Far away ports (9) The Plan Regulador Intercomunal at Puerto Montt- Puerto Varas

supramunicipal puerto montt

The plan – published draft

The plan (started in 2009, under environmental scrutiny as of 2013) defines a land use model for a 860 sq km zone including part of the territory of five municipalities. It encompasses two coastal areas (the southern shore of the Llanquihue lake and the seashore around Puerto Montt), as well as the main north-south Chilean throughfare, the Panamerican Highway, as it crosses the area. The aerial images show an interesting landscape in which this road, stretching along a plain, seems to attract varied uses.

The aim is to set a frame for urban growth, preventing sprawling growth around the lakeshore, conserving farmland and forests, and ensuring an urban model that respects the environmental assets of the region while providing services to citizens and prevention against natural risks. But maps seems to show a substantial growth area along the lakeshore, with some caution areas concerning natural risks. To be seen in the final plan… Anyway, the port is an economic asset, but what is transforming the land (as nearly everywhere) is the car…

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 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 (

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

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

Under the rug (4) Huang He

The Yellow River, in northern China, has a quite active delta. These images have been obtained on , 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.

Under the rug (2) La Coruña

Here is the coastline I know best. Bathymetric data is still that of the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans , by the British Oceanographic Data Center,  with depth contours in meters. Contour zero comes from a generalization of the digital elevation model, and it is into the current sea when compared to the real coastline, so I render it to show the precision level of the data source, which is enough given the visible scale.


The Galician rias are considered in Spain an example of the way the sea and the land can relate. The sea, but what would happen if the sea were to disappear (an unlikely event) mark the landscape?. Here a substantial part of the landscape that can be seen east of Monte de San Pedro, a belvedere over La Coruña (A on map) would be at a depth lower than Hercules Tower, the Roman lighthouse of the city, inscribed in the UNESCO world heritage list.


The elevation of the tower over the current sea level is already substantially higher than the surrounding depths. On the image, you can see an approximate rendering of depth 25 m contour, as well as the height of the tower. The landscape of the area would change if the sea receded, but not just due to the absence of water, that unifies the image, as there would also be shipwrecks, rubbish and other signs of the human presence in the city over the centuries.

Biblio (68) Green and blue ribbons

Biblio-68-trame verte bleue


The Fédération Nationale des Agences d’Urbanisme (French National Urban Planning Departments Federation) has just published one of their good guides. This one covers the issue of the green and blue ribbons as tools for biodiversity management, as France prepares a law on these matters. Sure, landscape enters here as a tool, but also many sustainable development issues