Change of perspective: value-based deliberations for improved port-city relations

Tino Mager

In the course of the 20th century, some port cities, especially larger ones, have experienced an increasing separation of their port and city areas. Not only are they spatially separating from each other; they also follow different agendas in economic, ecological and cultural terms. At times, communication between port and city can be severely impaired due to diverging interests, for example, when port and city leaders respectively pursue diverging agendas in terms of energy generation, for example from fossil or renewable sources. Port cities around the world face these dualities, some captured in the visualization of PortCityFutures. For the benefit of the larger port city region, they need to find answers that benefit both actors. A first step towards a shared perspective is through the development of shared values. As members of the PortCityFutures group, we argue that port and city actors can better negotiate, and find solutions for their differing interests, when they focus on underlying values.

Since 2018, we have collaborated with Delft Design for Values, developing experimental workshops to engage stakeholders in port city regions on values-based negotiation. In preparation for the Port City Futures Conference held in Rotterdam in December 2018, we invited academics, professionals and representatives from authorities, municipalities and cultural institutions of nine port city regions, in an online value deliberation. Over a period of several weeks, they discussed four different future scenarios on the basis of values like safety, sustainability or inclusiveness. This virtual meeting brought together participants who can hardly be brought together at a negotiating table. Their goal was to first evaluate the scenarios and rank then, and then discuss the values related to each of these scenarios and rediscuss them. Different priorities with regard to future energy supply played a role, but also the medium-term economic development of the port and the city. Further information can be found here

Translating one's own interests into values does not only enable better communication. It also helps people focus on underlying commonalities and recognize how seemingly different interests are, in fact, compatible. Together with Delft Design for Values, we are continuing to research this novel and promising deliberation method and have designed a toolbox that enables other parties to avoid conflict situations and to pursue a rational and systematic negotiation of their interests.

This blog has been written in the context of discussions in the LDE PortCItyFutures team. It reflects the evolving thoughts among group members on the socio-spatial and cultural questions surrounding port city relationships. Special thanks for comments and reviews to Andrew Littlejohn and Carola Hein.