Linking smart and physical port cities

August 31, 2023

In her PhD thesis, Mercè de Miguel i Capdevila unveils three key physical elements to change port-city transition areas into smart environments.

[Translate to English:]
Photo: Anne Reitsma

Obsolete, polluted, and isolated former port areas close to European urban centers have the potential to become smart city neighborhoods into which cities could expand and port businesses develop new activities as a result of the digitalization of the maritime sector. Typical obsolete harbor areas are isolated from cities by roads, train tracks, and high walls, and usually forgotten about by people despite their proximity to a city. While the latest research shows growing economic relations between port businesses and city services, no attention has yet been paid to the physical aspect of these relations. For her PhD research, Mercè de Miguel i Capdevila fills this gap approaching the emerging synthesis of harbor and city from a physical point of view. She defended her thesis at the Department of Built Environment on August 31st. 

Mercè de Miguel i Capdevila

Digitalization is changing all levels of global transport. It also has physical consequences for harbor areas, and in particular for obsolete port environments close to city cores.

In these areas, port businesses are building new port activities, and they seek interrelations with city parties. This is necessary because driven by digitalization, port businesses are evolving and transforming.

As the maritime sector is responsible for the transport of 90% of global trading goods, it is understandably essential for the economy. Therefore, it is not strange that port-city relations have been based exclusively on physical consequences of transport innovations. However, with exponential pressure for port cities to expand, the time has come to take into account increasing interests from citizens demanding open access to watersides and willing to settle in these environments.

New port city interface need to be considered, and not only the expectations of port businesses but also the expectations from citizens. Citizens want the magic attraction of riverbanks and seashores. In addition, the convenience of having expansion-space for the growth and concentration of population in consolidated urban areas is also desirable.

Three key physical elements

Urban planning should give form to the future of these areas. In her PhD thesis, Mercè de Miguel i Capdevila identifies three key physical elements meeting expectations from both perspectives. First, riverbanks/seashores as urban backbone of the site; second, selected heritage elements and third, strategically situated multimodal mobility nodes.

These conclusions have been reached learning from four pioneering West European cities. The districts Eilandje in Antwerp, Abandoibarra in Bilbao, Nordhavn in Copenhagen, and Merwe-Vierhavens in Rotterdam. Key actors from the city, harbour, and European smart city fields were interviewed in the process.

Site visits have led to mapping, the study of policy documents and observations of built results. All this information has been triangulated to ultimately unveil three key physical elements as guidelines for port and city planners to shape port-city interfaces.

Mercè de Miguel I Capdevila defended her thesis entitled Linking smart and physical port cities: Port-city interface areas: from obsolete/isolated to smart environments on August 31st 2023. She was supervised by Peter Hall, Bauke de Vries, and Harry Timmermans.

Media contact

Barry Fitzgerald
(Science Information Officer)

Latest news

Keep following us