made in the south side, in the areas affected by the new terminal. In this context there were at least three debates with the locals since the project location was decided.


For the disclosure of seaport soft values, the port-center are a very useful tool. We have seen in Genoa and Rotterdam how they can explain the port reality and increase the acceptance of the port. In the case of Lisbon, MT confirmed us that there is a project for a new documentation and information center (CDI). The project is associated with the refurbishment of the cruise terminal of Alcântara, as it was early told by Arch. Rui Alexandre, and it would include an exhibition area prepared for groups of different ages, researches space, an area for meeting with the municipalities and citizens and a café. This new facility could complete the existent exhibitions about the history of the city since, as we said in previous posts, the current information available in the city and navy museum does not explain the important role of the port in the development of Lisbon over the last 150 years.  Ideally the port-center could be integrated in the network of Lisbon’s museum and libraries. For the moment the CDI is still a project without a specific opening date and is certainly pending from other real estate operations that would make possible the moving of the APL headquarters to the aforementioned terminal.

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Alcântara Passenger terminal. This building will be refurbished and host the CDI. Inside we can visit the paintings from Almada Negreiros. Author: José M P Sánchez

Image of the Port

Early before we mentioned the open day at the port of Lisbon that took place in Autumn 2015. This was the first time this sort of event took place in Lisbon. During this day the citizens could visit historic ships, like the navio escola Sagres, tub boats or the cruise terminal. We were told that the initiative was prepared in very short time therefore it did not got all the attention it could have gotten. The intention is to transform it into a fix event twice a year in fixed dates, which would allow more detailed planning and disclosure in the media. In other port-cities, like Hamburg and Rotterdam, these sort of actions are celebrated and bring the people to the port. The scale is clearly different but the effect can still be very positive.

Visitors during the Open day at the Port of Lisbon. Source: Porto de Lisboa

During the time spent in Lisbon we got to know other cultural initiatives also related with the port, for example an exhibition with historic pictures of the port that has been on tour in different locations. Regarding other cultural events, like concerts or festival, the APL rents some spaces for them, like the Nós festival in Algés waterfront. In compensation, besides getting a rent, they also request that the image of the port is present, mainly by playing a video before the shows. In other cases we have seen stronger port characterization of the space where the concerts take place, for example the Elbjazz festival in Hamburg or the classical music concert in Las Palmas.

Like many other ports the APL has developed a collaboration program with many schools of the region, organizing visits for children and teens. In the early mentioned agreement between the municipality and the APL, besides the professional sport facilities, the goal is to increase the water sports presence in the schools of the city.


The relation between the port and the city in the context of Lisbon has evolved significantly as we have just seen. Although the agreements took a while to happen, they did gave an important thrust to the synergies between both parties. Unfortunately the crisis that stroke the country in the year 2008 affected negatively the urban development towards the river and the port. In this post we have seen that there are important projects planned for the waterfront, but most of them have suffered a delay of several years, in some case even more than a decade. The result is that for several years we had areas of the waterfront that no longer had port use, but were not fully integrated in the urban structure.

During this time gap when the projects were place on hold, it could have been interesting to create temporary uses in order to allow them to be assimilated by the local inhabitants. Nowadays, as we were told by the municipality, the projects will finally become a reality and the general image of the waterfront should be improved. For the next step of the research it remains to analyze the most delicate part of the waterfront, the actual border between city and port in both sections of the active port in the north side. In these areas the challenge is even more difficult and a more thorough investigation will be required.

Port of Lisbon. The main challenger remains the border between the active port and the city.  Source: Port of Lisbon

The expansion of the port in the south part of the river will also be an interesting subject to study. We have already described the main goals and the process so far. The development of the ongoing competition and the approach for the relation with the municipalities should be also very interesting. The main question might be: How to create a container terminal in a brownfield which relates with the local community and the urban structure?

In all the interviews performed in this visit and the previous one. it was clear that the port is an important part of Lisbon, therefore its presence should not be questioned. However, we find that many inhabitant do not share this point of view.  The fact that the port did not actually took space from the city, but built its own in landfills, does not eases the image of the harbour among the locals. Lisbon is a river-city, but could it be a port-city? In this context the communications strategy has a key role. In order to have a good port-city relation in the future, the APL must act now. To achieve the acknowledgement from the citizens as a key element of their identity, the port must open itself even more and intensify the dialogue. Several important initiatives have been started, we hope they are consolidated and are able to give a correct use to the seaport soft-values.

For the next stages of the research we will address some of the problems here mentioned, particularly the role of port centers and the good practices on social integration of ports. This following step should be done collaborating with the AIVP, which will allow a new approach and hopefully bring new inputs from renowned professionals in the port-city relation field.

