Today, historiographies seem to have moved away from traditional political and diplomatic histories describing cities towards social and cultural approaches. In general, this current shift of interest follows a Late-Modern turn toward the marginalized and marginalizing evidence, and thus explicit hypotheses are tested, and, among others, unbiased data is collected by current biographers. Still, certain narratives stay manifest. Also in Rotterdam. Here, bifocal narratives on the world port and the cosmopolitan city, and the dichotomy among these territories, remain persistent in the most recent biographies. What is seen in everyday space does not match this ontology generally applied in Rotterdam. To greater extent, as such, the samples of the biographies of public spaces as places help to fulfill the most essential public function of researching and abiding justification, while reinvigorating the critical public present in spaces. By opening up to the multiplicity of narratives, the article ‘The Port-City Portrayed in its Public Spaces: Introducing Micro Biographies of Places’ is able to focus on descriptions of Rotterdam which fall outside the scope of the current conventional. Through the lens of ‘biographies of places’, this study particularly follows the so-called material turn, in difference to stories of lives or narratives on actor networks. Hence buildings and artifacts placed in context, are the principal unit of analysis, for a multidimensional interpretation of urban sites across regions and periods.
The approach is operationalized by linking the urban and architectural design of public space, with studies of urban history, literature, cartography, and other urban humanities. This integrated perspective on port-cities is put forward most recently in a wider variety of projects at the LDE Centre of PortCityFutures, which has been promoted and supported for the approach below.
Infographic of the Comparative Analyses on the two Sets of Mental Maps
In the Minds of People: The Case of Rotterdam
Following the geographical ‘Any-Port Model’, urban design has stipulated and enforced the disunion of port and city over the recent decades. In conjunction with other disciplines, the emphasis has been laid at the dislocation of production activities in favour of logistic-productive dynamics. At the same time, the professional focus was on the urban areas where most citizens are. While this practice has led to the redevelopment of abandoned harbour areas too, foremost the approach stimulated stronger physical boundaries between lived city and the remaining and new harbour areas. This article describes the application of the dominant model in Rotterdam over the recent decades, on the basis of literature review, and, it confronts this with the concepts of Rotterdam which are in the minds of professionals-in-training, through the method of ‘mental mapping’. On the one hand, mainly harbour areas are memorised when respondents are asked to draw the port-city of Rotterdam, even though its efficient port infrastructure makes public space in these areas rare, and most harbours are located behind inaccessible borders. On the other hand, civic areas, which have a refined network of public spaces and are places for daily life, reveal also all kinds of tangible and intangible signs and symbols related to characteristics of the port-city when memorised; even more. Various elements, linked to water-land or the flows of goods, people, and ideas, dominate the minds of the people when they think of Rotterdam in general. These outcomes reconfirm the unique unity of port and city and provide a way to find an alternative or supplementary model accepting the complex nature of port-cities.
Images of Port-City Rotterdam, through the Mental Mapping Methods
This article makes explicit why, at first, we do not usually think beyond water, docks, cargo, moving loads, and ships when we think of port-cities. By reviewing mental maps of port-city Rotterdam drawn by professionals in training, it becomes clear that the adjective ‘port’ modifies the meaning of ‘city’ in such an extent that this echoes in the mind. It does exceptionally when respondents are asked explicitly to draw the ‘port-city’ by mind. Port and city seem to have become conceptual dichotomies. In the case of Rotterdam, the established professional points of views seem to be aligned with this disunion, even though the current trend in practice turns towards a desire to (re)develop the port-city as one. Through similar mental mapping experiments on Rotterdam, yet without adding the label of ‘port-city’ in the question, much richer images of the port-city of Rotterdam are generated. Multi-scalar reviews of such maps help to explicate much more inherited relations between nature and artifice, as well as for example the flows of goods and people. Ultimately, this approach changes the perspectives on the port-city, also for professionals in practice.
Rosalie Moesker, an urban designer in training in our team, makes the cross-over to health. As the campus of Erasmus Medical Centre densifies, not only accessibility is at stake, more so, the human experience while traveling. In the city of the future, the medical centre needs new mobility concepts. When we design for these, we can relieve users of worries by reducing urban stress at their arrival, and rethinking public space as a healing environment during stay.
In this video, you will get an explanation on how mental maps help us to (re)imagine port-cities in two steps: First, by explaining generally why people draw what they draw, and second, by explaining how images of port cities, as displayed in mental maps, are rooted and influenced by cultural frameworks of experience, and how they are biased according to the particular background of the beholder.
In this video, you hear more about the concept of a ‘mental map’, the mapping method, or the underlying theory, and why it matters, and how you can use it to educate others.
But before you watch, choose a port-city, and do a small exercise: sketch a map of your port city from memory.
If you have trouble getting started, just imagine you are walking through your port city. What would you see on the way? Are there specific elements or landmarks that stand out? Those are the kind of elements to include in your map. And don’t worry about getting all the details exactly right, it is just a sketch…
Do this all by yourself: close your laptop, put your tablet to sleep, turn your smartphone around, do not consult any books, and do not talk to anyone…
Draw your map on a blank, unlined sheet of paper, and don’t spend more than ten minutes on this task!
Don’t worry about details; this map is not meant to be perfect!
