Functional and Spatial Development of a Seaport

Functional and Spatial Development of a Seaport

Source: adapted from: UNCTAD (1999) The fourth generation port. UNCTAD Ports Newsletter, 19, pp. 9-12. Flynn, M., Lee, T., & Notteboom, T. (2011) “The next step on the port generations ladder: Customer-centric and community ports”. In Current Issues in Shipping, Ports and Logistics (Vol. 1–27, pp. 497–510).

The widely cited port-type generations of UNCTAD and later port generation models look at port roles and functions, but also at institutional structuring and operational and management practices. In 1994, the UNCTAD secretariat coined the term “third-generation port” (3GP), to describe a port dealing with cargo handling plus other value-added services such as warehousing, packaging, and distribution, providing additional employment and revenue to the port community. In 1999, UNCTAD defined port-type generations from the first to the fourth-generation port based on interfaces of ship and shore with the operation of cargo types, a higher dependency on capital rather than labor, the development of containerization and logistics, and changes in port operators and administration with vertical and horizontal integration strategies.

Therefore, ports develop both functionally, in terms of the cargo they handle, and spatially, in terms of the extent of their infrastructure and position in shipping networks. Four major generations (or stages) can be identified, each corresponding to a specific era in the commercial geography of ports. Three main typological factors can articulate the temporal sequence of port development:

  • External environment. A series of external political, economic, and technological developments impact the role and function of ports. The most recent driving forces concern globalization, sustainability, and digitalization.
  • Spatial organization. The scale and scope of port activity have substantially expanded with the setting of port networks.
  • Organization and strategy. Port authorities have become complex entities managing the port network communities with the goal of developing integrated transportation and logistics services for their hinterland.

Some scholars have proposed a “fifth-generation port” (5GP) with the introduction of a “port ladder” towards customer-centric community-focused ports. The 5GP involves customer-centric community ports that increasingly look at market opportunities through the eyes of their customers and adapt to meet the ever-higher expectations of their host communities.