II. City-Port Symbiosis


The Concept 

Ports and port cities are at a pivotal position in time and play an important role in major transitions which are taking place simultaneously: the transition towards a new global energy system for both industry and transport. The circular economy will have significant implications for port cities, such as reverse commodity flows (waste to value), re-use, recycle, reconfigure and refurbish products, shorter and more local and regional supply chains. The covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated how people have had to adapt instantly to a different way of life. Digital tools and processes have enabled telework, and consumption habits have shifted to online platforms. This has come at the cost of 'high-street shops' which wrap up business one after the other, some after more than a century of operations, with important consequences for local labour. Despite the current pandemic, the climate crisis will urge people to adapt to even more fundamental realities in terms of living, mobility and consumption. Being at the interface between land and sea, and often located in coastal ecosystems, port cities are performing a balancing act between economy, ecology and society. In the 20th century, conflicts on the ownership and use of land (i.e. the distinction between urban and port domains) were solved by spatial separation of functions which, however, has left vast areas of disused waterfronts in most port cities. Consequentially, ports have disappeared from the minds and hearts of port citizens. Furthermore, port-related functions, located in the nearby city or region, as well as in close-by dry-ports, are not easily perceived as related to maritime operations, creating conflict between port and city, at a time when the interrelatedness of port and city is no longer visible or easily understood.

This special issue posits that a new understanding of port-city symbiosis is needed to facilitate shared governance, planning and design of port-related spaces. The issue draws on the concept of symbiosis, defined as the close connection between different types of organisms that live together and benefit from each other. Each organism provides to the other the conditions which are necessary for sustaining the other, as well as the ecosystems of which they are. The concept of symbiosis can be applied to port cities in the sense that port, cities and the regions flourish, not just because of their proximity, but also due to the exchange of resources, which can either nourish – industry, business services, schools, living, recreation – or deteriorate human activities and functions in the ecosystem. In this special issue, we are exploring the concept of symbiosis and how this applies to the interlinkages between ports and cities. The 2020s are coined by the United Nations as a decade of action in which cities, towns and communities are called upon to develop socially and environmentally sustainable common ecosystems. Ports and their neighbouring cities around the world are translating sustainable development goals into action. 

The special issue focuses on the spatial, social and cultural interconnection of ports, cities and regions. It invites contributions that explore challenges and opportunities of spatial proximity of port territories, urban space and coastal ecosystems considering these transitions: climate change and sea-level rise, ecological footprint, resilient infrastructure and sustainable transport and mobility. Furthermore, we encourage contributors to examine and explore inclusive stakeholder arrangements and related institutional and governance in port city-regions; Innovation ecosystems and startup communities are emerging that can accelerate transitions. 

The special issue aims to bring together the latest insights of researchers from various disciplines who have a keen interest in the interlinkages between ports and port cities, to present recent developments and case studies that demonstrate the symbiotic relationships (or absence thereof) between ports and their neighbouring port cities. The special session also serves to discuss how different approaches, practices and mechanisms can reconcile potential conflicts that exist on the boundaries of the port-city interface. 


Scope and themes

  • Governance challenges 
  • Human capital, talent and innovation 
  • Waterfront revitalisation 
  • Creative industries and makers' movements 
  • Climate resilience (e.g. flood protection, floating structures) 
  • Coastal communities 
  • Port heritage and sustainable development 
  • Ecosystems services 
  • Inclusive strategies towards port city stakeholders 
  • Greening port cities 
  • Port city planning 
  • Urban design for ports and port cities 
  • Urban transport and port logistics 
  • The impact of port security on citizen' mobility 
  • The jurisdictional conflict between port and city management 
  • Alternative uses, and the opportunity cost of (city) portland 
  • The confines between urban and port planning 
  • Digitalization as an enabler of the port-city interface 
  • Inner (city) port relocation experiences 
  • Suburban dry-ports and urban distribution and logistics 


An IAME 2021 Special Session leading to a thematic MEL issue

The special IAME 2021 session on "City-Port Symbiosis" is expected to advance discussions and stimulate research leading to contribute to a special issue of the IAME associated scholarly journal Maritime Economics & Logistics (MEL).  Submitted papers that have neither been previously published nor under consideration for publication elsewhere will be considered for publication, subject to a peer-review process.


Prof. Dr. Carola Hein 

TU Delft


Maurice Jansen, MSc

Erasmus University Rotterdam