European maps of urban settlements : in red, port infrastructures.



trade exchanges

Evolution of trade exchanges compared to population growth and goods production. source WTO data global trade report 2013.


This topic appears often in my work because I am deeply convinced there is an interest in linking the global and the very local scales in urban studies.


While sustainable development is now addressed to each individual person responsible for its singular impact on the whole planet, trade and global exchanges never stoped to grow.

Port-town are very singular places to observe the articulation of local and global phenomenons.


For sure urban and port activities hardly communicate with each other. On one side, the port is characterized by a maximum opening to the world, linked to places very far away. On the other side, even in our globalized age, the city remains strongly embedded in a specific culture with a specific spatial organization. 

Trade's volumes by sea has never been greater than today and its seems likely to grow further. Port infrastructures are now bigger than the cities they belong to. They are rejected outside of the city centers. Their inner organization is further divided into specialized areas per function.


Interfaces between the city and the port are often reduced to a fenced border. The commercial activity that was, in most cases, at the origin of the birth of these port towns is then reduced in the collective imagination, to its harmful character. Moreover, within the globalized system, the geostrategic position of a port is an asset that goes beyond the local context in which it fits. Market flows are often not directly related to the employment or wealth of the areas through which they transit.


The following diagram shows the results of a study conducted in 2004 on European 75 port towns  by the UMR 6012 from Paul Valéry University in Montpellier for IRSIT. The cities are placed on this diagram next to each other in the same way as their geographical positions on the coast line. Several elements appear from this representation. The row effects due to the geographical proximity of the ports to each other is clearly visible for the northern port towns. On the opposite, in the Mediterranean port towns do not have a network organisation.


Port towns that have carried out major redevelopment projects are also often more attractive to companies than those that have not yet resorted to them.


Comparative analysis of the relationship between 75 port towns in Europe.

Data source : Rozenblat Celine & all in GDR libergeo 1559 du CNRS Les villes portuaires en Europe, analyse comparative, Montpellier, 2004. 


1: Growth of traffic.

2: port's infrastructures efficiency.

3: Intermodality.

4: Recent reconversion projects.

5: Management and communication.

6: Relationship between the city's unemployment rate and the national unemployment rate.

7: Attractiveness to companies.

8: Communication between the port and the city.

9: Accessibility to major European cities.

10: Presence of mixed functions.

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relative scale value