City Beautiful: Portly Cities

If May was Bike Month I’m voting for June as Big Boat Month since ports have been such a hot topic.  Planning magazine’s cover story was all about port infrastructure on the East Coast of the U.S., where the expansion of the Panama Canal will bring bigger cargo ships that we might not be able to handle. Urban Omnibus recently ran a fantastic story about the shipping industry in New York that looks at past and present shipping, and makes a case for easing congestion and wear & tear on road infrastructure by using our waterways and ports not just for giant ships from Asia but for moving goods shorter distances.

For centuries ports have made cities, connecting cultures and markets through trade, driving migration and development. This week’s City Beautiful looks at a few global ports and the relationships to their home cities – ports aren’t the most breathtaking places on earth (and historically have bordered on rather skeezy), but between the sheer giganticness and the fact that everyone really loves boats they make for a nice visual reflection on the past, present and future of cities.

So if you’re into, ahem, infrastructure porn, this one’s for you.


Port of New York and New Jersey: Despite having the largest port on the East Coast of the and third largest port in the U.S., New Yorkers don’t see much of the giant cargo ships that import much of the stuff people across the region use and eat on a daily basis. The shipping industry in Brooklyn, for example, moved to New Jersey when the port there could accommodate big container ships – a bloodletting for the local economy. Brooklyn has bounced back, and now there’s an Ikea on the former shipping hub that sells goods which likely came in over in Jersey. The first photo below was taken from a series by a New Jersey longshoreman, the “brawny backbone” of the shipping industry that have been loading and unloading ships for centuries.

Photo credit: Flickr user Free of the Demon

Photo credit: Timothy Schenck

Port of Valparaiso: One of the colorful cities I left off of the last City Beautiful post was Valparaiso, Chile. Fortunately Valparaiso is not only known for multicolored buildings,  it’s also a notable South American port city – and even the boats are  colorful. Valpo used to be a big stopping point for ships traveling from the Atlantic through the Straits of Magellan (and some of you might remember the importance of the port in Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, no?). I particularly like how giant ships and little boats (at least seem to) get along side-by-side as harbor neighbors.

Photo credit: Flickr user El Anacoreta

Photo credit: Flickr user Aplomb

Photo credit: Flickr user Maria Loreto

Port of Singapore: Congratulations, Port of Singapore, for recently being voted “Best Seaport in Asia!” There seems to be a friendly competition between the big port cities for superlatives that have no official unit of measurement, but Singapore ranks at or near the top for most of them. Melissa mentioned in a post this week about Singapore being a well-connected city more on the communication side, but its giant port also touches one out of every five containers full of stuff – it’s also connected to 600 other ports in 123 countries. The colors and patterns of containers, booms, cranes and the like are impressive, and the view from a golf course in the second image is a nice layering of the natural, industrial, and urban landscapes.

Photo credit: Flickr user Rukasu1

Photo credit: Flickr user William Cho

Photo credit: Flickr user Shiny Things

Port of Hamburg: I don’t know what German photographer Manfred Hartmann does to his photographs, but he sure can make a port look real dreamy. Hamburg is Europe’s second-largest port (after Rotterdam), but it’s actually located a good distance from the North Sea on the Elbe River. The port isn’t just a shipping hub but a cultural center too – HafenCity, for example, is a haven for arts, museums and music that breathed life into a formerly blighted area of the port where non-shipping uses had been prohibited. Hamburg also has some accolades for forward-thinking on reducing carbon emissions and thoughtful land use as the port needs to expand but room for other uses (like housing and commercial space) are needed too.

Photo credit: Manfred Hartmann

Photo credit: Manfred Hartman


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