Most studies and models on the port-city interface focus on the inevitable process in which ports and cities grow apart, both spatially and economically. What is often overlooked is the relationships that remain in the form of maritime business services (finance, insurance, legal). These maritime business services are in demand by port users, yet maintain a principally ‘urban’ profile. The local presence of these services adds important value to the urban economy, as these services imply highly skilled and specialised jobs. However, not all these services need to be in close proximity of the daily port operations and the physical handling of goods. In this paper we look at the role of maritime business services and address a typology of port cities. Next we focus on port policy in Rotterdam, in particular its Port Vision 2030, and highlight how various local stakeholders have been mobilised to form the Rotterdam Maritime Services Community (RMSC). The case of Rotterdam as such shows how the port and city still evolve together and can strengthen each other strategically and economically.
The evolution of port cities
Most evolutionary models depict ineluctable stages of spatial and functional separation between port and urban activities locally. Spatially, the increased intensity of port-industrial activity in combination with urban growth and the lack of available land for further expansion, as well as environmental constraints, has led port facilities to move away from city centres. In economic terms, ports have become less dependent on the urban labour market due to increased automation and operational rationalisation. Cities have also become less dependent on ‘their’ ports for local economic growth, as much of the cargo is destined for distant hinterlands. Indeed, much of port-city policy and planning efforts of the early 1980s onwards dealt with the redevelopment of derelict, largely brownfield urban waterfront sites that were formerly used for shipping activities and, often closely located to ‘downtown’ areas. Many historical waterfronts across the world underwent dramatic transformations, with London’s Canary Wharf and Hamburg’s HafenCity the most iconic. The pure focus on waterfront transformations combined with a strong belief that ports and cities will inevitably grow apart has brought policy focus away from the economic linkages that remained between port and city in the form of advanced business services such as ship and trade finance, marine insurance and risk management, and all kind of legal aspects concerning the international carriage of goods. Indeed, many of these business services came into being near shipping activity and trade entrepôts at the historical waterfronts of port cities such as London and Amsterdam. In the current age of rapid transmission of information and finance, these services however are not needed in the direct proximity of ports any longer. However, this does not imply that they are entirely footloose, as they are still concentrated geographically.