The Genoa experience

The Genoa experience

The city, the visit

The time spent in Genoa was enough to have glance of the existing challenges and to better understand how a complex geography can condition the development of a city and a port. In the previous post we mentioned the particular situation of this case regarding its context. The fact that there is almost no flat land has forced the development parallel to the coast line of both the city and the port. The urban agglomeration has also other two orthogonal development axis, matching two rivers, the Bisagno and the Polcevera. Another particularity of this case, although is something we might appreciate in other cities, is the fact that several city districts used to be independent villages that were later annexed to the main urban core. In the Genoese case this situation is even more flagrant since its longitudinal configuration increases the differences and the distances. When we analyze this situation we see that the port and one particular road are the main links for the territory in this direction. The fact that the Port spreads along the coast from Piazzale Kennedy to the Voltri Terminal creates a continuum of maritime activities of different kind, from industrial harbour to marinas.

For the analysis of the case we followed the same methodology as in the previous cases. We visited the areas where the port-city relation is more intense and the elevated places from where we can see the contrast between the different environments. Along the visit we also made a photographic survey where the possible conflicts or synergies can be visited. The result of this work will be published in the Flickr  where all the other port-cities albums are. Besides the field analysis of the relation we also visited the cultural institutions that could provide insights to the interaction between the different realities. Finally several interviews with the responsible stakeholders were performed.

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Porto Antico Author: José M P Sánchez

In this city we can find several institutions that relate with the port identity. One of the main cultural venues where we see the historical relation of Genoa with the port and the sea is the Galata Museo del Mare. This museum fulfills the role of city and maritime museum. As we will later see until very recently there was another important space to understand the linkage between city and port, the Port-center. We can also find a maritime museum in Pegli, a smaller space more focused on the maritime activities.

The interviews

In order to better understand the Genoese reality we got in contact with the local authorities that could add important information to the case analysis. More specifically we were able to reach the Municipality, Arch. Antonio Pastorino and Arch. Nicoletta Poleggi. In the Port Authority we spoke with Ms. Paola Gianpietri (PG), responsible for the new Port Plan (Piano Regolatore Portuale – PRG in Italian) currently in approval phase as we will later see. Finally we spoke with Arch. Stefano Russo (SR), responsible for the Blueprint concept plan in the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. This last interview was an exception when compared with the previously analyzed cases, where we did not speak with private companies. Genoa is special in this aspect since the work of the architect Renzo Piano has a significant influence in the city, the port and waterfront development.

The relation between the city and the port


In the emotional relation between the city with the port we can find similarities to what it happens in other port-cities, particularly Marseille. The maritime roots of Genoa are very clear and until not so long ago many families had a strong relation with the port activities. Obviously this has change in the last decades, the mechanization processes and changes in the economic flows has led to the situation we currently find ourselves in. The port is no longer the job creator it once used to be, although still is an important stakeholder in the employment market. Parallel to the decrease of jobs in the port we have also seen the continuous expansion of the port territories. In the case of Genoa, as we saw in the previous post, the increase of port areas took place mainly during the past century, from the east to west leaving the historical port behind. Also we find port areas near the Castello hill, mainly industries related with naval repair, yacht and rowing clubs.

Due to the physical evolution of the port, as explained before, the relation with the port is not uniform in the entire city. In the areas where the harbour first expanded,for example in San Pier d’Arena, the rejection of the port activities is not so strong. Curiously is in this part where the physical relation is more complex since the barrier effect produced by the port is stronger and is harder to intervene. The planned projects for this section of the city, as mentioned by the municipality, are in fact focused in taking profit of the port border, to transform the existing road into a sort of main connection that would reduce the traffic in the district’s urban tissue.

san pier d arena
San Pier d’Arena: Harbour next to the city Source:

Towards the west is where the relation gets more complicated. This happens mainly because further west we find the most recent expansion projects. In the collective memory remains the image of this part of the city as the area where beaches of Genoa used to be. In the area of Cornigliano we find naval industries and the oil harbor. Both activities produce strong negative externalities regarding acoustic, air and water pollution. In the future we will see several changes in the area, mainly in the Porto Petroli (Oil Harbor). This infrastructure will be reduced and some of its activities will change their operation into a less space consuming one. Moving some of its elements to the inland and making connections with pipes directly to the ships.

In the Voltri area is where we find the most delicate relation, matching the area where the last port expansion, the Container Terminal, took place. This project was inaugurated in 1992 and changed significantly the configuration of the coast in this part of the city. At the time the possible impact was not a main concern, although a water channel was created as blue buffer to the city. Nowadays there are several construction sites in this area to configure a green buffer running parallel to what is known Fascia di rispetto di Pra (Respect strip of Pra). In this space we can find several public sport and leisure facilities such as a football field or the waterfront promenade.

Voltri Terminal and Fascia di Rispetto di Prà Source:

In the west part of the city, the most affected area by the Voltri terminal, we can also find an association named Fondazione Primavera,focused on the development of the city district. This autonomous organization tries to handle the relation with the port, considering it an important part of its territory. For example, in their vision for the district they include a point regarding the porto amico (the friendly port). They accept the port presence but demand certain improvements for their life quality, such as electric quays that would cause less acoustic pollution. This is not an organization created by the PA or other institution, although they do keep a dialogue.

