Maritime Mindsets of Rotterdam’s Port Communities

Sarah Sannen

Rotterdam is a major port city of The Netherlands, with a colourful history of trade, war and immigration. As the port of Rotterdam, the biggest port in Europe, has largely moved out of the city, the City of Rotterdam aims to compensate for this with festivals, museums and other events to engage and strengthen the maritime mindset. This institutionalised and heavily funded approach is centred on securing Rotterdam’s reputation as a globally leading port city. There is more than a top-down intervention to construct a maritime mindset. Smaller communities near the port itself have their own. They are further from the main hub of activity and political centre, have less centralised funding and are not a priority in the City’s strategy. But that wouldn’t tell the whole story.

As part of my Masters’ thesis at Leiden University and in collaboration with the PortCityFutures research group, I have engaged with the communities of Rozenburg and Pernis to explore visions of the future.  These two villages, nestled in the middle of the port of Rotterdam, are deeply engaged with the port. Pernis, situated between an oil refinery and container docks, doesn’t primarily have a working relationship with the port. Rather, the relationship with the harbour is centred around ideas of beauty and progress – surprising given its surroundings and nickname, “Smelly Pernis”. Interlocutors speak passionately about exploring nature and industry, regularly using footpaths along the foreshore where they can experience both. They describe the lights of the smokestacks and the awe they feel watching huge ships pass by, “Sometimes you just think, ‘Wow. I can’t believe people made that’”. The sense of belonging with the harbour is overwhelming. The only welcome addition, for some, would be restaurants and cafes along the water to make the experience more social, and maybe a little warmer.

Though the feeling of being overlooked by the municipality has been a recurring theme, a maritime mindset still exists. Perhaps the difference between the mindset of the city and the mindset of port communities is intimacy. The maritime mindset of Pernis and Rozenburg is less the identity of Rotterdam and more an identity developed through personal relationship. It is held by the community and the individuals who live there and has not been institutionalised.

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.