ESPON Ensure Project

Project Title

Ensuring Sustainable Regeneration of European Port Cities (ENSURE)

Lead Researchers

Niamh Moore-Cherry & Aoife Delaney


Cian O’Callaghan, Trinity College Dublin
Eoin O’Mahony, independent researcher
Ramboll Consulting (Brussels)
University of Palermo
Cork City Council (Ireland)
City of Aalborg (Denmark)
Brest Metropole (France)
Municipality of Catania (Italy)


ERDF: ESPON (European Spatial Observation Network)

The project comprised a pan-European analysis of port-city regeneration in small and medium sized cities, drawing attention to the experience of under-studied urban centres. It aspired to derive lessons for policy development and implementation to support more compact growth and enhance sustainability.

Port cities have historically been an essential element of the European space-economy. Despite overall growth in maritime transport, many European port cities are experiencing the relocation of port-related activities from central areas to other locations. The loss of this economic activity is leaving deteriorating inner city areas. Today brownfield waterfront sites are strategically valuable but their development can be constrained for a range of reasons. 

Four case-studies provided an empirical focus for the project – Cork (Ireland), Brest (France), Catania (Italy) and Aalborg (Denmark) – with the local authorities in these three cities being key collaborators. The role of our research group at UCD was to lead the pan-European analysis as well as the Cork case study and to develop lessons from across Europe to inform current development in our case study locations. As well as developing detailed case study reports on each of the partner cities, the project generated a good practice framework for use by policymakers, planners and communities.

Find out more here

Main-image_Source-William-Murphy © William Murphy

Key Findings/Lessons

  • Although small and medium sized European port-cities have significant potential for development to support compact growth and wider sustainability initiatives, almost ⅓ of them have not yet explored the potential of their under-utilised waterfront areas.
  • The key challenges and barriers for cities considering redeveloping their former port or under-utilised waterfront areas relate to funding, governance, planning, and ongoing competitive tensions between port and city authorities. 
  • The desire to regenerate former port lands is not always related to shrinkage or a decline in economic activity, but in many cases is a consequence of the growth of port activity and the need to relocate to access deeper water and more space for land-based infrastructure.
  • Implementation and the financing of regeneration varies across cities with some such as Brest and Catania being driven by a public investment model, while others like Cork are more reliant on private sector financing and development to drive change.
  • There is significant variability across Europe in terms of citizen engagement with port regeneration projects and a desire by some communities to have a much greater input into reshaping their neighbourhoods in the interests of delivering more balanced development. 
  • Although the private sector is a very important player in port-city regeneration, the public sector should be driving and steering the develop to ensure it is both viable for private investors but also delivers on the needs of a wide range of users.