“The Hoist of the Yellow Flag”: Vulnerable Port Cities and Public Health

Dirk Schubert, C. Wagenaar, C.M. Hein

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Port cities have long played a key role in the development, discovery, and fight against diseases. They have been laboratories for policies to address public health issues. Diseases reached port cities through maritime exchanges, and the bubonic plague is a key example. Port city residents’ close contact with water further increased the chance for diseases such as cholera. Analyzing three European port cities, this article first explores the relevance of water quality for public health through the lens of the Dutch city of Rotterdam. It then examines plans and projects for London that were shaped by social Darwinism and stressed the moral failings of slum dwellers as a major cause for their misery. It finally explores the case of Hamburg as the perfect example of a city that cultivated ideals of purity and cleanliness by addressing all issues at stake in public health. This article on urban hygiene in three port cities shows how remarkably rich this field of study is; it also demonstrates that the multifaceted aspects of public health in port cities require further attention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-78
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Planning History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • public health
  • port cities
  • Rotterdam
  • London
  • Hamburg


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