When plasticity doesn’t provide the solution anymore: Understanding the contemporary institutional restructuring of the A-R-A port geography using a PUR perspective

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


The ARA (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp) port region can be considered as a Polycentric Urban(port) Region (PUR). It consists of historical distinct political independent port(-cities). The ARA ports have different economic profiles, from throughput ports to manufacturing ports, providing room for all kinds of different industries and activities to develop. Because several policy measures (e.g. regulations, infrastructure) cross different borders within this PUR, the port(-cities) have used so-called institutional stretching or plasticity to coop with these challenges (e.g. Flanders Port Area). The advantages of institutional plasticity are its temporarily character and the avoidance of difficult democratic institutional restructurings. However, this plasticity has reached its limits, due to the changed competitive environment of the ARA ports. Ports became nodes in different kinds of global production and value networks and increasingly they share fore- and hinterlands. This has led that in many industries a fierce (global) competition has taken place, leading to corporate consolidations which upscale their activities, eventually leading to spatial economic concentration in fewer ports. Especially large scale throughput activities, such as the container sector for example, move towards a pronounced hub-and-spoke geography, concentrated increasingly in the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam; ports able to provide the necessary infrastructure and space, facilitated by the concentration of public investments too, to scale up. This process of increased concentration has been labeled by scholars as ‘Rotterdamization’; a process in which not only the market power, but also the political power of these ports increases. In other words, in a reciprocal way the agglomeration externalities Antwerp and Rotterdam can provide, increasingly polarizes the political and economic PUR port geography of the ARA region. In order to counter this polarization, the recent establishment of the international North Sea Port, being a merger between the relative smaller Flemish port of Ghent and the Dutch Zeeland Seaports, is one example. Although both (-plasticity-) work together for decades, increasingly they were losing commercial and political weight (cf. public investments). In this paper, we will analyze the merger of the North Sea Port. After explaining the concept of institutional plasticity and the historical and contemporary geography of the ARA-PUR geography, we will argue that the North Sea Port merger is an exemplifier to the ongoing institutional restructuring of the ARA-PUR geography. We argue that this restructuring not only safeguards the balanced coo-option, or deconcentrated-concentrated character of the ARA region, but also has the potential to streamline the institutional structure with the agglomeration externalities of the ARA region as a whole and as such its competitive character in reference to other port(areas).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2019
EventConceptualising, Identifying and Analysing Polycentric Urban Regions: RSA Research Network on ‘Polycentric Urban Regions’ (PURs) - Delft University of Technology - BK, Delft, Netherlands
Duration: 28 Jan 201929 Jan 2019


WorkshopConceptualising, Identifying and Analysing Polycentric Urban Regions
Internet address


  • Polycentric Port Region
  • ARA
  • PUR


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