Regions can benefit from ports on their territory, at least if their ports perform well and are properly embedded in the regional economy. They can provide value added for the region, but they usually have relatively limited indirect economic effects due to the disconnection between flows of goods and materials, and high-value-added activities related to those goods, such as advanced services, innovation and knowledge-intensive employment.
The Island of Urbanity comes to fill this gap. This building block is a hub of sorts for the creation of a regional community, and where the presence of a network of firms and institutions will support the linkages between throughput flows and locally available expertise. It increases the proximity and collaboration among firms, essential to build localized capabilities, support collective learning, and ensure competitiveness.
A quick geographical description
This building block occupies a plot of relatively small size inside (or at least well-connected to) the port. In principle, it is located far from the rest of the city, because of the high environmental risk class of the industrial activities in the port, yet strongly connected to it through public transport.
Observed advantages and disadvantages
The island of urbanity is a place of testing an experimentation, a platform for sharing and collaboration, and a hub where infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) and facilities (like convenient transport and storage of materials) are grouped and made accessible to companies as a way to fostering research and development.
Different situations analysed
The comparative analysis shows a strong ecosystem of various industries and scales, next to the water and port large-scale infrastructures. Some islands of urbanity are not spatially connected to the rest of the port, while others are fully embedded into it. However, even when they work independently from the rest of the port, they stay well-connected to the residual flows and issues of the companies settled in the port.
Analysis - the generic case: what activities can be found here?
The island of urbanity is a medium-scale area within the industrial port. It is a location appealing to pilot projects and test plants, sufficiently far from vulnerable areas to conduct all kinds of experiments and nearby the port companies. These can provide them with the (secondary) materials and imperfect questions that can eventually usher in innovation. For instance, they can extract nutrients or hydrocarbons from residual biomass and use it in many biotechnical processes.
Test plants are not only places for scaling-up and testing innovative industrial processes. They also offer labs and other technical infrastructure as well venues for meetings and conferences. Thus, the island of urbanity works as a hub for enterprises of different scale, stage of development and activities. It cooperates with the port authorities and entertains a close relationship with universities, other private and public instances, or specific private actors.
Towards more circularity: what are the ongoing initiatives?
01 Provide space and infrastructure for smaller companies (spin-offs) to plug into, right in the middle of the large port companies, and in collaboration with the port authority, the university, other private companies (or a consortium of them). The facilities provided could range from very specific (high-tech) kind of equipment and measuring/testing devices to more open, demand driven (ad hoc), space and facilities like water access or large vacant structures.
02 Matchmaking between existing nearby industrial actors based in the port. It could start from industrial symbiosis (optional: an inventory of needs and by-products/waste flows). It anyhow requires places to test new processes leading to new linkages.
03 Orchestrate events around specific topics: Industrial ports and activities are hidden, unknown but very innovative and inspiring places.
04 Assist, match and provide place for future scale-ups to settle: They could either look for a premise inside other companies and join their site, infrastructure and production processes, or bigger port concessions could be subdivided into small and medium-size units.
05 These port areas, of an in-between scale, constitute key places to attach the working of small companies and start-ups to the wider network of the port authority (to other large-scale companies, to investors…), seeking synergies and encouraging specialization (e.g. Prodock, Amsterdam, NL).
06 Organise a neutral ground to test and interact with the regulatory framework: Sometimes it is difficult for companies to innovate and be busy with all the legislative paperwork at the same time, this is why ‘umbrella’ groupings providing collective environmental licenses work well. New industrial processes need new kind of legislations as well. This place could feed this necessary dialogue among instances and support innovation. Every test plant starts from a different configuration though: while Pilot One is a private company that guides companies through the legislative hurdles, Bio Base Europe is a more public institution that works ahead of desired changes, and in Prodock is the port authority envisioning products or business key to the port region.
07 Accessible public/collective transport: Innovation needs interaction. Industrial ports have a strategic advantage as they provide space with low environmental constraints. For smaller, start-up companies to reach such places, a good public transport service is vital to trigger new collaboration on local and international level.