Plan the City with the Port: “No sustainable mix without a shared strategic vision”
Interview: Philippe Matthis, President of the AIVP, Deputy General Manager of the Port of Brussels
The AIVP published last June a Guide of Good Practices untitled “Plan the City with the Port”. Since then it has been widely disseminated and subject to numerous demands. We therefore found it appropriate to come back here to the many challenges this Guide is addressing and discuss them with the President of the AIVP.
AIVP – Nowadays there is a strange link between ports and cities: from one hand ports need to be competitive if cities want to benefit from it. But on the other hand, while benefits are generated to a supra-regional or supra-national level, negative port impacts generated by noise, air pollution, and traffic congestion, are localized. What local governments can do in order to solve this mismatch? What are they doing in your port-city?
Philippe Matthis – Well, there are three possible courses of action that combine well.
Firstly, we must reduce the causes of urban congestion and have a more efficient use of the transport available, guaranteeing intermodality between the port and city. Secondly, we must strengthen the relationship between companies and citizens (the city port) and finally we must ensure greater compatibility between port activities and the local economic fabric (business port).
In order to reduce air and noise pollution arising from the close proximity of its port, the Brussels Port Authority has spurred port companies to introduce measures that reduce pollution or alleviate the environmental effects of port industrial activity that is particularly harmful for humans. I’m thinking of the measures taken when certain activities are carried out, for example: the automated watering of piles of sand, limiting the accumulation of bulk materials and the circulation in ports of heavy vehicles. Companies in Brussels are fully aware of the fact that they are in an urban setting and are pushing for sustainable development. It is a well-known fact that many cement works located in the city centre have obtained ISO environmental certification.
With regard to mobility, the port is considered a model by Brussels regional government, both because waterways are used for transportation and because port companies are perfectly integrated into the economic fabric of the area. People are familiar with the fact that a high percentage of goods are destined for Brussels and direct consumption, like building materials for example. In addition only a very small quantity of goods are transported by road.
And finally good communication with the community is not only important but appropriate, whether it is to explain what port companies do, or to understand their role in the economic and social life of the city and what’s more dialogue is the best way to solve problems.
AIVP – The three main determinants for competitive ports are: extensive maritime forelands, effective port operations and strong hinterland connections. But, according to you, which are the three determinants for a successful port-city?
Philippe Matthis – A port will never be accepted by its citizens if it cannot prove its worth:
1)First of all, it must satisfy the economic needs of the city: today “intermural” port activities are connected to the consumption: I’m thinking of the supply needs of local manufacturers, for example in the construction sector, or the disposal of waste (waste from building sites, metal, recycling). The latter is important since it helps a city’s procurement of raw and semi-processed materials; this is what we call urban mining, it helps improve the geographic balance of local economic development.
In addition to traditional river traffic, city ports must equip themselves to handle all new types of goods that are a considerable part of urban consumption: containers, pallets, etc.
2) From a transportation point of view it must restore the balance in favour of more environmentally friendly means of transport, such as railways, waterways and short-range coastal navigation…
3) The integration of port activities in the development plans of the city is essential. This integration can be of different types. They can be recreational (water sports, events) or action plans at regional level to increase the level of employment in the port. For example, the Port of Brussels, takes an active role in the training and employment of personnel.
Just like sea ports, internal or river ports could not exist if they didn’t have the necessary requisites to attract port activities, namely good access of waterways, railways and roads, customs services and high performance logistics and well-equipped areas,…
AIVP – The support of a local population is essential for ports in order to keep their license to operate. What distinguishes a successful port city from another is the sense of pride and ownership of the port by the population. According to you, what must be the basis for developing a good sense of pride?
Philippe Matthis – One of the things to work on in support of greater integration between port and city is enabling the citizens to discover and rediscover their port. It means opening the doors of the port to the local population and giving them leisure areas on the pier or equipment to promote sailing with pleasure craft, they could also be provided with sports facilities or pier side walkways. What’s more there are large-scale public events that give citizens the chance to enjoy the port setting close up. Open days organised by port companies are truly effective.
AIVP – Many ports are developing new strategies for communication to inform citizens and improve the image of the port. One of the most successful examples of this more open and proactive approach are the Port Centers. Antwerp, Genoa, Rotterdam…: several important ports have their own port center that provide accessible information on port’s operations, industrial areas, and so on. Are they the key to improve the image of a port perceived by the population? Do you have other examples of good practices in regards to these communication strategies in your local framework?
Philippe Matthis – Port centers are fundamental in making a port genuinely comprehensible. This also applies to operations, which are often ignored and sometimes misunderstood or merely tolerated by citizens and local power players. The Centers help port cities acquire the importance they deserve; they act as places in which to exchange opinions and experiences pertaining to specific problems of integration of port and city and where permanent dialogue can be established between all stakeholders. As a plus they can attract the public to port infrastructures, which are not usually frequented, for large scale or sporting events and festivals.
This is precisely what we are doing in Brussels. Every year the Port of Brussels puts on its party cloths and presents numerous activities to the public. Visits on boats, river trips, a range of demonstrations, shows and so on. The annual edition of the “Port Party” is put on at the same time as a series of events sponsored by the Municipality and are given the name “Bruxelles-Les-Bains”.
Today however, Brussels is aiming higher…How? With its general modernisation plan and urban development of the canal area, designed by the architect Alexandre Chemetoff, the Belgian capital has taken the decision to work on social cohesion, going right to the core of the port. The aim is for each citizen to appropriate an area within the port, the objective is to break down the barriers between port and city.
AIVP – Developing Port-City interfaces has been often related with the rehabilitation of old port buildings and facilities. But may the transformation of city/ports interfaces be promoted without affecting its historical and cultural identity? If so how?
Philippe Matthis – It is important to safeguard the port identity of certain areas. The role of the authorities and institutions is essential for this. A municipal administration can regulate how the transformation of urban and regional areas are managed with town planning. With regard to waterfront areas their urban planning tools can be compatible with the port plan. In other words, where a government body has the power to do so, it can transform the urban landscape taking care to preserve features of a port’s heritage as much as possible. I am thinking of the intrinsic value a “landmark building” might have, a small shed in the port and the restoration of old mechanical equipment.
For some time now Brussels has implemented such a policy of conservation, as can be seen from the examples taken from the AIVP’s guide to good practices.Think of the reconversion to a museum or convention centre and the large industrial site Tour & Taxis in Brussels. It is a jewel of architecture, in the past the site was used for the transhipment of goods, customs duties were paid here and numerous products were stored, today there are offices and areas dedicated to big public events.
AIVP – And to conclude, according to you which are the key points for a sustainable mix of urban and port functions?
Philippe Matthis – Speaking about integration means having a shared vision on the development of port areas and their environment. The Port Authority, local and supra local powers, players from the private sector and representatives of the local society must all be able to contribute to the creation of a healthy and sustainable urban environment. This strategic vision can be achieved thanks to initial planning and group consultation but may not always go smoothly, but once the differences are ironed out there will be a likelihood of producing very successful projects.
Good teamwork involves getting the different players from the port/city around the table so that they can exchange views on common development; take objections and suggestions on board and gradually work together towards the fulfilment of their shared objectives, it is a fundamental and essential modus operandi. Many projects have been blocked and abandoned on the path of public submittal and this should make us think carefully about how to approach this theme. This group consultation can even be carried out by an independent player who has the skills to interface with the different parties.