It is clear that the majority of the coexistence issues might be found in the west part of Genoa, but also in the east we could see problems. More specifically in the area near the naval repair where an intense industrial activity takes place. The city district in the hill next to it does not have any barrier that could protect them from the noise, also the  height difference accentuates this issue.

View of Genoa with the port and La Lanterna on the back Author: José M P Sánchez
View of Genoa with the port and La Lanterna on the back
Author: José M P Sánchez

In general terms, as pointed out by PG, the port community is aware that the city does not know well what happens in the port. To solve this problem, as we will later see, in 2009 the Port center was created, this type of initiative will be further studied in the next stage of the research. Nowadays the PA is conducting a study to better understand the impact of the port in the city and the hinterland. The focus of this survey is the economy, but also includes the employment impact and it might provide new information regarding the public perception of the port.


The institutional relation in the case of Genoa has as well several peculiarities. On the contrary of what we have seen in most of the previous cases the interviewees from both authorities, the Municipality and the PA, agreed that the relation is quite straightforward and the synergies are in general terms positive. This is quite surprising if we consider that usually there are several points where is difficult to find an agreement, but we must also understand that there are precedents of close collaboration among both institutions.

The cooperation between the Municipality and the PA started in the late 1980’s for the 1992 exhibition. During the process there was a strong dialogue for the development of the project. Later on, for the different waterfront interventions near the city, the collaboration was also necessary. From the year 2008 to 2012, the Genova Urban Lab was established, where once again both entities worked together for the improvement of the relation and the urban environment.

Porto Antico Area current state Author: José M P Sánchez
Porto Antico Area current state
Author: José M P Sánchez

Simultaneously the PA has changed their way of looking to the city. PG explained that there has been an evolution of the PA initiatives towards the city, mainly regarding the activities that can happen in the boundary between port and city. The intention of the PA is to go further than the mandatory relation forced by the law for the approval of institutional documents and plans. However she also pointed out that each body has different priorities and goals, what eventually might lead to more intense negotiation.

Where we could find more difficulties was in the relation between the PA and the national government. In Italy a centralized system is established, just like in France and other south European countries. For this reason the PA does not have full control over its budget and the revenues their activities generate. Although in recent years the control by the central government has slightly eased, the PA still is not able to fully decide where it will allocate its resources without consulting the national authorities. The interviewees mentioned that probably, if the port was more autonomous regarding its financial management, it could be more generous regarding the projects more related with the city.

In previous posts we have already seen how the organization of the country regarding its infrastructure can affect the relation between ports and cities. Related to this subject we will also see some changes in Italy in the near future. In recent years there has been a discussion regarding the organization of the Port Authorities. The main issue is the possible combination of different PAs into what could be consider regional PA, for example creating the Ligurian Port Authority replacing the ones from Genoa, Savona and La Spezia. The initial idea behind the process could, in our opinion, bring positive outcomes, since it would allow a better organization of the port system and better coordination regarding the maritime traffic. The law is currently under discussion and the initial idea has evolved, changing the criteria for the combination of the different PAs. As it was explained by PG, the last news they got was that the new PA would combine Genoa and Savona, leaving La Spezia with the PA responsible for the ports of Tuscany. Another problem could be the new Port Plan. This document, which we will later see in detail, is currently in the final development stage and the PA expects to have it functional by the end of next year. In case the new port system law is official before its approval, it could mean significant delays for the port plan, with the need of a new unprecedented document for the new institution.

Liguria region: Genoa in the center, Savona on the left side and La Spezia on the right. Source:
Liguria region: Genoa in the center, Savona on the left side and La Spezia on the right.

The Port and the Waterfront – Long standing discussion topic

Previous approaches

The waterfront of Genoa has been a subject of public argument of several decades. As we explained in previous posts, in the late 1980´s and early 1990´s the port area near the city center was released and a new public waterfront was created with a project from Renzo Piano. After this operation we can find other contributions from several renowned architects and urban planners for the port and waterfront of Genoa, including Piano himself several times. In 1996, the PA decided to create a specific agency where the new port plan would be discussed and new ideas could be developed. This new approach included the collaboration with the university and four well known architects: Rem Koolhaas, Marcel Smets, Manuel Solá Morales and Bernardo Secchi. The process was coordinated by Stefano Boeri and it brought new concepts, mainly for the port-city interface, which could have inspired the port plan published in 2001. We will not stop in detail in each one of them since there are several publications and articles that explain in detail the projects. The main areas of intervention were in the Cornigliano-Airport area, by Smets, the boundary between the city and the port from Ponte Parodi to La Lanterna, by Koolhaas, and the east part of the harbour, from the Porto Antico area to the Fiera del Mare (Exhibition fair). The last mentioned project was focused in a section of the city that is currently been discussed thanks to the Blueprint from Renzo Piano that we will later explain.

Proposal from Solá Morales Source:
Proposal from Solá Morales


In the first decade of the new millennium we saw another ambitious plan for the Genoese waterfront. This time Renzo Piano decided to develop a plan for the entire port, not just the released area. The goal was to redesign the port territory giving it a certain coherence that would eventually rearrange the logistic area of the port and improve its capacity. Consequently, this could lead to new waterfront areas been released for public use.

