The port city of tomorrow will be smart

During the 14th World Conference of the AIVP, the port cities are meeting the challenge of sustainable development. They change into Seatropolis and create projects that engage the citizens and encourage the development of an urban dynamic integrated port industry.

The coexistence between the port and urban areas of a city is an important contemporary subject. It involves town planning combined with social and environmental challenges that can be summarised in the need to create port cities that enjoy a flourishing economy whilst being “smart”, namely by intelligently organising the coexistence of urban areas with the industrial areas of the port. In other words port cities must drive social wellbeing without focussing solely on profit whilst maintaining a liveable setting ; a task that is increasingly complex in today’s global economy that is experiencing profound changes.

This theme was at the centre of the World Conference Cities and Ports of the AIVP, the worldwide Network of Port Cities. The conference is held every two years, in a developing port city and offers architects, port operators, economists, professors, private companies and institutions the chance to present their plans and ideas to improve port business and life in port cities and, maybe, even satisfy both these needs. This year the 14th AIVP World Conference Cities and Ports was held in the South African port city of Durban, from 3rd to 6th November. Since 1988 the conference has been hosted by Le Havre, Barcelona, Montreal, Buenos Aires, Stockholm, Dakar, Dalian, Sidney, Lisbon, Genoa, Montevideo, Marseilles, Nantes and Saint-Nazaire.

Recently ports like Riga and Rotterdam in Europe, Vancouver and San Diego in North America, Durban and Douala in Africa, Shenzhen and Hong Kong in China, to mention just a few of the ports who have come to the event in South Africa, have seen rapid growth, creating quite a few logistical challenges in the organisation of spaces and overland transportation of goods arriving from sea and rivers.

The plans presented vary from port city to port city but are essentially of two types : those which keep the city and port separate and those aiming for a sort of port city continuity. The first is characterised by an “industrial” approach focussing on business and the interests of port operators, assuming that the needs of citizens must bend to those of the companies working in the port. The second approach starts with the needs of the city, albeit in a “systemic” way : the port city must be liveable whilst maintaining its port industry competitive. This means satisfying the logistics requirements of the port as well as the social needs of citizens ; if one is to achieve the enhancement of both.

The systemic answer to the management of a port city is the “smart port city”. What does this mean ? “A smart port city is a recent concept in town planning developed for post-industrial port cities that combines the latest technology in an urban and environmental context, thereby creating a port city that is increasingly liveable and at the same time flourishes economically”, explains Carlos Moreno, the scientific consultant for Cofely Ineo - Gdf Suez, one of France’s largest energy companies To illustrate the situation, he continous : “Large cities have an average of 10 million inhabitants. In 2050 Tokyo will reach the figure of 37million. City life is delicate in such a setting. A smart city, and in the case of a port city, a smart port city must first create a liveable city before one that is economically wealthy”.

According to recent data from the networking company Cisco, the demand for energy will rise by 30% by 2030. According to Barbara Fluegge, Director of business services at Swiss company SAP, there will be 5 billion middle-classed people within the next 50 years, while half of the world’s population will have difficulty obtaining water. In this new world, Markus Wissmann, Manager at Cisco Systems believes that Big Data, large data sets, will help manage port logistics. He explains that, “Big Data doubles every two years and in ten years we will have 8 billion devices connected. We are not just talking about mobile phones but also refrigerators, rubbish bins and so on. It is the internet not just of things but of everything. Big Data will lead to the creation of a single computer infrastructure connecting hospitals, various bodies and, of course, ports. According to Wissmann, port cities will become “seatropolis”, like Hamburg in North Europe, a virtuous example of port logistics and social wellbeing. A seatropolis will focus its activities on the sea but with the port activities and digitalization being essential infrastructures for society.

