How the Port of Gdańsk reclaimed its industrial waterfront

from Jiayi Jin, (TheConversation)The prosperity of port cities throughout history has been closely linked to the ports’ ability to adapt to economic and technological change. As ships grew larger, ports had to keep up. This has often been seen in the actual port grow apart by the city it is named after because the old port could no longer meet the needs of modernized shipping.

In European cities situated on rivers, port activities have often shifted towards the estuary. The ships were heading towards it Port of Liverpool Today they are in docks stretching north of the original Royal Albert Dock along the banks of the River Mersey, in a strategic vantage point in the North West UK and with direct access to the main motorway networks.

With the separation of port and city, the challenge of what to do with the central waterfront has become clear. City planners speak of “emerging spatial urgencies“to describe these once bustling commercial centers and their vast structures – the 19th-century red brick waterfront warehouses in Liverpool; the Clune Park estate in Glasgow; the disused grain elevator in Cape Town, South Africa; the former warehouse and distribution center Hangar 16 in the Old Port of Montreal in Canada – which has often fallen into disrepair.


As part of my ongoing research the challenges With regard to the UK’s coastal communities, I looked at bank restoration projects in post-industrial regions of Europe. The Baltic port city Gdansk in Poland shows how cities can give back their waterfronts to their residents.

It is about restoring the landscape and mitigating the negative ecological impacts associated with former port and industrial land use.

Industrial decline along the Vistula

Gdansk ice cream strategically located on the Vistula and the Baltic Sea. In the 19th century it developed into an important trading center in Europe. The Prussian authorities invested in shipbuilding and the expansion of the port.


Most of the industrial growth was concentrated in the M?ode Miasto (meaning “young town”) area near the river mouth. Construction work also took place on the island of Ostrów. As the shipyard grew, it served as a repair shop for naval vessels.

After Gdańsk was incorporated into the German Reich in 1871, the shipyard developed into one of the largest in Germany. Most of the older buildings were demolished and spacious production halls were built in their place.

The dominance of the industrial sector in the communist bloc was evident in the continuous growth of the shipyard and the addition of new landscape structures. The giant cranes, which can still be seen today, became the symbol of the city.

The Gdańsk shipyard then gained worldwide recognition Workers Solidarity Protests in 1980, which paved the way for Poland’s exit from the communist bloc. However, with the ensuing socio-economic shift, the financial position of the institution changed drastically. The harbor filed for bankruptcy in 1996.


As part of my research, I have put together an overview of how M?ode Miasto has been regenerated over the past 27 years. This complex, long-term project fits into the broader transformation of what we call today the Gdansk Gdynia Sopot metropolitan area. Established in 2011, this is the largest growing urban agglomeration in northern Poland, comprising 58 municipalities.

Integrating this industrial area with the rest of the city presents challenges. The country was previously difficult to access due to physical barriers, including a railway that connected the port to the inland area. In 2018, testing of real land development possibilities began, the investor decided to hold a closed urban planning competition to develop the master plan.

As a result of the competition, the project proposed by the Danish architectural office Henning Larsenwas selected for further work and the company has been contracted to continue designing the area, which is due to be completed in 2023.

It is a network of new squares, streets, residential and commercial buildings that will connect the abandoned waterfront and the stories they tell to the inner city. The project highlights the Imperial Basin, the stunning views of the bay and the potential for redevelopment of the waterfront warehouses.

Gdansk shipyard cranes. Mike Peel/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

At the same time, the Polish government is now preparing to submit the former Gdańsk Shipyard for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Therefore, the future of the area is currently the subject of negotiations between conservation authorities and the investor.

From brown to green growth

In December 2019, the European Commission presented its Green Deal growth strategy, an initiative characterized by: address directly The ecological crisis. The aim is to combat what urban planners commonly refer to as “browning”. This is an urban development that brings with it carbon emissions, waste production, and resource industries.

In contrast, the EU’s plan aims to promote ‘green growth’, which envisages a mutually beneficial relationship between the economy and the environment. Such a transition from brown to green growth effectively restores the landscape. Achieving this – finding appropriate spatial strategies for regenerative socio-ecological systems – is a collaborative effort.

In the Gdańsk proposals, architects are examining, among other things, ways to improve flood management and promote biodiversity. They also aim to involve local residents and industry stakeholders. The idea of ​​co-design and co-supervision of the project is crucial. Regeneration is considered here both as a political project of renewal and as a bottom-up process of civic participation in the urban environment.

Gdansk’s strategic urban development

A graphic showing how a port city has changed.
jiayi jin, CC BY-NC-ND

The development of the Modede Miasto in Gdansk is of enormous importance to other cities with a similar history, from Tyneside in the United Kingdom to Drammen in Norway. Transitioning from brown to green growth and landscape restoration can greatly improve our urban waterfronts. If we are to keep people alive, it is essential to give people a say in how we repurpose the old structures they boast of.

Jiayi Jinis Assistant Professor of Architecture, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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