Three things to keep in mind for port master planning

By David Van Rensburg | July 10, 2017

Often, port master plans find themselves collecting dust on bookshelves only to be considered for update every five years or so. Current master plans tend to emphasize the hard, physical needs of a port to handle market demands while missing an opportunity to include broader contextual issues—macroeconomic forces, technology and labor force changes, and societal pressures—that can have significant impacts on port operations. 

In my opinion, these plans are an opportunity—an opportunity to plan for smart urban solutions within major port cities. Cities with large ports are always dealing with an image problem. They're seen as being too industrial and lacking an urban-friendly atmosphere. They're viewed as giant blocks of concrete filled with bulky equipment, blocking beautiful vistas of water. But that can be changed.

New trends in urban planning demand integration and the harmonious coexistence of commerce and vibrant places for people to live, work, and play. This has been successfully achieved in many cities around the world—Rotterdam, Vancouver, and Cape Town to name a few.

To keep ahead of new trends, here are three critical factors to bear in mind when considering options for new master plans:

1. A broader view

Normally, port master plans are limited to the port operation of shipping schedules, and road and rail inputs and outputs. We must look beyond these components and include:

  • the current maritime industry trends, shipping ownership, emission regulations (e.g., LNG fuel), ship origins, and destination routing;
  • urban economic growth to highlight changes and local industry needs (e.g., 3D printing);
  • labor union and social changes that put demands on port authorities; and
  • developments at competing ports, regionally and internationally, to remain competitive and relevant to the greater region serviced by the port.

The master port plan is not an engineering solution but an opportunity to present an urban development solution. Giving a well-rounded and holistic alternative helps the port authorities present comprehensive plans that can function at optimal levels within highly competitive city environments.

2. Future technologies

The current trend of automation, driverless vehicles, and alternative and renewable energy are just a few of the technologies affecting port planning today. A master plan needs to incorporate these and simultaneously allow for future technological growth. Global warming, carbon footprints, waste management, and social responsibility are creating the need for even further development of these technologies.

With the changing landscape that global ports are facing, the current process of reviewing past performance and existing operational systems to project into the future is no longer a sufficient method of developing a port master plan.

3. Land use

Master port plans are not restricted to simply the port operations, but must consider optimal land use. The industrial and economic aspects of an operating port are being integrated into the city waterfront developments that have become commonplace in all major urban locations around the world. Their needs include:

  • environmental stewardship
  • public & cultural spaces
  • housing options
  • parks, greenspaces & water access
  • commercial opportunities for housing, shops, and restaurants

As we move away from the traditional industrial port model to more integrated urban developments, port authorities need to address these new requirements in a flexible manner that allows for the many changes and trends being imposed upon them. Port master plans need to evolve from heavily worded documents to easy, accessible tools that are inspired and customizable. Essentially, they need to become creative roadmaps rather than definitive plans.