First version of the Affresco plan Source:
First version of the Affresco plan

The main idea of this new plan, presented in 2004, was to transform the airport into an artificial island in front of the city. This would allow the space of the airport to be used for new container terminal. In the San Pier d’Arena area several quays would be landfilled to allow more area for port activities. At the same time the naval reparation could be transformed into an island placed in front of La Lanterna. The plan caused controversy and several changes were requested. In the following years, 2005 and 2006, the project was reviewed and adapted to different demands. The moving of the airport was considered a key point but the idea of changing the naval repair area was dismissed. Another main goal was the improvement of the public access to the sea, for this reason in the area of Multedo we would see several changes. Here was where we could find the oil harbour, one of the most polluting activities along with the coal energy plant, the idea was to relocate them and leave the opportunity for new waterfront uses.

The plan was very discussed by public entities and the port community, but eventually it was not translated into a reality. The need of massive investment, estimated by president of the region at the time in 4,000 mil. €, was considered excessive. When we asked the interviewees about the failure of the plan,they also mentioned other points, such as the airport or the landfill needs. Regarding the airport,the main issue was that moving it into an artificial island it would not solve the problems it causes. The height limit established by the responsible authorities or the limits to the port activities would remain the same since the landing and take over routes would be very similar to the existing ones. Another issue was the execution of the project. Until the new airport was concluded,the existing one would not be dismantled and prepared for port activities. Also the economical and ecological impact related with the key project were an issue. To execute the necessary landfill, the idea was to use earth coming from the new highway and railway connections, with several tunnels that would generate excessive dirt. Since these new infrastructures were not built the impact caused by the artificial island would be even greater.

Later version from the Affresco Plan Source:
Later version from the Affresco Plan

The Affresco was not implemented but some of its ideas would later become a reality, such as the reduction of the oil harbor or the deactivation of the coal power plant. In this plan it was already clear that the port community is formed by very different realities and that change is not always seen as something positive.


In September 2015 a new document named the Blueprint plan was publicly presented. The author, Renzo Piano, decided to give it to the city rejecting any kind of compensation. As told by SR, Piano’s office was contacted by members of the region, PA and the municipality to request him a concept plan for a part of the waterfront. This time, in contrast with the Affresco, the area was significantly smaller, with clear boundaries and specific problems. The concerned part of the port was the waterfront between the Porto Antico and Punta Vagno, where Piazzale Kennedy is in the east part of the city.

View of the west part of Genoa
View of the west part of Genoa

The main concern in this intervention was the current situation of the naval repairs shipyards that needed new facilities in order to continue with their activity and not move away to other city, such as Marseille as it has been rumored. On the other hand the same companies are not so opened to major changes, as we saw in the Affresco plan, so the solution needed to work without major configuration changes. Besides this main issue, which was the main problem for the PA in this area, we have other elements that demanded a new solution. Regarding the maritime activities in this area, we also find several marinas, sport and leisure associations, like the Yacht Club (the oldest one in Italy), the rowing club, or Societa’ Canottieri Genovesi Elpis, among others. These organizations are also very important since, as we will see, they do not fully agree with the proposed solution.

From the city side,the Fiera district has become serious urban problems. The global importance of industrial fairs has been diminishing over the last decades since the advent of new and more effective communication methods. In Genoa we can still find the Boat Show, which is one of the biggest worldwide, and other minor events that only use the existing facilities for a short period in specific dates. This situation is becoming problematic because the current buildings are oversized and have entered in a possible degradation process. At the same time the lack of revenues has caused serious economic problems to the public company that used to manage the industrial fair, therefore the maintenance is even more complicated. This is an urban problem that was included in the scope of the new plan.

Genoa exhibition fair Source:
Genoa exhibition fair

Finally another issues were the fact that the area hosts several important road connections that add complexity to the situation. Also this part of the city center until now did not had any sort of direct contact with the sea.

Renzo Piano, besides considering all the existing problems, also took the opportunity to give access to the water to this city district, creating a new longitudinal park, as pointed out by other authors following the idea of Solá Morales. This new public space would be able to connect the Porto Antico to the Piazzale Kennedy, an area that would also be regenerated into a new green area.

The main concept of this plan is the development of a new water channel that would create a sort of blue buffer between the urban and port realities, giving a more clear separation between the different industrial, sport and urban areas. The line followed by the new water canal it is not casual, it follows the path of the old port walls, the Mura della mala paga. This new water area does not always has the same width, but always keeps a minimums size in order to allow the navigability. The widest point would be in front of the current Yacht club, where it would stretch until reaching a maximum width similar to the one of the old dock, the first harbor of Genoa. Besides the new channel, that transform the shipyard section into an island, there would also be a reconfiguration of the industrial part, creating more space due to the planned landfills. These interventions would use the land extracted from the new waterway hence increasing the sustainability of the project.

