Towards Circular Port–City Territories: Rotterdam and the Port Back to the City

Paolo De Martino*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review

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Port and city authorities all over Europe and beyond are striving with finding solutions able to combine sustainability with economic growth. Several global urgencies in fact, such as climate change, energy transition, the exponential changes in the scale of ports and ships and last but not least the economic and health shock related to the coronavirus pandemic, are challenging the spaces where ports physically meet their cities, generating processes of caesura within the urban patterns with consequent impacts on the quality of life. In port cities, infrastructures and energy flows overlap with city flows and patterns that change with different rhythms and temporalities. This discrepancy creates abandonment and marginality between port and city. This today is no longer sustainable. New approaches and solutions that look at integration and circularity rather than separation are necessary. Circularity has been widely discussed in the literature. However, the concept still remains very controversial, especially when it comes to port cities where new definitions are needed in particular to better understand the spatial dimension of circularity. The Rotterdam therefore case study stands exemplary. Here, the concept of the circular economy refers mostly to the theme of obsolete industrial buildings and marginal that are reinserted again within the urban metabolism. The case of Rotterdam points out that the competition of the port today goes through the quality of its relationship spaces and the ability of the different actors involved in the planning process to hold together economic growth and environmental sustainability. The areas along the river are in fact the most fascinating places in the city and today they are ready for a different use. In order for the city to become an attractive place to live it is necessary to build new, innovative and sustainable spatial visions. This will lead to scenarios of sustainable coexistence between port and city. Therefore, these two agendas (sustainable port and city attractiveness) came together in the area known as Makers district (M4H) which, together with RDM campus, represents the Rotterdam testing ground for innovation. Therefore, this chapter, by arguing that ports will play a crucial role in the transition towards more circularity investigates how to make it happen and how to transform the challenges of the port into opportunities for a territorial regeneration towards new forms of integration. In order to answer the question, the case of Rotterdam is presented to analyse a model of urban regeneration where different planning agencies—mainly port authority, municipality, universities and private parties—work together at different scales to define a sustainable coexistence of interests. The research, which draws data on existing literature and policy documents analysis, firstly introduces the spatial and governance structures of the city of Rotterdam as part of a bigger metropolitan region. Secondly, it analyses the case of “Stadshavens strategy” as an emblematic example to overcome conflicts and path dependencies at the intersection of land and water. Finally, it concludes by highlighting some limitations and path dependencies that could make the transition to new forms of the circular economy very difficult in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRegenerative Territories
Subtitle of host publicationDimensions of Circularity for Healthy Metabolisms
EditorsLibera Amenta, Michelangelo Russo, Arjan van Timmeren
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-78536-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-78538-3
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameGeoJournal Library
ISSN (Print)0924-5499
ISSN (Electronic)2215-0072


  • Circular economy
  • Path dependence
  • Port cities
  • Rotterdam
  • Urban metabolism


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