Disruptions and the effects of covid-19 on city and port plans. Valencia

Prof. Vicent Esteban-Chapapría
Instituto de Transporte y Territorio. UNIVERSIDAD POLITÉCNICA VALENCIA

Protecting people's lives against the potentially lethal COVID-19 disease has changed patterns of life and working conditions all over the world. Self-isolation, lockdown and numerous restrictions have changed our lives. The situation is new and absolutely exceptional, with keywords being: UNCERTAINTY, RISK and VULNERABILITY, and in that order precisely. This raises the question:  the current pandemic different from earlier disruptions? What would make it a major game-changer? It is necessary to know about earlier disruptive situations and to compare them with the current situation.

What are we dealing with?
Disruptions, as defined by Merriam-Webster are “a break or interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity or process”. They have a negative connotation as they are changes of the status quo: a break from the usual, at least a distraction, a deadly threat at worst. Sometimes, disruption is perceived as creating opportunities, for instance, to entrepreneurs. New technologies, products and services can be a necessity to replace the old, to advance society and improve the human condition. In his book “The World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman (2006) expresses his opinion that globalization has gone hand in hand with a series of disruption: 11/9/89 (fall of the Berlin wall), 8/9/95 (Netscape IPO), work flow software, open-sourcing, outsourcing, offshoring, supply-chaining, insourcing, in-forming and the steroids. Many of these items are part of what is known as the disruption of technology often considered a means to give all competitors equal access. In the field of economics, however, many researchers are critical of economic growth and see disruption as essential for social advancement (Kotkin, 2020).

What does COVID-19 mean for port cities?
The COVID-19 crisis is a disruption, but what kind of disruption? What does this mean for maritime transport and port city relations? A decrease of traffic is expected in ports for at least two years. Cruise tourism, like the rest of tourism, will suffer an unprecedented fall. The use of marinas and nautical navigation activities are also decreasing. The most important short, medium- and long-term effects are those that touch people, especially through unemployment. Inequalities grow in our societies and countries. Business destruction is a reality. Economic impact and unemployment are huge. The recession will occur at various speeds in Europe, according to forecasts (European Commission, 2020). Mediterranean countries will likely experience a slower recovery than Poland, Austria or Germany. Brussels foresees an unknown collapse of the economy since the Second World War in Europe (European Commission, 2020). A decrease of 7,7 % in 2020 is expected. In Spain the prediction is that the crisis will be one of the deepest in the eurozone: The GDP is expected to fall by 9,4% in 2020 and will rebound to 7% in 2021 and the public deficit will soar to 10,1% this year (European Commission, 2020). The unequal recovery is explained due to the different rhythm in each country of the structure and the economic weight of tourism, which this summer and probably the whole year, will operate under very hard restrictions.

Valencia—post-COVID-19 port city scenarios
The metropolitan area of Valencia and its port can use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity. Valencia is the third-largest city of Spain in terms of population and produces 11% of the Spanish GDP. Valenciaport represents almost 2.3% of socioeconomic impact in the region (in income, added value, taxes, jobs, etc). Port and metropolitan area have long faced territorial-environmental and socioeconomic challenges. Valenciaport’s plans for an extension towards the North led to the construction of maritime infrastructure that were finished in 2012, albeit without the construction of a terminal. In 2019, a research evaluated the environmental and socioeconomic impact of the maritime infrastructure, including the effects of a new terminal planned in the Northern terminal (Esteban et al, 2020). The assessment found that Valenciaport and its nearest hinterland share problems, notably a lack of infrastructure—railway facilities, connectivity in city and port and logistics areas—and need environmental improvement.  A commitment to the energy transition must be also established.

Ports can ultimately adapt to whatever patterns of trade eventually emerge, but that cannot be done overnight. Valenciaport has analyzed different scenarios to understand how the COVID-19 crisis can serve as a development opportunity following on the environmental assessment made earlier. All of the scenarios anticipate delays in recovering from COVID-19. In the meantime, Valenciaport and Valencia city must act as facilitators, bringing together a consortium including metropolitan area municipalities, regional government, maritime agents, business associations, collaboration with universities, and others. Most importantly, we need to recover employment and economic conditions—for all citizens and especially for the most needy. Political viruses most be avoided: demagogy, populism and nationalism. We need to identify strategic issues and work together: This is particularly true in the case of ports and cities that will be strongly touched by climate change and sea level rise. Circular economy practices should be favored, collaborative city-port agreements should be established in the area of energy, or waste management, seeking joint solutions and, of course, involving citizens.

This blog has been written in the context of the RETE/PCF Webinar on May 18th.  Special thanks for comments and reviews to Hilde Sennema, Maurice Jansen, Carola Hein.

Esteban, V.; Domingo, J.; Puertas, R.M. and Martí, M.L. (2020): Puerto de Valencia: la nueva terminal en la ampliación norte. Sostenibilidad, efectos socioeconómicos y necesidades”. Ed. Cámara Valencia Confederación Empresarial Valenciana, Propeller Valencia. 184 págs. ISBN 978-84-09-18183-4.

European Commission (2020): “Communication From the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, The Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Coronavirus Response Using every available euro in every way possible to protect lives and livelihoods. COM/2020/143 final. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52020DC0143

Friedman, T. (2006): “La Tierra es plana: una breve historia del siglo XXI”. MR Ediciones. Madrid. ISBN 978-84-270-3222-4.

Kotkin, J. (2020): “The growth dilemma”. https://quillette.com/2020/01/09/the-growth-dilemma/