The Spatial and Governance Dilemma of Small and Medium-Sized Italian Ports (SMPs): Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) as a Potential Response

Fabio Carella*, Paolo De Martino, Folco Soffietti, Vittore Negretto, Francesco Musco

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The Italian coast has about 700 ports, which are different in typology, dimension, role, and ownership. Historically, this has led to the significant fragmentation of governance and space and a lack of cooperation that ports and cities still experience today. Among all ports, small and medium-sized ports (SMPs), such as marinas, small touristic harbors, and moorings, are the most affected. Unlike the main ports, where spatial and strategic regulation planning fall under the port authority’s responsibilities, SMPs are a combination of public and private management and are, therefore, excluded from national and regional planning and larger strategies. Improving SMPs’ cooperation at the regional level can drive more effective sustainable management among related activities (tourism and the fishing sector) and reduce pressures on the land–sea interaction (LSI). In filling the gaps, this article challenges the existing legal framework, planning tools, approaches, and initiatives and may pave the way to establishing a better-integrated national governance for SMPs. In conclusion, this paper identifies two main opportunities that can support the steady establishment of governance and the systematic harmonized development of these SMPs. The first one is offered by maritime spatial planning (MSP) as a strategic and legal tool whereby SMPs are recognized and, if financially supported, could find incentives and measures for their development. The second one is through European projects, programs, and initiatives such as Framesport as drivers in establishing a common ground among public and private interests and as a cooperation engine at a local scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article number251
Number of pages17
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2024


This research was funded by the INTERREG V-A IT-HR CBC Programme—“Strategic”, Subsidy Contract—Project: “Framework initiative fostering the sustainable development of Adriatic small ports, FRAMESPORT” (Project ID: 10253074) and by EASME through Grant Agreement number 887390—MSPMED—EMFF-MSP-2019, corresponding to the call for proposal Call EMFF-MSP-2019 (Maritime Spatial Planning), Topic: EMFF-MSP-2019, Type of action: EMFF-AG for Projects on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP). The APC was funded by Università Iuav di Venezia within the activities of the Iuav Planning and Climate Change Lab.


  • common-ground strategy
  • governance
  • land–sea interaction
  • maritime spatial planning
  • small and medium-sized ports


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