The seventh meeting of the AIVP’s Port Center Network took place in Dunkirk, France on the 22nd and 23rd of June 2023. The gathering was extremely successful, bringing the biggest audience so far for this kind of meetings – almost 50 participants from 4 continents. The event was also the best possible setting for the signature of the Port Center Charter by the Dunkirk Port Authority, the Dunkirk Urban Community and the Port Museum of Dunkirk, all partners of the Port Center of Dunkirk.

After 4 years of absence since the last meeting in Bilbao, Spain in 2019, the AIVP members demonstrated that the Port Center concept is generating increasing interest all over the world. In the first session of the meeting, the case of Dunkirk was explained in detail, with the testimonies of key actors that supported the project since the beginning. The opening of a Port Center managed by multiple stakeholders is always a complex adventure and all the stakeholders have stressed the importance of sticking with it over the long term, with great conviction and motivation. This shared governance is always a strength for the Port Center, guaranteeing its perennity and the clarity of its messages. The local Port Center opened its doors during the pandemic with the obvious challenges this implies but has been able to gather a stable audience since 2022, continuously increasing the number of visitors and tours. The Port Center Director, Christelle Miot, explained the current initiatives and the advantages of a flexible exhibition, increasing the multifunctionality of the space.

During the morning, the directors and project leaders of the Port Centers of Le Havre (France) – Benedicte Dufour, Livorno (Italy) – Claudio Capuano and Francesca Morucci, Valparaíso (Chile) – Cristián Moreno, and Montreal (Canada) Philippe Bertout presented their recent developments. It was an excellent opportunity to discover the different stages in which each case currently is. While the Port Center of Le Havre is changing location and updating its exhibition, others like Livorno are considering expanding by opening a secondary location, demonstrating that there is an important evolution and path to follow: from the first cultural initiatives until the concretization of the project and its further steps. Montreal presented the recently inaugurated port panoramic tower that completes the offer of the Grand Quai, while the port of Valparaíso showed their Port Center project and the ambitious regeneration plans for the waterfront.

The official signature ceremony was started with a speech by Mr. Jean-Baptiste Gastinne, President of the Port Center of Le Havre, demonstrating the commitment of the city with the project and explaining its importance. The signature ceremony counted with the presence of Ms. Florence Vanhille, Vice-Chairman of the CUD and Vice-Chairman of the Dunkirk Port Center; Mr. Maurice Georges, vicepresident of the Port of Dunkirk; Mr. Dorian Dallongeville, Director of the Dunkirk Port Museum, and Mr Bertrand D’Hondt, Chairman of the Dunkirk Port Center.

The session entitled “International Port Center Experiences – New projects and cultural initiatives”, broadened the discussion, with new approaches to the Port Center concept and cultural initiatives. Lar Joye, from Dublin Port Company, introduced the new plans for the port-city interface in the Irish capital and several cultural actions. This included one of their star programs, “The Pumphouse Presents”, in which they collaborate with theater companies to perform plays in the port’s heritage buildings. Thanks to Ms. Giorgia Costantini, from the Port of Venice, we discovered the Port Virtual Museum that this port authority has recently launched. The app provides a virtual interface with geolocation in which the locals and visitors of all age groups can explore by themselves the past, present and future of the port. Mr. Pellen from the Port of Marseille presented their long-term plans for the Port Centers, with several intermediate stages, that also includes the creation of a new space in the “Gare La Major” already in 2024. Ms. Tiziana Murgia presented the unique collaboration that Assoporti is leading, the Italian Port Days, in which all the ports of the country work together to open their doors simultaneously and host cultural events and visits. Finally, Mr. Jean Dennis Salesse, from HAROPA, presented the ephemeral Port Center of Rouen, a temporary project that succeeded during the Armada Festival, bringing thousands of visitors to discover the port.

We concluded the day with a special session with Mr. Maurice Jansen from Erasmus University, to discover the value of serious games, as a tool that can help port city stakeholders to understand different perspective on the same port development problem. The game demo launched an interesting and passionate debate in which the participants needed to choose a role and defend their positions with different arguments. The first day of the Port Center Meeting was concluded with visit to the port museum and the Port Center in its configuration for the public.

The second day started with a quick debate in small groups on the future steps of the group and was followed by an intense visit to the fascinating port territory of Dunkirk. The conclusion of the meeting was marked by the announcement of the next Port Center Network Meeting, to take place in Montreal, Canada, on the 14 and 15 of March 2024: you can already book your agenda!

Thank you to all participants for their active engagement in this very dynamic working group and thank you to all our partners from Dunkirk for their warm welcome!