The destinies of port towns and cities and the transformations in global shipping and logistics are increasingly interdependent. With contemporary changes in the world of maritime logistics, ports are experiencing unprecedented challenges, frequently becoming sites of threat and risk for the communities that inhabit their surroundings.
The current reorganisation of global maritime transport is dominated almost completely by an oligopoly of three alliances – a corporate strategy that has merged shipping companies together, with the aim of reducing transport costs and covering ever-broader service. The alliances have stimulated the use of increasingly larger ships, frequently exerting strong pressure on ports for publicly funded infrastructural upgrades to make space for megaships and associated resources. These dynamics have created destructive competition between port terminals, producing a crisis of over-capacity rather than guaranteeing the promised stability of logistics chains. Increasingly dependent on such mechanisms, some ports are driven to become hubs, while others decline.
These competition-based transformations reconfigure territorial powers and create convoluted impacts on port territories and the people that inhabit them. New spatial injustices are emerging – port “invasiveness” is frequent and often manifests through the multidimensional toxification of the environment, or through spatial encroachment on community spaces. While the mismatch between the spillover benefits to logistics companies and localised negative impacts of the port is produced, the relationship between the port and the surrounded inhabited territory becomes conflictual.
Many local communities are contesting projects of port expansion, reclaiming the right to their territory. In this context, their voices form a constellation of democratic expression, taken here as a fundamental resource for anti-hegemonic narratives of territorial and maritime transformations, and crucially, for emancipatory futures.