Blueprint plan Source: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Blueprint plan
Source: Renzo Piano Building Workshop

In order to grant the access to the industrial area, a new parallel road would be created in the level of the intervention, following partially the path of the Sopraelevata. The new island would include two connections with firm land. The waterfront longitudinal park would exist mainly on the city side of the waterway, and only partly on the sea side, in front of the Yacht Club. During the design phase there was the attention to provide at least the same linear meters of docking space as the existing ones, although in most cases the final figure was bigger than the current situation. What clearly changes is the configuration of the berths, from a compact distribution to one along the new canal and in the fair area.

The Fiera part would also suffer major changes. The area of the fair would be reduced to less than half and only the buildings that are considered more relevant would be kept, such as the one from architect Jean Nouvel. In this section of the plan the sport center Palasport would also be preserved, although its context would change due to the new presence of water that would allow the creation of roofed docks for small and medium sized embarkations. Also in this part of the plan is where we can find the new constructions. The program would be mainly focus on housing, tertiary and commerce related with the maritime world.

Section through the Palasport Source:
Section through the Palasport

Regarding the project financing, the PA is expected to be responsible for financing the works related with the port activities, but the private investment would also be part of the equation. Although the general intervention is to be led by public institutions, the new construction would be developed by private investors. The agreement would probably require certain negotiation, but these sort of financing schemes is a typical approach to the urban regenerations projects, as we have seen in previous cases. It is also a characteristic of the current model of large urban interventions which contrasts with the first generation of waterfront plans in the Mediterranean sea, such as the Port Antico or the Barcelona case.

There are several key ideas behind the plan, besides the physical interventions, that must be kept in mind as Arch. Russo explained us. First of all the fact that the plan is a conceptual plan, therefore is not to be taken literally and certainly it requires a considerable amount of work to fully develop the concepts presented. At the same time, the main features of the plan allow its adaptation to the different possible solutions to existing problems near the concerned areas, such as the creation of a tunnel under the Porto Antico bay. This option has been discussed for several decades and never fully dismissed. In the municipality we were told that the current mayor considers this to be an option for the cross traffic. If we eventually see in the near future a tunnel, the Sopraelevata might change it use for example to an elevated public space. The Blueprint is thought in a way that allows different approaches without compromising the key decisions of the plan.

Another important point is the fact that the plan establishes several areas that should be discussed in further detail in new urban planning competitions. The decided boundaries are simply a suggestion from the project team and could be adapted to changing scenarios. The intention of Renzo Piano would be to allow young architects to bring new ideas for the waterfront and further develop the plan.

The Blueprint has caused a considerable discussion since its presentation to the public. Not all the concerned actors are in favor of the plan concepts. As mentioned before, there are several groups opposing its implementation, mainly the Yacht Club. This organizations disagrees with the idea of changing the distribution of the berths although their main building would remain in the same location. One of the main reason for this opposition is the fact that in their eyes is not so clear what happens when the nautical fair takes place, since they would need the berths next to main fair halls, an area they would use. For this reason, in the plan the project team carefully increased the linear meters of docks when compared with the existing ones. On the other hand the port community is very often reluctant to change, as we have seen in other cases. In this particular context the members of the yacht club are often persons with considerable connections and resources. At the same time the concession contract for the docks given to the club would end in December this year, therefore a negotiation was already necessary. At the present there is an intense discussion about the topic, hyped by the press. During the next year we should find out if the pressure groups against some of the plan ideas succeed and are able to force a change.

New context for the Yacht Club building Source:
New context for the Yacht Club building

Finally there is another point we were able to discuss with SR, the name of the plan. Blueprint is the name given in architecture to the construction plan that are taken to the site to have the instructions and detail for the construction. In this case, the plan is exactly the opposite since is a concept for the waterfront, far from the execution phase. The name is related with the dominant color of the intervention, blue. Renzo Piano insisted in leaving the water with its color and abstracting the land and construction so the most important element would be enhanced. The key was to give a contact with the water to the city, and this was achieved with the new waterway. This main concept is even clearer in the simplified plans, without the satellite picture, therefore the simplification was crucial to better explain the concept and leave the essence of the project very clear, just like what happens with the sketches in the architecture projects.

Blueprint plan, contrast between the water and the city Source:
Blueprint plan, contrast between the water and the city

Port Plan

The new port plan has been under development since 2010 and currently is in what we could consider the final stage near the approval, something that it should happen during the year 2016 or beginning of 2017. In the new plan there are several elements that are innovate and could bring significant improvements to the port-city relation. The concern about the interaction with the city has been one of the key elements on the making process and the main goal, as expressed in the plan, is to be able to create value for the territory.

View of Genoa Source:
View of Genoa

We have seen in this post and the previous one that Genoa is placed in a territory with a complex topography, for this reason the expansion of the port has been decided to be inwards. The opposition to new landfills would be significant hence the only option was to improve the operation of the port within the existing territory, changing its morphology to receive the largest ships reaching 18,000 to 22,000 TEU. The plan is organized into two main components: the physical plan and the immaterial plan. Both are important and both have consequences for the city. In the case of the immaterial plan the main innovation is the improvement in the integration of control and custom system in order to have a more fluid traffic hence reducing its impact in the city. This is something we have also seen in other cases like Helsinki. In order to work it requires an effort not just from the PA, but also from all the other concerned authorities. The physical plan would be responsible for the changes in the port territory and for achieving the industrial, environmental and integration goals.In this plan is where we can find the new protection projects, a new system of breakwater that would allow the bigger ships a safe entry into the port.