During the 3-day Durban conference many projects were presented to make port cities more liveable and it would be difficult to make a complete list however, here are a few examples ; Helsinki in Finland has been working on a large-scale project of residential expansion to the east of the city for years. This is an example of a city “reconquering” the port areas with houses being built in areas that once accommodated a container terminal. Transnet National Ports Authority, which manages the eight ports of South Africa’s coastal network (Richards Bay, Durban, East London, Ngqura, Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay, Cape Town and Saldanha), has taken its inspiration from Tokyo’s taxis and the computerisation of Hamburg to manage the port cities under its jurisdiction. Antwerp, in Belgium has developed an app that gets citizens to learn about the activities carried out in its enormous port (covering 13,000 hectares) with a multiple-choice quiz. Rotterdam has presented 4FOLD, the first foldable container set to diminish the “transportation of air”, the phenomenon of empty containers ; these total 60% of containers travelling around the world. The Ghent-Brussels waterways complex wants to recycle nearly all their port waste. Durban wants to renew the 600km road link to Johannesburg and try to separate city traffic from heavy goods vehicles in an attempt to lessen congestion. Rotterdam wants to provide energy to a residential district by reusing the emissions from heavy industry.

There is no shortage of projects looking forward to the next twenty or thirty years. Port Elizabeth is trying to relaunch the fishing industry, brought to its knees by piracy and the paucity of resources, by setting up a local market for 2030 that incorporates the entire supply chain ; from trawlers to final processing of the product.
Mauritius’s ports have ten waterfront projects that will keep them busy for the next decade. The American port of San Diego has set itself the objective of a 10% reduction of port emissions by 2020 and nearly 50% by 2060 ; it hopes to achieve this through cold ironing, using solar energy and wind turbines.

But how can a port and a city work and live together when they are “squeezed” into a small space ? The Italian port of Genoa and Latvia’s capital, Riga, have different solutions in mind. Genoa has a population of 595,000 people living in an area of 243km2 very close to the port, with a high concentration of buildings and an important risk of inundations. Whilst offering scenic views there is a serious risk of flooding. This led to the setting up of the Genoa Smart City Association (GSCA) in 2010 to develop an environmentally-friendly port energy plan that is betting on wind turbines, dams, solar panels and especially cold ironing. Riga, instead is a river port that must respect a historic city centre that forces citizens into close contact with port operators ; this is not always an easy coexistence. So the city council came up with a simple but effective idea, seeking the input of the city’s inhabitants. They have spoken to 58 city districts to find out what is working and what isn’t. The feedback has been successful and has led to a shared vision on which to build healthy coexistence even if it does not bring about a revolution.

The theme for this 14th AIVP World Conference Cities and Ports has been the smart port city. Nicolas Mat, researcher at the Ecole Des Mines d’Alès explains “From an environmental point of view there is a revolution associated with energy that involves people’s habits and this is one of the hardest things to bring about”. As Jan Schreuder, chief energy officer at the Dutch Muncipality of Zaanstad, explains “If we look at the different ways of producing energy we notice the extremely polluting traditional ones that are stable since they have no particular distribution or black out problems, compared to renewable energy that is, instead, highly unstable, just think of solar power and wind turbines whose output falls drastically when there is no light or wind. How can we overcome this obstacle that makes it impossible for an industrial society, which is dependent on coal and petroleum, to make the transition to a post-industrial world that can do without ?” Schreuder asks before proceeding to answer the question himself, “The key lies in consumer flexibility. If consumers are involved in the production of energy I can guarantee that their flexibility will provide greater stability to the supply of renewable energies”.

The future of the smart port city is an environmental and social challenge rather than an economic one. “We must remember that industrial ecology will be incredibly complex” concludes the French researcher Nicolas Mat, adding “a smart port city is one that engages in the energy transition by incorporating the habits of people, one of the most difficult things to do. A port of the future will have high performance only in terms of whether it can arrange for the best possible management of resources”.


Paolo Bosso, journaliste et rédacteur, Informazioni Marittime, Napoli
Article translated from the Italian.