Coast

Far away ports (4) Histories. Towers, submarines, beavers, salmons…

La Coruña port existed in roman times. The Hercules Tower, a roman lighthouse which is thought to have been built during the first century AC, shows the relevance of the area during that time. The relevant port of the region was present Betanzos (Brigantium), as its ria was less silted and ships were smaller. During the Middle Ages the city becomes more relevant, and the opening of the American trade after the end of the monopoly of Seville and Cadix helps. Around the mid XXth century the port occupies most of the southern bay, protected by the peninsula; this is the last vision of Spain for thousands of Galicians migrating to America. During the 1960’s a large jetty is built to enlarge he port, and a new oil refining plant gives relevance to liquid bulks. This also leads to several tanker accidents that pollute the air and the ocean. The transition to democracy with the death of Franco brings regional devolution and the loss of the regional capital to Santiago, with the transfer of many public jobs. During the last decade a new port has been built, west of the historic bay, in part to reduce risks (oil wharfs are linked to the refining plant by a pipeline near homes), but the location is clearly into the metro area. The presence in that metro area of the headquarters of Inditex, the textile group owning Zara, helps to a certain degree to weather the current economic crisis.

Brest

Brest is first mentioned in history as a roman encampment at the end of the IIIrd century AC. The estuary of the river Penfeld made for a good natural harbour for the ships of the age. In 1593 Henri IV incorporates Brest as city, and in 1631 Richelieu establishes an arsenal on the Penfeld’s banks. The city plays a relevant role for the fleets helping the United States in their Independence War. The XIXth century starts under the British naval blockade, hurting the port; this changes under the second empire, with a wider sea trade, new rail lines and bridges over the Penfeld. Urban growth goes crosses the historic walls. Bigger ships make the need for a larger port, out of the Penfeld estuary, and new warfes are open on the large bay. During WW2 the port becomes a German Naval base and is bombed by the allies, which destroy a large portion of the city, later rebuilt. The creation of the Oceanic Strategic Force in 1972 leads to the creation of the new nuclear submarines base on Ile Longue, south of the bay. The reduction in military budgets hurts the city.

Duluth

Duluth receives its name from the first European explorer of the area, a XVIIth century French soldier which was called “Sieur du Luth”. The first known residents were the Anishinaabe tribe, which played a mediating role between the French and other Indian nations. Fur trade (especially beaver) was a relevant part of that early trade. In the mid XIXth century cooper mines, new locks allowing the arrival of large ships to lake Superior and plans for new rail linking the city to the Pacific (creating so a inter-ocean port) helped fuel the inception of the city. The port and the city grew exporting ore (mainly iron) and cereals. The crisis of the traditional heavy industry at the end of the XXth century has touched the city, but it is to a certain degree compensated by tourism and services to the metro area.

Puerto Montt in 1861.

Puerto Montt had some population prior to the arrival of the Spanish (southern Chile was never really incorporated to the Empire). Around the mid XIXth century German colonists started arriving to the area, and the city is incorporated in 1853. The rail line to Osorno starts operation in 1912. During the 1930 there is a substantial transformation of the waterfront, with new embankments, rail lines, a wharf and the dredging of the Tenglo channel. The city becomes in 1974 the capital of the Xth region (Los Lagos). Since 1985 the salmon production becomes important (and the plague problems for the species test the local economy), with other more traditional activities as agriculture, cattle or wood being also relevant. Tourism has become a relevant asset too.

Biblio (74) A typology of city-port relationships

Here is an article (published in 2008 on Cybergeo) by César Ducruet on the links between specific port dynamics and wider urban dynamics, as seen from a sample of 330 cities encompassing all the oceans.  One of the conclusions of this work is the singularity of Europe, a continent in which the port cities are relevant, but depend in the hierarchical scale on inland cities (and specifically those of the “blue banana” between London and Milano).

Far away ports (3) Contraptions

Those that have never lived in a port city often have no idea on how variable their landscape is. A ship of a certain size can be longer and higher than many buildings, and its skyline can change with the arrival of sizeable volumes of colours that can be quite different from those of the buildings. However, this game is far from being reserved to ships.