Operational areas

The plan is organized in three different operational areas, the PO (Operational Port), the PP (Passengers Port) and the PU (Urban Port). For this article we will focus in the urban and passenger areas since are the one that will have a more direct interaction with the city. Regarding the operational port is important to understand that the interior growth would required still more land for the docks. This increase in the activity would partly be achieved by creating more space for the berths of ships in the San Pier d’Arena port section, land filing several basins like it has already been done in some areas. Another important change for the industrial port is the reduction of the oil harbour, as we have seen an idea already explored previously. The motivations are both environmental and economical, since the released area could be used by the shipyards Fincantieri. The system could be replaced by hoses therefore avoiding the birth of the oil tankers.

The operational fields aforementioned are very often intersecting with each other and with the city boundaries, the Passenger Port is the one that has a more clear physical translation. This last one is considered to form the transition areas in several points, such as the ferry terminals that allow more direct interaction between the citizens and the port. These points are also part of one of the strategies to improve the visual interaction, called the “grafts”, areas where there could a more direct physical and, mainly, visual relation. For the Passenger Port is also very important the parallel circulation, following the concepts that we already see in some of the ferry terminals or in Terrasses du Port in Marseille. In Genoa should be even easier to achieve since the topography allows the creation of two different heights, one in the harbor level and another in the street level. This increased interaction, that could be very positive for city’s perception of the port, is now jeopardized by the increase of the security measures which go in the opposite direction by separating the people from the restricted area as much as possible.

Urban Port

In the Urban Port we find several areas that will gather the majority of the interventions. In the west, the Voltri terminal will be transformed into an island by the creation of a new water channel, extending the Fascia di rispetto di Prà. This new waterway will include new public waterfront and it will work as a blue and green buffer between the city and the industrial area. Further east we might eventually see projects for the area of the oil harbor that could include a beach and public waterfront, although this is still an element to be discussed.  Another important point will be the area around the Lanterna. The old lighthouse should be better connected with the city center since it is considered the city’s landmark and the current access is clearly deficient. In this waterfront section we will also presence major changes in the power plant that will be deactivated in 2017. There is an ongoing dialogue to decide the future function of it, but it could be a very interesting point in the waterfront regarding the geographical location and for the possibility of turning it into an element of industrial port heritage.

Changes in the Voltri Terminal
Changes in the Voltri Terminal

In the central section of the waterfront, the Porto Antico area, the existing functions will remain and the previously planned project should be executed. In this case, the Silo Hennebique and Ponte Parodi would be the main interventions. Since they are object of controversy we will explain them in further detail later on.

Finally, the eastern part of the port, the one concerned in Blueprint plan, is where we might see the bigger changes. The ideas developed by Renzo Piano were incorporated in the plan and the concept of developing a blue buffer is consider to match the strategies that were already thought. In this area, we shall also see in the near future another project from the same architect, replacing the previous one that in May 2013 was destroyed in an accident.

Of all the waterfront interventions, the one that has more clear options of being becoming a reality is the one in Voltri, since it could be included in the plan for the terminal. This is an important issue because the port is mainly allowed to invest in projects that have a direct impact in the port activities. The intervention in Voltri could be considered a compensation measure or part of the necessary buffer to industrial activities. The other ones are more complex since they will not probably depend from one single investor.

Waterway of Prà
Waterway of Prà

Silo Hennebique

One of the most notable projects in the Genoese waterfront is the rehabilitation of the old silos. This building is placed in a prominent location, particularly when seen from the sea, entering the bay. What it used to be a warehouse for grain, kept functioning until the beginning of the 1990’s and it is a crucial element for the completion of the waterfront, from the Magazzini del cottone until the cruise terminal Ponte dei Mile. The building is in poor condition and any kind of intervention would require important sums for the investment. Its size, over 8,000 sqm, the demands from the port regarding the future functions to be hosted and the economic situation caused that the call for proposals from 2012 was declared deserted. During our interview PG explained us that in the coming year 2016 there will be a new call for proposals which will demand 30% of public functions. In the near future we shall see if these important element of industrial heritage is regenerated and included in the urban life.

View of the Silo Hennebique from the water Author: José M P Sánchez
View of the Silo Hennebique from the water
Author: José M P Sánchez

Ponte Parodi

The second project, also very relevant for the completion of the waterfront, is the future cruise terminal Ponte Parodi. In 2001 the Dutch office UNstudio, led by Ben van Berkel, won the international competition for the new terminal project. The building would continue with the concept of sharing the space between port and urban functions, besides the terminal it would include a mall and public areas. The problem is that since 2001 the project has been constantly delayed for many difference reasons. Currently there are several port activities taking place in this quay, for example it still hosts the tugboats. During the process there were also changes in the investment firms and discussion with the affected port industries who also opposed to the project. We understood that also the administrative process has not been so easy. This part of the waterfront was included in transformation district, a part of the port territory that would pass to the municipality. This process is still ongoing, but the municipality considers it finished. The agreement was that the PA would be in charge of the maritime works, for what we could see they are taking place. At the same time the demolishing of the existing warehouse that have no value is happening. We can still see the project in the website of the owner company, the French firm Altarea.


