The Renewal of Old Ports Around the World

The story begins in the 1950's, when container ships replaced the traditional types of ocean-going vessels and caused the abandonment of old ports all over the Globe, leaving an industrial wasteland that cut the city centers off from their historical birthplace at the harbor.

In cities like Baltimore, Sydney and Rotterdam, the port's decline was accelerated by the flight of residents and businesses from the central city, due to the availability of post-war suburban housing and accessibility on a regional highway system. The economic value of downtown property went into a radical decline, threatening the central city with municipal bankruptcy.

However, the abandonment of the old ports also created an opportunity for those cities to redefine their city centers - utilizing the central location and symbolic nature of the waterfront to make it into a place for the people of the city to enjoy and gather to celebrate their cultures and history. This happened all over the World, including such cities as Sydney, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Osaka, Belfast, and Capetown, as well as U.S.cities such as Norfolk, Long Beach, Honolulu, Pittsburgh and San Diego.

In Baltimore, the business community reacted with a determination to plan and develop the new uses that would prosper in the new environment. Private business leaders raised funds to create a Master Plan for the Central Business District, which was donated to the municipal government with a recommendation for condemnation, demolition and rebuilding of the waterfront - at the center of downtown.

The municipal government joined forces with the business groups, forming one of the first-ever public-private partnerships, and the voters of the city approved $25 million ($150 million in 2008 dollars) in municipal bonds for working capital. The first phase of redevelopment, a 22-acre project known as Charles Center, was launched in 1958.

The first project was more successful than any one anticipated, and by 1963, Charles Center had three buildings completed and six more committed - including office buildings, apartments, a hotel and a new legitimate theatre. A new Mayor took office at that point and elevated the pace of redevelopment to include the entire 300 acres of downtown surrounding the historic Inner Harbor.

Four more phases quickly took form, and by 1973 the Inner Harbor was surrounded with headquarters office buildings. The shoreline was transformed into a playground of parks and promenades that brought the people of the city back to enjoy the ethnic festivals and City Fairs on the waterfront.

Then in 1976, when Tall Ships from all over the World assembled for the U.S. Bicentennial. Afterward, eight of them sailed to Baltimore to tie up at the Inner Harbor and hold open house for ten days of celebrations. The result was to attract hundreds of thousands of people - the raw material for an international tourist destination.

Baltimore's public-private partnership rose to the occasion and spent the next five years developing a series of major attractions - a science center, aquarium, convention center and five-star hotel - which were then drawn together by a Festival Marketplace into a critical mass of tourist attractions. By 1981, the Inner Harbor became the focus of a multi-billion dollar tourist industry where there had been none before.

This astonishing transformation of a declining, old, rust-belt city into one of the World's premier tourist destinations was not lost on the other port cities that had lost their identity through the evolution of container shipping in the 1950's and 60's. The Baltimore management team was besieged with requests from other cities to show them how to emulate that transformation.

First to act on the Baltimore example was Sydney, Australia, where a visionary developer convinced the provincial government to call in the Baltimore management team and with their guidance created a critical mass of attractions at Darling Harbour -- just in time for the Australian Bicentennial in 1988, and later to attract the World Olympics in 2000.

The success of the Darling Harbour development caused the Baltimore and Sydney managers to form an international property consulting group that created a business of carrying the Baltimore model to other old port cities. Over the next 20 years, more than 100 cities were influenced in this manner, or by simply observing the Baltimore model, to redevelop their waterfronts as successful leisure and entertainment centers.

Notable among them were Norfolk, Long Beach and Honolulu in the U.S., and Barcelona, Rotterdam, Osaka and Belfast, overseas - where the Baltimore team was actively involved. Other cities such as Miami, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago and New Orleans in the U.S., and Dublin, Capetown, Singapore and Yokohama overseas created their own transformations.

The “Global Harbors” film was created to document this movement to replace abandoned port facilities all over the World - a movement that is still under way, with new waterfront redevelopment programs springing up in such cities as Seoul, Tangier, Porto Alegre, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay; Belfast (again), Edinburgh and Washington, D.C.