Ports are, as cemeteries, areas in which architecture develops along particular lines. On the former, aesthetic rules can be taken far from what is allowed in the city of the living; in ports, what is utilitarian clearly takes control, as well for buildings as for any foreseeable contraption. There are outstanding port buildings, which have outstanding architectures, but most are rather limited in that sense, with multiple additions and improvements that are often without much architectural interest. When you focus on mobile contraptions, especially on freight ports, a world of vehicles, cranes and bridges opens and can easily become surprising.

The new crane (left) and the former, still in use model

The new crane (left) and the former, still in use model

Some days ago, walking by the port of La Coruña, I saw one of the new cranes in motion. Just a few decades ago the former, wood-cabin cranes were substituted by new, higher, steel ones, that as the former moved along railroad tracks. About a decade ago new cranes, a bit higher, moving on tires, were introduced. Seeing one such machine when they go from one wharf to another, moving very slow, is not without reminding the motion picture “Despicable me” and Gru’s car: high, with a permanent air of instability, and in fact seeming a toy… but for its overwhelming weight.

The dome on the left protects some solid bulks from the wind

The dome on the left protects some solid bulks from the wind

On the other side, the machinery for solid bulk, which sometimes can create allergic outbreaks if dispersed through the air, has a clear urban presence.

The Aerial Lift Bridge

The Aerial Lift Bridge

When ports are on busy circulation corridors, the need for bridges appears, and so that for complex solutions. In Duluth the Aerial Lift Bridge is one of the city icons. It was built to grant access to the Minnesota Point peninsula after the opening of a navigation channel through its base. The first years it was a transporter bridge, to be later transformed in the current car bridge with a vertical motion platform that adapts to the air draft of passing ships. Besides, as in many ports in this area of the great lakes, where iron ore is one of the most common bulk freights, the contraptions that allow the transfer of the load from trains to ships are simply impressive (something that can be well perceived on this video about a different port in Michigan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzWwTOt39Es&list=PL7eOOJxsVrlgY0de0Osk7DTF8l2r9ksOb&feature=share&index=3). Such wharfs can only be seen (but not in active) in zones of Spain like Huelva or Almería.

Brest also has a moving bridge at Recouvrance, with a more contemporary structure. It is the main French port for naval repair, so it is common to see many large ships; as a relevant naval station, there are also many other “toys”, but not always visible.

View of Puerto Montt, as seen in the website of the Port Authority (empormontt.cl)

In Puerto Montt the port has less such contraptions; but you can see the Andean volcanoes on the background (something the other three ports can hardly compete with…)

Far away ports (2) Landscape and climate

The landscape of these four cities is marked by the irregular coastline, elevation, geology and vegetation.

Brest sits on top of a coastal cliff some 40 m high which overlooks the bay, with the Penfeld valley (the initial port) as its western limit. There are just a few zones around with heights over 60 m; the coast is marked by cliffs, but not by mountains or characteristic hill profiles. Ravines create valleys that are significant in this landscape.

Duluth is the meeting point for the northern Lake Superior hills and the plains to the south, as well along the Saint Louis river estuary. The city site is on a complex land, with steep slopes of volcanic genesis, something that has not helped street and building construction. The elevation difference from lakeshore to the highest points some 2 km inland is close to 200 m, and has contributed to a rich scenic context, attracting tourists since the 1880s. Ravins flowing into the lake have become natural limits between city zones. A sandbar at the mouth of the Saint Louis river estuary protects the harbour. The city has colonized the lakeshores and the estuary, as well as the hinterland.

La Coruña is on the western edge of the Artabrian gulf, a set of bights that reaches Ferrol to the North. It is a series of limited height hills, but on the areas neighboring the open seas, as on Monte de San Pedro. The city appeared on the eastern point of a peninsula united to the mainland by a narrow sandbar; during the XXth century the city has overflowed the plain areas to go uphill to the south and on the northern parts of the original peninsula. There is an inlet on each side of the peninsula, and the harbour is on the eastern one.

