Joseph Bivona & Maynard Leon.
Perhaps the most powerful way to understand the forces at work is by focusing on countries that have no access to the coast at all. For centuries cities have developed along the coastline where trade was made easy by its proximity to the coast. This model is one that presumes that the physical good goods are the principle means by which economies thrive and that therefore, access to ocean is equivalent to access to the global market. This line of thinking is shared and perpetuated by the United Nations who compiled a report called The Way to the Ocean. This report cites the ways in which landlocked countries are severely disadvantaged and outlines a series of specific proposals (all in Africa) that assist these countries in reaching the global marketplace. These proposals all involve hard infrastructure such as roads, and rails as well legislative policies that would lubricate the process of reaching the coast. Their evaluation of these countries is based quite heavily on the GDP per capita of those developing countries.
When these 44 countries are sorted in this fashion, a few striking statistics stand out. The developed landlocked countries have GDP’s per capita significantly higher than the world average and even of the United States. Liechtenstein for example, a country doubly landlocked is among the wealthiest in the world with a GDP per capita more than twice that of the United States. This fact fueled the investigation to learn why some landlocked countries were able to produce such vigorous economies and why others were among the least developed on the planet. By looking at these countries comparatively, our research aimed to uncover the similarities and the differences in each of these countries in the hopes of finding new ways of reaching the market.
Looking at pairings of the top and bottom GDP per capita countries unveiled many interesting facts. When compared collectively, some major themes emerged. Hard infrastructure was present in many of the developed countries but in several cases, these countries may not have had rail access or airports. Conversely, some of the least developed nations had a plethora of airports and access to rail but meek economies. This suggested that the success was not contingent upon physical connection to the coast alone. The research showed that in fact, these economies thrived more often than not, because of soft infrastructures in place. All of these wealthy landlocked countries had higher percentages of services exported than physical goods. Liechtenstein for example, is a world banking center and is known as tax haven for several large corporations. Telecommunications and the dematerialization of trade has become a prominent figure in the global marketplace as illustrated by these striking statistics. Tourism also emerged as one of the main drivers for these developed countries. Countries like Switzerland, Austria and Andorra have tourist industries that contribute up to 80% of their GDP.
In fact, the greatest growth in economy is happening in several of the least developed nations. This is due in part to global and donor aid because investments there are viewed as very safe but these countries have been apparently isolated for so long, they have become quite self-reliant. Due to their lack of access to more traditional fossil fuels, many have adapted to other cleaner forms of energy that also make them more self-reliant. Mali for example, runs almost its entire country on hydropower alone which stands in stark contrast to the top earner Liechtenstein which imports over 85% of its energy needs. We can certainly say that the one-dimensional view with which the UN is approaching the problem is not enough. The notion that physical goods must be produced and then physically connected to a coast is one that is becoming outdated. Physical access and hard infrastructure is losing its claim at the primary means to capital. Access to the ocean is by no means insignificant but it is no longer the only way to global market. Landlocked countries may in some ways benefit from their perceived geographical handicap by leapfrogging the phase that most world capitals have had to undergo. Cities like New York exist because of their strategic locations on the coast that facilitated the trading of physical goods. More recently however, we have seen a shift where these places of trade are happening elsewhere and former trade centers have instead become centers for services. The new avenues such as telecommunications, urbanization, export of services, tourism, and energy independence redefine the coasts and contours of urbanization.
"Porta Nova" research booklet: issuu.com/oceanicturn/docs/2014.05.15_bivona_leon_research
This research video was created as part of The Oceanic Turn Advanced Seminar, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Spring 2014: gsd.harvard.edu/#/academics/courses/adv-09132-spring-2014.html