The Evolution of a Port

The Evolution of a Port

Anyport is a model developed by Bird (1963) describing how port infrastructure evolves in time and space. Looking at the evolution of British ports, the five-stage model demonstrates how facilities typically develop. Starting from the initial port site with small lateral quays adjacent to the city center, the setting up of wharves is the product of evolving maritime technologies and improvements in cargo handling. The changing spatial relationships between the port and the urban core are underlined, as docks are built further away from the central business district. In the final stages, increased specialization of cargo handling, growing ship sizes, and ever-increasing demands for space for cargo handling and storage result in port activities being located at sites far removed from the oldest facilities. Port infrastructures are thus constructed over several decades and, in some cases, centuries.

Three major steps can be identified in the port development process identified by Anyport:

  • Setting. The initial setting up of a port strongly depends on geographical considerations, such as the furthest point of inland navigation by sailships. A standard evolution of a port starts from the original port, commonly a fishing port with trading and shipbuilding activities, which includes several quays (1). Before the Industrial Revolution, ports remained rather rudimentary regarding their terminal facilities. Port-related activities were mainly focused on warehousing and wholesaling, located on sites directly adjacent to the port. The port district was a key element of urban centrality with adjacent retailing, wholesaling, and financial activities.
  • Expansion. The Industrial Revolution triggered several changes that impacted port activities. Quays were expanded, and jetties were constructed to handle growing freight and passenger traffic (2). As the size of ships expanded, shipbuilding became an activity that required the construction of docks (3). Further, integrating rail lines with port terminals granted access to vast hinterlands with a proportionate growth in maritime traffic. Port-related activities also expanded to include industrial activities. This expansion mainly occurred downstream towards deeper draft areas.
  • Specialization. The next phase involved constructing specialized piers to handle freight such as containers, ores, grain, petroleum, and coal (4), which expanded warehousing needs significantly. Larger ships often required dredging or the construction of long jetties granting access to greater depths. This evolution implied for several ports a migration of their activities away from their original setting up and increased handling capacities. In turn, original port sites, commonly located adjacent to downtown areas, became obsolete and were abandoned. Numerous reconversion opportunities for port facilities to other uses (waterfront parks, housing, and commercial developments) were created (5).

Bird (1971) suggested that Anyport was intended not to display a pattern into which all ports must comply, but to provide a base to compare port development empirically. The model has been tested in a variety of different conditions (Hoyle, 1967). While local conditions produce differences, there are sufficient similarities to make the Anyport concept a useful description of port morphological development. The emergence of new container terminals continues the trend towards specialization and searching for sites adjacent to deeper water.

One of the features that Anyport brings out is the changing relationships between ports and their host cities. The model describes the growing segregation from the rest of the urban milieu. Several geographers have worked on this aspect, investigating the redevelopment of harbor land and the involved linkages. One of these urban linkages is redeveloping old port sites for other urban uses, such as Docklands in London and Harborfront in Baltimore. A more recent amendment to the Anyport model focuses on container terminal development. Five alternatives are presented:

  • Closure. A facility is abandoned because of inadequate site or operating conditions, implying that the terminal has lost market relevance.
  • Expansion. Operating conditions require the footprint of an existing site to be extended or modified. This mainly involves yard areas and the lengthening of berths.
  • Addition. New berths are constructed because of demands for deeper water or operating facilities.
  • Consolidation. Several existing berths are combined to provide expanded facilities.
  • Reconversion/Redevelopment. The outcome of the functional reassessment of existing facilities that are repurposed, often to non-port uses.

The Anyport model was further challenged by containerization, which incited the development of a network of satellite terminals and inland load centers connected to the port terminal facilities. The process is often labeled as port regionalization.