Many traditional ports around the world have developed in step with the communities they serve. Originally, in many cases it was the presence of a natural harbour that created the settlement in the first place and thereafter the two have expanded together. Many other ports owe their existence to the exploitation of an exportable commodity. Grain ports in North and South America are typical examples whilst, more recently, new terminals in otherwise uninhabited regions have been built in order to serve a deposit of minerals such as coal or ore. The extent to which a port will develop, stagnate or even fail to survive depends on many factors such as:
- Depth of water
- Protection from adverse weather
- Space for cargo storage
- Infrastructure (e.g. road/rail connections)
- Availability of labor
The very location may dictate the extent to which a port will expand or contract; the ports of Liverpool and Felixstowe are good illustrations. Liverpool where otherwise excellent port facilities, with its densely populated and industrialised hinterland are not expanding. This is because modern container ships find it more economical to move cargo overland from the south or east coast rather than have the ship deviate from a voyage which will almost invariably include ports in north west Europe. At the opposite end of the scale, Felixstowe with virtually no industry and only an agricultural hinterland has expanded rapidly because it is so conveniently located on a route, which includes continental ports.