Puerto Montt municipality has some areas to the east with elevations well over 1.000 m, but the city itself is on much lower ground. The port sits on a rather benign slope, that is interrupted by a relevant cliff that gets up to the 100 m contour line. This allows for scenic vistas over the Seno de Roncagua, the large bay which extends to the south the Chilean central valley and separates the shores of the Andes from Chiloé Island. The harbour is on the channel between the mainland and Tenglo island.

The climate of these four cities is quite similar during their summers (Puerto Montt is on the southern hemisphere) ; you hardly get beyond 25 ºC, and rain is rather high. Only Duluth sees snow and freezing cold for several weeks on a row, so it has created a Skyways network.

Far away ports (1) A sample

La Coruña, Brest, Puerto Montt and Duluth: four mid-sized cities (metro populations between 200.000 and 400.000) that are often described as ports, that are rather far from the central areas of their countries. January will be in this blog the month of the far away ports, into the mid-sized cities series.

La Coruña is a relevant port and the hub for a relevant metro area that structures the Galician atlantic axis. Brest is the most populated city in western Britanny and a strategic port that has paid for this situation. Puerto Montt is the gate to the Chilean Patagonia, and Duluth is the end of the American Great Lakes and the coldest of these four cities; as for Duluth, even if it is somehow central when related to the 48 coterminous states, this only reminds that geography has an added complexity.

No doubt, these are diverse landscapes and conditions, but with common features: complex coastlines, rocky and hilly.

Have a nice 2014

La Coruña, Spain

La Coruña, Spain

A new year. 365 days to think and talk. In Spain some find signs that macroeconomics go better, and some find that population is not seeing the results (both things could eventually be happening alongside); those that think that the environment is getting better as vegetation is growing on what was to be a series of buildings, and those that say that it is getting increasingly fragile. There are probably places in which things go better, or worse, without getting out of this planet. Meanwhile, other things happen in the world, and not being as serious is far from meaning that they are uninteresting. Let us continue with the visit, paying attention to subjects as mid-sized cities, often more interesting than megalopolis. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Under the rug (6) Large harbours

Rotterdam is well known as one of the largest harbours in the world. It is expanding over the North Sea with ever increasing jetties in a sandy coastline (read http://www.portofrotterdam.com/en/Brochures/Rotterdam-World-Class-Port.pdf).

Less known is the new Yangshan deepwater port area, south of Shanghai, on Xiaoyang island. Linked to the mainland by a system of bridges that reach that location more than 15 km into the sea, it has a large pier over 4 km long aimed at container traffic.

Again, images taken from landsatlook.usgs.gov

Under the rug (5) As the rug roars

Male is the capital of the Maldives. Slightly over 100.000 people on a very restricted space in the middle of the Indian ocean. A substantial part of the city has been recently built, and land reclamation is still active, as the images from http://landsatlook.usgs.gov/ show. A race between urban and demographic growth on one side, and sea level rise on the other side due to climate change.

But this is not the Netherlands, or New Orleans. There is no hinterland to reach in case of flood. And anything thrown to the sea could be nearby, and brought back by the tide.

Under the rug (4) Huang He

The Yellow River, in northern China, has a quite active delta. These images have been obtained on http://landsatlook.usgs.gov/ , quite a treat if you like spatial imagery. You can compare images from 1999 on, and they are updated quite frequently, although they are low-res (30 m pixel). Google Earth has a higher definition in some areas, and is more agile in software terms, but this is a clearly precise time machine.

Usually satellites are configured to hoover over the same spot at fixed intervals (return intervals), at the same sun hour. But the same hour doesn’t mean the same tide position, so I’m not sure whether these images are taken at equal water levels; besides, chances are the satellite in 1999 was not still active in 2013. Anyway, there are substantial changes in that “receding rug”. Artificial ponds appear (salt flats?), on some areas the sea advances and in others it loses the battle (more often that)

Under the rug (3) Gibraltar

gibraltarbajogibraltarGibraltar Rock rises 411 m (just six meters short of NYC’s WTC prior to 2001) over the strait; but just two miles south depth is twice that figure. Who knows what is under water? surely lost ships, scores of submarine sensors, and who knows what else. Depth is quite enormous when compared to other known straits: the English channel is just 174 m deep at most, so there is little wonder in  the fact that all the talk about a fixed rail/car link between Spain and Morroco have produced little outuput until now.