Making the next port city of Rotterdam

Amanda Brandellero & Maurice Jansen

The COVID-19 outbreak constitutes an unanticipated resilience test for our cities and societies.  Resilience encapsulates the capacity of systems and societies to get back on their feet and to adapt to a new set of conditions, following major challenges or disasters. For port cities like Rotterdam, the current global shock triggered by the Corona crisis presents a number of challenges to ongoing transitions and global supply chains. To what extent can local-to-local supply and demand chains offer solutions to these challenges?

A number of adaptive planning interventions developed by Rotterdam’s city and port authority promote localised ‘making’ agenda. The development of Rotterdam’s Makers District, stretching from RDM’s former shipyard at Heijplaat, to the M4H former harbour area, is a case in point. The areas’ maritime and industrial landscapes have their roots in the now downsized or relocated former shipbuilding and port trading activities. In both areas, the cross-fertilization of education, business and practice has been at the forefront, as exemplified by the presence of a number of vocational and technical institutions at RDM, and the Erasmus University Rotterdam Centre for Entrepreneurship, located in the Science Tower in M4H. Yet the two areas have also developed quite distinct profiles.

After the final closure of RDM shipyards, the quays, buildings and workshops were given a new purpose as part of the ‘Stadshavens’ redevelopment programme by the city and port authorities of Rotterdam. The RDM Campus hosts a number of innovative communities of practice, in which university students and business practitioners meet to design, develop and test new concepts and prototypes: from small scale 3D-printing at RAMLAB to scale-up companies such as Ampelmann. The area of M4H, on the other hand, profiles itself as a more mixed use area, embracing ‘new opportunities as digitization and circularity’.1 Some examples of activities that have settled or grown in the area are the furniture makers at Keilewerf, public workshop Buurman where building materials get a second life, and a company called Energy Floors that produces energy-generating dance floors.

In spite of their differences, the concept of ‘making’ that lies at the core of the Makers District’s development offers opportunities to rethink what it means to be creative and innovative in contemporary post-industrial port cities. Over the coming months and years, the adaptive planning policy in the Rotterdam Makers District will provide much food for thought on how a localised ‘making’ agenda can support a more resilient, equitable and sustainable future for the port citizens of Rotterdam.

This blog has been written in the context of discussions in the LDE PortCItyFutures research community. It reflects the evolving thoughts of the authors and expresses the discussions between researchers on the socio-economic, spatial and cultural questions surrounding port city relationships. Special thanks for comments and reviews to Carola Hein and Paul van de Laar.

1 M4H Ruimtelijk Raamwerk