International Port Cities

The Word's Busiest Ports

Port of Shanghai
Cranes and containers are seen at the Port of Shanghai, the world's busiest port based on container weight. Kim Steele/Getty Images

Ports Linking International Cities

Our international trade system is composed of a multitude of developments and processes that work harmoniously to create and support a global economy. The international trade system functions in many ways like the human body, where organs operate in their unique ways to support the growth of a healthy human individual. In many ways, globalization represents a long period of growth and development in the human body.

Thus, each country represents one of our body's vital organs and specializes in producing or manufacturing useful goods to be exported and imported abroad.

Exports and imports travel down navigable shipping routes that act as the veins that connect our world's countries. These "shipping veins" are connected by large port cities that act like the human heart to pump goods, capital, and services throughout each country. We will focus below on how port cities operate throughout the world as a main function to their geographies of place.

The United States' Ports and Port Cities

The United States is one particular country whose large landmass, or size, makes it difficult to transport goods far and wide in an efficient manner. For comparison, the United Kingdom is approximately the size of the state of Oregon and Japan is approximately the size of the state of California. The size of the United States, combined with its amount of production and demand of imported goods, creates the need for multiple, large ports.

According to the American Association of Port Authorities, or AAPA, the largest port in the United States, by cargo weight, is the Port of South Louisiana.

Also the largest port in the western hemisphere, the Port of South Louisiana sits on the mouth of the Mississippi River and incorporates both port cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The significance of the port city of New Orleans made it the third largest United States city in 1840, behind New York and Baltimore, during the early growth of international and domestic shipping trade.

The current size of the port of South Louisiana is unique because it covers two port cities on the Mississippi River, which travels over 2500 miles before ending just before the border of the country of Canada. Today, the port cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are oddly nowhere near the United State's most populated cities, unlike other countries whose port cities generally serve as their larger metropolises. The port of Houston and the port of New York City rank as the United States second and third largest ports, respectively. Houston and New York City also rank high relative to their population size, such that the port city of Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and New York City is the most populated city in the U.S.

We can see that the amount of trade throughout ports does not necessarily relate to the size of the port cities. This is because port cities are often sprawling industrialized areas where manufacturing and transportation takes place. However, most port cities such as Houston, Texas, usually extend far way from their actual port's piers and into the hinterlands that they serve. A portion of a large populated port city, near the docks or shore, usually harbors the city's industrial or manufacturing area while business and service areas are located elsewhere in near vicinity.

The Panama Canal is a shipping route currently maintained by the Panama Government and once owned and operated by the United States, France, and Columbia. The Panama Canal is quite single-handedly the most prolific linkage between man's construction and the world's inherent geography. The canal is a tremendous contributing factor to globalization and the rise of international trade between hemispheres.

Asia & The Pacific Ports and Port Cities

The People's Republic of China is home to many of our world's largest ports, for the same reasons mentioned as the United States, though China is even larger in land area and in population count. In fact, China has seven of the world's top ten ports, measured by cargo weight. China harbors the world's largest port, the Port of Shanghai. Shanghai is a major metropolitan area with a population that likely surpasses 15 million people.

The Port of Shanghai is geographically located on three large and navigable shipping routes including the Yangtze River.

The Yangtze is the third longest river in the world as it spans nearly 4,000 miles. In comparison, it is one and a half times the size of the United States' Mississippi River. The port and its thriving metropolis have mutually benefited to create an economic explosion of capital, goods, and services among the largest population-base in the world. While this is a feat within itself, the Port of Shanghai should be equally touted for supplying the developed hinterlands of China with access to economic trade. So not only is the Port of Shanghai an integral part of the port city's development, but it is the primary key to China's inland development.

Although Singapore is a country that dwarfs in size compared to China and the United States, it is home to the world's second largest port. After being surpassed by the Port of Shanghai in 2005, the Port of Singapore is the primary economic stimulus for the country of only five million people. Despite such a small population, the port city-state of Singapore relies on a tremendous amount of imports received through their port to produce a likewise amount of exports. This is because Singapore relies on refining natural resources, such as oil, received through imports and then re-exporting them abroad in a new form.

European Ports and Port Cities

Another former world-leading port, measured by cargo tonnage, is the port of Rotterdam located in the Netherlands. Once the largest in the world, and currently the third largest port, the port of Rotterdam is the heart of Europe's venous system because it pumps imports and exports to and from European hinterlands. The port of Rotterdam's geographical access to the North Sea helps goods travel to countries far inland. In addition, the geographical characteristics of the port, such as the ocean depths, allow ships of all sizes to navigate with ease. The port city of Rotterdam is the Netherlands' second largest city with a metropolitan area population of just over one million inhabitants.

Likewise, the European country of Belgium provides similar efforts with its Port of Antwerp in the port city of Antwerp, Belgium. Antwerp serves as Belgium's most populous city and as an economic hub to the nation. Not too far way from Antwerp is the Port of Hamburg in the port city of Hamburg, Germany. The Port of Hamburg is the European Union's second largest port behind Rotterdam and Hamburg is the sixth most populated city in the European Union. Together these three ports, although in different countries, help move goods throughout the lower European Union of Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Germany.

While you may be wondering where the Port of London ranks in size, the Port of London cannot provide facilities large enough to support the current size of most transportation vessels presently because of its age. The response has led to most large-scale vessels steering south, or downstream, where they can be accommodated. Similarly, ports throughout Italy, Greece, and other countries of antiquity have trouble accommodating shipping vessels without risking the preservation of their historic coastlines.

Source: "American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA)." American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA). N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. .

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Your Citation
Fisher, Jordan R., Geography Intern. "International Port Cities." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, Fisher, Jordan R., Geography Intern. (2017, March 3). International Port Cities. Retrieved from Fisher, Jordan R., Geography Intern. "International Port Cities." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 25, 2018).