The Role of Governance in the Sustainability of the Port-City Relationship: Comparative Experiences


  • Paula Vale de Paula Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Lisbon
  • Sabah Zrari International Institute of Ports and Cities Spa


port cities, sustainability, governance, comparative experiences




The dynamic and evolving connection between ports and cities has created a complex, unique, and distinctive context. Presently, port cities stand as some of the regions most susceptible to the impacts of climate change. However, they also find themselves in advantageous positions with considerable influence, positioning them strategically to offer solutions to emerging challenges. In this regard, port cities emerge as key territories in pursuing enhanced sustainability (Sánchez and LeMaIRe, 2021).

In the pursuit of more sustainable port cities, one of the most important aspects is governance. Governance, as defined by Patrick Le Galès, encompasses the various forms of coordination and guidance applied to the diverse array of stakeholders within a territory, covering different sectors, groups, and society at large (Boussaguet et al., 2016). In this context, the significance of governance is underscored primarily by the diverse array of actors intricately engaged in the port city area.

Moreover, governance serves as the foundational catalyst for initiating actions and ultimately resolving multi-sectoral challenges, since these territories have issues related to different areas (Fenton, 2020), including territorial, social, economic, environmental, and cultural aspects. Governance is therefore a necessary and cross-cutting condition for the sustainability of port cities.

Despite this, what is frequently observed in various contexts is the prevalent difficulty or outright absence of governance among different actors. The difficulty or absence of governance often stems from a deficiency in integrated planning among the diverse authorities overseeing both port and local governments, compounded by a dearth of incentives for collaborative governance. In essence, when contemplating governance processes and the diverse stakeholders involved, there is an additional cost imposed on both the port and the city. Consequently, they may opt to operate in isolation, neglecting the involvement of other actor groups in the decision-making process.

On the other hand, with increasing recognition of the key role of governance in port city dynamics, there have emerged some notable positive initiatives (Zrari, 2016). This heightened awareness may, in part, be a response to conflicts observed between affected stakeholders and the governing authorities, underscoring the transformative impact of conflicts on governance processes (Torre, 2016). Whether stemming from a heightened consciousness or an attempt to avoid conflicts, port and municipal authorities are progressively advancing towards collaborative efforts and the integration of other stakeholders involved in this intricate relationship.

Within this context, this contribution aims to analyze the role of governance in the sustainability of port cities. Commencing with a concise framing of the topic, the study subsequently delves into an in-depth analysis of comparative experiences, encompassing both European and South American contexts.

Based on the analysis carried out, it is possible to reflect on important aspects related to governance in the port-city context, namely: the different types of port-city interfaces encountered over time and how these interfaces influence the relationships established; the role of governance as a key element in acting on multisectoral issues; the conflict as a starting point for changing behavior; the roles of the different actors with an emphasis on local actors; and the new forms of cooperation found in the experiences compared. It is noteworthy that this study forms an integral part of broader reflections generated within a dedicated program on the sustainability of port cities.


Boussaguet, L., Jacquot, S., Ravinet, P., Jolly, J. F. (2016). ´Diccionario de políticas públicas´ Universidad Externado.

Fenton, P. (2020). ´Port-city redevelopment and sustainable development´ European Port Cities in Transition: Moving Towards More Sustainable Sea Transport Hubs, pp19-36.

Sánchez, J., LeMaIRe, O. (2021). ´Agenda AIVP 2030: Desafíos, oportunidades y proyectos para ciudades portuarias de América Latina y el Caribe´ Dinámicas portuarias, 453.

Torre, A. (2016). ´El rol de la gobernanza territorial y de los conflictos de uso en los procesos de desarrollo de los territorios´ Revista geográfica de Valparaíso, 53, pp07-22.

Zrari, S. (2016). ´Los consejos de coordinación ciudad puerto:¿ Un instrumento de gobernanza territorial?´ Revista Geográfica de Valparaíso, 1(53).