Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Port City Futures

Port City Futures is an initiative of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities collaboration. The program investigates the evolving socio-spatial conditions, use and design of port city regions, in particular exploring areas where port and city activities occur simultaneously and sometimes conflict.

2019 - 2023
Sabine Luning
Leiden Delft Erasmus Universities Leiden Delft Erasmus Universities

Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam

A port, its neighboring city, and region form a type of territory at select intersections of water and land, across which people, goods, and ideas all flow. Although a port and its infrastructure form a globally connected industrial complex, that complex must share limited space with its city and region. Port functions exist cheek by jowl with lived-in urban spaces, and other built-up and natural areas. Port City Futures explores these particularities and proposes spatial planning and design measures for the use of this limited space so that the port and city (and region) can jointly evolve.

Port City Futures employs interdisciplinary methods and long-term perspectives to connect political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of spatial use. It explores how the flows of goods and people generated by port activities intersect with the dynamics of the natural territory, hydraulic engineering, spatial planning, urban design, architecture, and heritage. It examines the spatial impact of competing interests among port-related and urban spatial development needs and timelines, proposes possible scenarios, and examines the impacts of these futures.


PortCityFutures contributes to the new LDE strategy in multiple ways. It brings together researchers from humanities, social and design sciences in the LDE who are eager to collaborate. It focuses on the particularities of the port city region where these three universities are located. The Port of Rotterdam, its neighboring cities and municipalities, the Province of South Holland and in fact the greater region are a key example of the challenges of port-city-region interconnections and a place where key transitions need inclusive approaches to develop. Changes in work, production or environmental systems of the port have repercussions throughout the region. Decisions made for the Rotterdam region are interconnected with transformations in other port city regions around the world. Addressing these challenges in and for South Holland provides insights for port city regions globally. To fully understand the developments in the LDE region, we propose comparison of global port city regions.

Port cities are internationally connected. What happens in Rotterdam and its hinterland reflects extraction, production, and distribution processes around the world. Studying global examples, including Tokyo (Japan), Sekondi-Takoradi (Ghana), Philadelphia or Savannah (US), where members of our group are working, will help us understand socio-spatial processes in which local communities and urban development, have become implicated in global processes. Cruise shipping, gold extraction, offshore oil-drilling have created intersections between national and global interests, and questions of distribution of opportunities and wealth. Port throughput triggers debates about the distribution of wealth locally and internationally, and about the way the dynamics in this port city relate to wider issues of regional development. Studies of port city regions that focus on the interconnections around the world, taking a scalar perspective, zooming in and out of places, connectivity's and forms of collaboration and contestation can provide novel insights for all places involved.

Through its topical focus on port city regions both locally and globally, its integration of humanities, social, and design sciences and its focus on culture and value, this proposal connects to, but doesn’t overlap with other LDE initiatives.

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