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.
Port cities are a particular type of territory and are often long-standing examples of resilience, bringing opportunities, wealth, and innovation to their nations and their citizens. They have developed at the crossroads of international trade and commerce and the intersection of sea and land. Flows of people through trade and migration have played a key role in their spatial, social and cultural development. Their strong local identities share legacies of diversity and cosmopolitanism, but also of colonialism and segregation. The Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou, Fujian speaks of the exchange between Arabia and China along the maritime silk road. Hanseatic cities stand as an example of far-flung networks with districts for foreign traders—think of the German merchants who established Bryggen, the German dock, in Bergen, now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Port cities are places that accommodate change —and often thrive as a result. As logistical patterns, economic organization, spatial structures and technological devices have evolved, port cities have consistently provided spaces and institutions to host changing social, cultural and demographic needs and have built their local identities around them. Chinatowns, for example, are emblematic of many port cities worldwide. For many centuries, traders and merchants depended on the interaction between local traders and short- and long-term migrants of all classes. To maintain and facilitate shipping, trade or organizing defenses, traders, workers, and citizens have come together and developed long-term strategies and inclusive governance systems. Built around trade, these shared practices have not always benefitted everyone. Colonial port cities hosted the buying and selling of enslaved people as well as minerals, animals and opium. Many workers lived in squalid conditions in walking distance to the port. The degree of tolerance and inclusion depended on the extent of ethnic diversity overall, the degree of spatial and social segregation in the city, and the economic structure of the urban economy.
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. In select cases—such as HafenCity Hamburg—planners and politicians have consciously opted for spatial and social inclusion.
Rotterdam as a port city reflects the long-term history of migration traditionally related to shipping and trade in all aspects, but since the 1970s the working port is no longer a decisive pull factor. Other international, national and local factors have changed the city’s population characteristics. The past decades have seen increasing diversity in ethnic groups and religions but also increased variation in socio-economic statuses among inhabitants with a migration background. Rotterdam hosts so many ‘minority’ migrants that it is now considered a superdiverse city where 52%, and in some districts, almost 70% of the population have a migrant background.
Rotterdam’s hyperdiversity—a term meant to acknowledge the multiple causes of diversity—has challenged existing local integration policies. The city government’s development strategy focusses on a balanced composition of the population and regeneration programs in combination with new residential, sustainable urban planning and branding strategies aim to assure integration. Like other cities with major waterfront revitalization activities, Rotterdam is witnessing a gap between cosmopolitan aspirations boosted by international capital and symbolic waterfront architecture and the existing reality of a hyperdiverse population inhabiting the urban fabric. Redevelopment projects of former waterfront port areas, such as Lloyd Quarter, RDM and M4H stand as examples. Yet, like other cities with major waterfront revitalization activities, the question arises: to what extent is Rotterdam widening the gap between diverse neighbourhoods and gentrified port-city redevelopment projects? There is a potential risk of economic segregation as authorities, educational and cultural institutions aspire to build the post-industrial economy on the port industrial foundations of the past, neglecting those areas where a linkage to the maritime mindset of Rotterdam as a port city is hardly felt let, alone visible.
Rotterdam needs to find ways to come to terms with political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of its port city. That is one of the major challenges for Rotterdam in becoming an inclusive city. What is needed to connect Rotterdam’s migration narrative (and that of other port cities) to further the inclusive city ambition, using its present hyperdiversity, and acknowledging the value of diversity for creativity, innovation and making the next port city? Exploring the key values of an inclusive post-industrial, hyperdiverse port city drives the research agenda of our multidisciplinary LDE PortCityFutures program.
The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus PortCityFutures program employs multi-disciplinary methods and longitudinal perspectives to understand and design political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of spatial use in port city regions. It explores how the flows of goods and people generated by port activities intersect with the dynamics of the natural environment, hydraulic engineering, spatial planning, urban design, architecture, and heritage. It examines the spatial impact of competing interests among port-related and urban spatial development needs and timelines. It explores creative solutions and design measures to problems and considers their implications for the future use of limited space that will allow port, city, and region to thrive.
Improving our ways to urbanise and innovate urbanisation processes are needed in order to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, hence deliver the Quito New Urban Agenda promise. During the Future Days event, participants renewed the listing of urban topics. They bridge the gaps between academics and practitioner. They have presented much more evidence-based policies at the global level and with local examples and test-beds. And, they generated a better understanding of the driving forces of urbanisation and of the needs for better regulating the processes.
People, Movement and Public Space
In a keynote at the Future Days 2019 event, themed ‘Legacy and Future of our Cities’, I illuminated the interdisciplinary topic ‘people, movement and public space’, in order to understand assembled complexities of cities which go along with this topic. I introduced a four-step approach: First, a network-theoretical approach in the analyses of path systems, aiming to understand the complex dynamic systems of real cities better. Second, the analyses of personal perspectives on these paths apply more a non-linear approach to understand complex trajectories and interactions in reality. Third, engaged with the human-adaptive approach, analysing the psychology of place helps to understand patterns in the evolutionary inter-subjectivity of being in cities. Lastly, by observing public life, understanding the emergence of life in real cities, and non-equilibria, may be understand from a self-organising approach. Continue reading →
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