Planning the Port City: A Contribution to and Application of the Relational Approach, Based on Five Case Studies in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and Ghent (Belgium)

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Ports have historically played a key role in the economic development of their host cities and regions. However, since the second half of the 20th century, their historical connection came under pressure. Ports and cities grew apart, not only physically, but also socially, culturally and institutionally. Within the literature, foremost the physical separation between port and city is being studied. In this case, the concept of the port-city interface becomes a synonym of the waterfront, a developer's window of opportunity for urban renewal in port cities around the world.

However, perceiving the port-city interface only in terms of land use neglects that the port-city interface is also an interactive economic system composed of different relationships within, without and towards this system, hence our proposition.

This dissertation proposes a relational approach to the port-city interface. A relational approach allows us to focus on how development is constituted through dynamic coupling mechanisms across territorial scales and along different institutionalised structures. Within a flat and deep ontology, we combine the relational approach with causal theory and system theory. This results in our analytical framework capable to analyse different emergent coupling mechanisms and their effects.

Subsequently, we operationalize this in our three-step conceptual framework. In step 1, we analytically stop the time to identify and visualize the relational geometry. Step 2 distinguishes the causal processes from the less-relevant background conditions. Step 3 analyses the emergent powers that are enabling the coupling mechanisms and, in the end, explain how actors possess agency.

The empirical work, the lion's share of this dissertation, focusses on five port-city interfaces in the port-cities of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and Ghent (Belgium). In both Amsterdam and Ghent we focus on the steel manufacturing sector and the biobased sector, while in Ghent we also focus on the car manufacturing sector.

Based on our results, we answer the main research question 'How to plan the port city?'. We will argue that the port-city interface should not be governed to maintain and prevent the conflict between port and urban land use, but should, in contrast, be of high added value for both the urban and maritime economy.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAssen
Number of pages308
ISBN (Print)978-94-6355-153-3
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Port-City interface
  • Economics
  • Spatial planning
  • Ghent
  • Amsterdam
  • Steel Manufacturing sector
  • Biobased sector
  • Car manufacturing sector
  • Relational geometry
  • Coupling mechanisms
  • Clusters


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