The Missing Link: Redevelopment of the Urban Waterfront as a Function of Cruise Ship Tourism

13 Novembre, 2013

Port cities have held a key role for socio-economic and cultural development of many regions since antiquity. They are nodes for mobility of goods, people and money, and, have long served as places of innovation. They are places of cosmopolitan culture, integrating migrants and migratory flows into the everyday life, places where speculation allows for built experiments as a reflection of trade; places where urban and architectural trends start. In the last decade, the relationship between port and city has taken yet a new turn. The recent boom of cruise ship tourism with its migrant crews and mobile tourists relies heavily on the revitalization of historic centers and existing ports as well as on the existing migration-related infrastructure.

The transformation of inner city waterfronts and ports as touristic hubs and loci of festivalization since the 1990s aimed to reconnect port and city. As the built structure of port cities turned towards a post-industrial future, focusing on leisure and services, migration patterns switched from work-related to leisure-related. Museums and historical building saw a renaissance, as they became important points for the touristic infrastructure. Public private partnerships transformed former industrial areas, port related facilities and warehouses into historic monuments hosting spaces of consumption and leisure and hosting architectural lighthouse projects. Celebrated by the urban planners as local revitalization, the presence of new multifunctional districts, innovative public spaces and maritime events, attracted also the growing global cruise ship industry.

Genova 1Cruise ship in the port of Genoa. (© Rinio Bruttomesso)

The presence of these giant horizontal skyscrapers in the heart of the metropolis revitalizes old ports and their proximity to the city and establishes new migratory streams and networks. Spaces that once had been used as a starting point for thousands of migrants, have now taken on a new function as cruise-ship-terminals. Many of the historical terminals had been restructured and designed for new clients; brand-new terminals are rising in other cities. The increase of cruise ship traffic and passengers is a new step in the interface port and city, where new migratory streams (tourists) take advantage of existing historic ports, updated terminals and waterfronts. In a way, cruise ship tourism links the waterfront and revitalization with the consumer.

The changing spatial organization of port cities has led to a re-writing of the city’s iconography, and its physical spaces (notably on the waterfront). Experts and architects have implemented these changes in the built environment. Events such as the European Capital of Cultures program – have helped to turn vision into reality. Often, these new urban forms refer to historically cosmopolitan imaginary of port cities. The rebuilding of the waterfront since the 1990s/2000s is entangled with the recent boom of cruise ships tourism as the two examples below illustrate.

Genoa 2The old port of Genoa. (© Rinio Bruttomesso)

The revitalization of the Genoa harbor combined historic preservation and restructuring, reinforcing the historic character of the harbor promenade and the historic palaces with new developments under the leadership of the global architect Renzo Piano. This return to the city of waterfront areas that were formerly separated from the urban area was funded through exhibitions and events including planning for the capital of culture 2004. The working port was shifted towards Voltri with the intention to make it the future containerized harbor of Northern Italy. The Stazione Marittima, the terminal that once shipped masses of migrants in the end of the 19th century towards overseas, underwent complete reconstruction in 2001, as part of the urban development programs in occasion of the G8-summit. Since then the number of cruise tourists shipped has doubled from 471.245 to nearly 800.000 in 2012 – while the ferry tourism has dropped sharply since 2010. The Genovese mayor Marco Doria welcomes this new tourism as: “essential for a city that always lived on its marine economies and will do so also in the future. We will add to this also tourism and culture, for cruise tourists, but not only” (Doria, in: Genova24, 15 March 2013).

HamburgHafencity: the new waterfront of Hamburg. (© Rinio Bruttomesso)

The renewal of Hamburg’s waterfront is increasingly tied to the cruise ship industry. Two new cruise centers bracket the area of waterfront revitalization. The new Hamburg Cruise Center HafenCity is located close to the historic center, adjacent to the recently transformed former warehouse district, the Speicherstadt, now an area for leisure and education, and in the newly developed multifunctional HafenCity. The second cruise ship terminal the Hamburg Cruise Center Altona, opened in 2011, is located in the lively Western part of the town near the weekly fish market that attracts large numbers of tourists. The vicinities of both terminals are separated from the working harbor by the wide river Elbe, providing inhabitants and tourists alike with public spaces and numerous leisure amenities. The coffee shops, restaurants and events can’t be supported by locals alone and depend on the continuous presence of tourists. Events such as the bi-annual Cruisedays, held since 2008, are symptomatic of this trend. In 2012, seven cruise ships came to Hamburg on the same weekend and a giant street festival brought together citizens and tourists along the waterfront. The evening parade of the ships down the River Elbe took place in front of the city’s skyline, illuminated by thousands of blue lights, while fireworks exploded in the sky. The number of cruise tourists is steadily increasing, partly by catering to new types of customers, such as a Heavy-Metal cruise organized by TUI in 2013. The construction of a third cruise ship terminal is currently under discussion as the city is expecting more than half a million cruise ship guests per year and hopes to increase the numbers further.

Port cities such as Genoa and Hamburg reflect new emerging migration patterns: the cruise business in particular illustrates the postindustrial spatial division of labor. On the cruise vessel a migrant crew, receiving earnings of their home-countries, work for well-off tourists who experience sea-borne mobility without borders. In the port cities themselves an immigrant economy has evolved that is related to the needs of the short-term tourists such as food, souvenirs and diverse services. The ongoing and planned increase of cruise ship tourism will also be an integral part of urban waterfront transformations in the future. As cities have reclaimed and redefined their waterfronts to make them more accessible to local citizens they have become global branded spaces, and local governments will have to reflect on ways to integrate the new migratory streams to the benefit of both locals and tourists. Further cruise ship traffic thus raises new and revives old questions in regard to the historical divides among different population groups and cities within cities and the multiple migratory streams that touch them.

Head Image: A ship in town, Genova, view from Castelletto. (©Felicitas Hillmann, 2012)

Article reference for citation:
Hein Carola, Hillmann Felicitas, “The Missing Link: Redevelopment of the Urban Waterfront as a Function of Cruise Ship Tourism”, PORTUS: the online magazine of RETE, n.26, November 2013, Year XIII, Venice, RETE Publisher, ISSN 2282-5789 URL:

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