Blue Waterfront Development

A new era in waterfront redevelopment

The term “Blue” is becoming an ever more prominent and popular term with concepts like Blue Growth and Blue Economy. In line with the growing acceptance of these terms Deloitte has coined the term “Blue Waterfront”. The intention of this term is showcasing and merging two ongoing developments in the urban planning environment and the maritime/marine environment.

The port-city waterfront has always been a disputed area where different urban and economic functions are intertwined. Some of the best known city redevelopment projects in of the past century are pure waterfront redevelopments where we see a shift from economic (maritime) spatial use to a more mixed urban spatial use. Examples include London Docklands, San Francisco Bay area, Boston Waterfront and Auckland Waterfront, Cape Town Waterfront, Antwerp Eilandje, etc.

Technological developments

Technological changes in shipping and cargo handling facilities triggered the transformation of ports. Whereas the port was formerly known as a spot of basic commodities, the modern port evolved to a horizontal cross-section of different product chains with most noticeably the container era and consequent scale increase in ships. Once this move had happened, the port-city relationship began to split and they started to become two distinct entities.

Blue Waterfront Development


Soon after the technological developments affecting the city ports occurred, we saw (see) a strong tendency of urbanization. A large population shift from rural to urban residency as a result from people wanting to live and work (again) in central areas. After the old port areas became derelict, strong urbanization led to a renewed interest in these areas, often containing large open spaces and directly located near a river, dock or bay, which results in a relatively high real estate potential.

What we witness today is that, in tandem with the port industry as a whole, waterfront development is slowly evolving towards a more complex process. Where in the past we saw a shift of value generating activities purely from maritime-economic to urban-economic (i.e. living and office jobs), today we see a true explosion of various activities and uses which are possible at this frontier of urban-maritime development, including city logistics, recreation and additive manufacturing.

Further explanation Blue Waterfront Redevelopment

The term Blue in the waterfront context is derived from a definition of the blue economy stating that the “Blue Economy insists on solutions being determined by their local environment and physical/ecological characteristics”. This means that one could consider the original development of a port city the ultimate form of the Blue Economy where a city either grows organically next to a naturally “perfect port location” or a port develops near a city which is “naturally suited for maritime transport” depending on which one came first, the city or the port. Over time, due to changing environments, these “perfect locations” lost their value and had to evolve. Up until recently, the focus of this evolution was the shift from port to urban, partially instigated through the ongoing urbanization. However what we are seeing today, given the Blue economy and Blue growth developments, is that planners are starting to look at alternative/hybrid uses for these “derelict” areas.

Stadshavens Rotterdam, a Blue Waterfront Redevelopment case

Since the end of 19th century, Rotterdam developed into the major port of transit for the local hinterland and the wider Wester European mainland. In the three decades after the Second World War, 1945-75, the port expanded impressively to more or less its current size.

Whereas, in the earlier plans of the waterfront redevelopment (1990s-2005) focus was more on a value transfer from port to city, today we see that the port and city are working together to attract the best possible activities, be it residential, industrial, urban or leisure to the waterfront region. This is reinforced over the past few years with capturing ongoing ecosystem synergies up to late 2018 for waterfront redevelopment and active acquisition strategies.

So now what?

The case of Rotterdam cannot be superimposed to all waterfront related cities, each city has its own history, planning outlines, geography etc. The concept of Blue Waterfront however is applicable across all port-urban environments.

More information on Blue Waterfront Development

Want to start a conversation on blue waterfront development? Please contact Indra Vonck or Sjors Berns