Piano Urbanistico Comunale

In the past, the port and urban development plans were published almost simultaneously, therefore the coordination between both was easier since they referred to the same time period and the discussion would be in the same terms. This time the municipal development plan, named the PUC (Piano Urbanistico Comunale), was finished before the one from the port. In this new document the port is mentioned and the coastal development have an important role. The importance of the harbour is acknowledged and there are several key interventions in the waterfront that are coordinated with the PA.

In the interview with the architects from the municipality, they explained us which project will be more important for the waterfront. In the west part of the city, the area along the Prà water channel will continue to be developed adding new green areas and sport and leisure facilities. Further on, an agreement has been found with shipyards. They will be allowed to extend to the oil harbour territory in Sestri once it changes its configuration, in exchange the shipyards will give back to the city the land they own placed on next to the railway. Also in Sestri there is another area that will be subject of discussion in the next years, the Piaggio industrial plot. The historic brand is currently going through a difficult period which could eventually lead to dismissing a part of their industries in Genoa. In this case, the location of this land could be an option for increasing the public access to the water, but during our meeting it was clarified that this decision is not taken. Nearby we can find a marina and public waterfront, but as we understood they are not planned to grow. In San Pier d’Arena we can find another significant project, the Lungomare Canepa. The goal in this case is to improve the existing road in the boundary with the port in order to handle more traffic and retreat cars and trucks from the inside of the neighborhood. The current road is not in the best condition and the barrier effect is inevitable. In this area the PA has also not planned any changes, therefore the idea of retreating traffic from the inner roads could make sense.

Lungomare Canepà Source:
Lungomare Canepa

Finally, in the west part of the city, the Blueprint plan could show the path to the future. Since the problems handled in the plan, as we have seen, are not just port issues, the city should also be integrated in the solution. Since the document is very recent we should wait to see how evolves and how do the necessary agreements between the concerned authorities work out.

Renzo Piano

In the case of Genoa we can find a figure that has had considerable influence in the planning of the waterfront and the port over the last 25 years, the architect Renzo Piano. For this reason when spoke with the different stakeholders we had to ask how was this relation. In general terms they all agreed that this architect, and senator, has played a central role in the development of the city. Since the Porto Antico project his ideas have influenced the port and urban plans. Although nowadays his main office in is Paris, he keeps an emotional connection with the Ligurian capital that has taken him to donate several works, like the aforementioned Blueprint plan or the pilot’s tower project. In the municipality, we were told that his ideas do not always find the expected reaction, particularly regarding the follow up after the first concept. At the same time, his presence has became a political and economic assets, since his participation in projects and initiatives gives them credit and work as a facilitator for their conclusion. Sometimes though, the dialogue in the high political levels are not so well connected with the everyday reality. For example the port plan was an ongoing process since 2010 without the collaboration of Renzo Piano, only later the concepts in the Blueprint were brought and incorporated to the plan, with the initiative of the high political spheres as mentioned by PG. This was not so traumatic since the ideas were coherent with the ones in the plan and a dialogue process was rapidly established.

Torre Piloti from Renzo Piano Source:
Torre Piloti from Renzo Piano

In general terms the work of Renzo Piano and his contribution for the city is much appreciated, also by the inhabitants who identify him as one of the most notorious Genoeses of last century and beginning of this one.At the end, if the majority of his ideas were to become a reality, we could observe a port-city with a more coherence vision making it more particular when compared with other cases.

Soft-values, cultural initiatives

The relation between the port and the city in Genoa has evolved significantly in the last years. In recent times we have seen several initiatives that allow the citizens to have a better understanding of the port. Particularly important is the Genoa Port Center, inaugurated in 2009, it functioned until September 2014. The port-center was born from a collaboration between the PA, the port community, the region and the university. It received initial funding from the EU and it implied a considerable preparation work in order to sum up something as complex as the port into a short exhibition reachable to children and youngsters of different age.

Genoa Port Center Source:
Genoa Port Center

This facility was one of the founding members of the AIVP Port-Center network. During the years it has been open it has been a success, during the first three years it welcomed almost 20,000 students of different levels. PG recognized it was a very useful tool for the disclosure of the port activity and importance.

The center has been managed by the Muvita foundation, an organization from the region. Unfortunately the port-center has to close their doors due to changes in the management. From what we could understand, the idea was that it would be managed by the PA when the European program ended. When this happened, it closed and since it has remained like that. We tried to contact the person responsible from the organization but unfortunately got no answer. We expect it will reopen in the future since it has not been fully dismantled, although it has been already closed for over a year. The port-center issue will be studied in further detail as the research advances. It is relevant to say that the network has been expanding and in this year the Livorno port-center opened their doors in the historical context of the Fortezza Vecchia, the old fortress.

