Mapping Maritime Mindsets: Mental Maps

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Imagine: You are asked to draw a port city from memory. What would you put on paper? Do you think of harbours? Water, docks, cargo, moving loads, and ships? If your drawing shows these elements, don’t be surprised. Sixty-five graduate students also took on the challenge. In answering: “draw the port city of Rotterdam by mind”, the drawings of the participants (fig.1) displayed exactly the above features. Of course, this makes sense. A port just happens to be a place on the water in which ships shelter and dock to (un)load cargo and/or passengers. A harbour is a sheltered place too, and in its nautical meaning, it is a near-synonym for sheltered water, in which ships may dock, especially again for (un)loading. So, all the above linguistic lemmas are there and all these are connected to imaginable objects.

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Port Cities: Diverse and Inclusive


Rotterdam, photo by Iris van den Broek

“Waterfronts have been and in some (smaller) cities still are contact zones of people from diverse backgrounds: public spaces bring together dockworkers, displaced people, casual labourers, and trans-migrants waiting to board ships for overseas travel. However, waterfronts have been looked upon as places of otherness in need of social reform even at the turn of the twentieth century. Since the 1960s, container districts and offshore ports further increased the separation between ports and cities. Following containerization, waterfront regeneration has become a worldwide tool to overcome the range of social, cultural and public health issues associated with the nineteenth-century waterfront. Urban renewal and gentrification have been central to many of these programs that took off beginning in the 1980s in most European port cities. Rebranding has been an essential part of bringing new capital and new people into neighbourhoods next to former dock areas, which normally would not have been of interest to private investors.”

Read our full online column on Port Cities as Hubs of Diversity and Inclusivity: The case of Rotterdam, with Carola Hein, Paul van de Laar, Sabine Luning, Sarah Hinman, Amanda Brandellero, Ingrid Mulder, Maurice Jansen, and Lucija Azman. Happy to be part of the multidisciplinary Port City Futures research programme, an inspiring Leiden-Delft-Erasmus initiative.

Here, my field of urban design and public space is extended again to cultural anthropology, human geography, urban sociology, environmental psychology, and challenged by other domains!