Sustainable delta landscapes need smarter port city regions

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Economic and spatial developments of port cities have large impacts on the quality of the natural environment, the safety of people living in the urbanized areas and the fresh water supply for drinking water and agriculture. Creating a proper balance among these different aspects, makes it necessary to provide new concepts and instruments at the regional scale. During the last two centuries, port city development has been defined by the paradigm of the primacy of economic development, which had to be supported and facilitated by engineering and urban planning. Following this paradigm, dynamic and ecologically rich deltas have been transformed into artificial landscapes, resulting in ecological decay, increasing flood risk in urban areas and increasing salinization of surface and groundwater. Because of climate change, these problems in port city regions are increasing exponentially. This paper argues that new approaches should be developed in port city regions, combining ecological repair of delta landscapes by ‘building-with-nature’ methods of hydraulic engineering, with a transition of port city regions related to energy transition and the rise of a circular economy. We need a new paradigm, resulting in an integrated, holistic approach of port city regions, and with governance structures which are able to implement this holistic approach. This paper shows the essence and urgency of this new paradigm, as well as the glimpses of the start of a new approach, illustrated by the developments in two delta regions, which are the home bases of two of the largest port complexes of the world: the Mississippi river delta with the ports of New Orleans, and the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta with Rotterdam and Antwerp. The new paradigm is only possible when the governance system will change at the global, national, regional and local levels.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
Issue numberSpecial Issue
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Special Issue “Governance in Port City Regions”


  • Dynamic delta landscapes
  • Port city regions
  • Building with nature
  • Design as engine of change


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