The PA has also engaged in several initiatives related with soft-values and communication with the citizens, such as the web TV and other cultural activities. These events, like the port-day, were more common when the port-center was fully functional, since they were also in charge of the cultural agenda, as we can see in the website.

In Genoa we can find other cultural facilities where the port’s role in the city is well explained. The Galata Museo del Mare is another example. This museum works both as sea and city museum. The link between the city and the maritime activities is very clear and a very complete exhibition, including actual size galley models, explain us how it has evolved. We can also find the naval museum of Pegli. As the name indicates is more focus in the maritime history and affairs.

In the case of Genoa we might also find often cultural initiatives related with the port. In the different museums there are exhibitions of photography or painting, also in spaces like Loggia dei  Mercanti, there are usually activities that have a relation with the port, for example the industrial heritage or the commerce.

Besides the local initiatives, there have been other related with the port that are focus on enhancing the cultural importance of this infrastructure. Particularly interesting is the international film festival “Zones Portuaires“, an initiative born in Marseille five years ago, therefore also very relevant for that city, was hosted in Genoa  in last September with a program full of events related with the seaport culture, mainly focused in this city.

Personal Opinion

The territorial constraints present in the case of Genoa force a more intense relation between the city and the port. The fact that the boundary between both territories is so complex has brought even more attention to the problem. As we have seen, the discussion of the waterfront and the physical and visual access to the water has produced interesting publications and plans from renowned architects and planners. Unfortunately, all this intellectual effort has not been translated into equivalent physical changes. Some of these plans were too ambitious and in other cases the economic and/or political context did not allowed their further development. The fact that since 1992 we have not seen major changes in the waterfront, except the ones in 2001 and 2004 in a smaller scale, might have affected the credibility of the new plans. As we saw there are important projects waiting to happen, but they carry a delay of almost 15 years in some cases.

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

In this case the dialogue and cooperation is higher than in other studied cases, particularly if we consider that the institutions depends from different bodies in different levels, local and national. The initiatives like the Genova Urban Lab or the Agency for the Port Plan reveal a predisposition towards the dialogue, although the steps after the plan have not always been fully achieved. For other port-cities is a good example of joint project. We already saw in Rotterdam the positive synergies that can be created with this sort of initiatives, Genoa shows another path that might be better adapted for the southern European countries, where the central government has a strong influence over the PA.

The new port plan has also several concepts that might be interesting for other cases where physical boundaries constitute constrains for the port activity. It is an intelligent approach for the port growth, instead of physically expand the port territory to try to reach the maximum capacity by improving the efficiency of the existing infrastructure. In other port-cities with territorial limitations is a good option instead of demanding more land to the urban area next to the port. Another approach is the expansion in Brownfields that also has less impact than blue or green port expansion. We could see this sort of plan in Lisbon, since the port will expand to the south side of the river in an existing brownfield. This leads us to another important issue, the intervention in the active port to improve the relation with the city. In the case of Genoa we see that, due to territorial limitations, we will probably not see large waterfront interventions in dismissed port areas, instead the strategy will focus in specific points with smaller projects in the boundary between the active port and the city. The concept of the blue buffer is an example of this sort of project. In the eastern part of the city the ideas presented in the Blueprint plan could also be a significant improvement for both the city and the port. This sort of “urban acupuncture”, a set of specific small scale actions that lead to an improved relation, might be the model for the future in opposition to the previous large scale operation.

Regarding the social initiatives of the PA, Genoa was for some years a real reference in the field. Their Port-Center very often worked as a role model for the new ones in other ports. The impact this kind of initiatives is not to be seen immediately but more in the long term. In order to get the SLTO (Social License to Operate), the PA must develop an agenda of events and take profit of the existing structure. It is understandable that in the central government the soft-values of seaports might be more difficult to conceive as something important, but in the end is one of the main ways for the port to be accepted by the inhabitants of the city on their back. We can only expect that this situation will change and that the port-center will reopen its doors. The problem of social integration of ports will be studied in further detail in the next stage of the research. Hopefully, we will be able to get to know other cases and the role the AIVP has played in the development of this kind of initiatives.

In conclusion Genoa is one of the cases where the relation between city and port is more intense, however they have been able to keep relatively positive interaction. The strategies here presented could be adapted to other cases. The alternative of small actions against the policy of white elephants is an intelligent approach, particularly in crisis or post-crisis scenarios, like the one we find ourselves in. It is time to try alternatives to the business as usual model, and learn how we can act in the active harbor and still improve the relation of the city with the port and the water.

Continue reading “The Genoa experience”

The Italian case: Genoa

The Italian case: Genoa

Genoa, a maritime power

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

View of Genoa Source:
View of Genoa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The port of Genoa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The waterfront

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

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

View of Porto Antigo Source:
View of Porto Antigo

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

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

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

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




The 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”