Megascape Symbiosis

From megaprojects as the catalyst of urban development to a model of symbiotic and self-directed terrotiries in the GBA's peripheries

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As one of China’s most open and economically vibrant regions, the Greater Bay Area (GBA) plays a crucial strategic role in the country's overall development and it showcases the power of urban transformation within a diverse and socio-politically rich region. The GBA’s ongoing development aligns with the “one country, two systems” principle, enhancing its unique status, which includes Special Administrative Regions (SARs) and distinct deltaic ecological conditions. The complex polycentric system, characterized by competition rather than complementarity between its subsystems, encompasses mega agglomerations hosting a network of cities with enormous economic value.

Since China’s economic reform in 1978 (B. Jiang & Chen, 2023), mega projects across the Pear River Delta have driven rapid urbanization processes. And this model remained the same after the formation of Greater Bay Area in 2018 till today. However, this rapid globalization has brought negative socio-ecological impacts that when combined with climate change and deltaic conditions, these factors create "double-negative" (O’Brien & Leichenko, 2000) effects on various “layers” (Dammers et al., 2014) of the region. Mega projects, described as having magnified costs, extreme complexity, increased risk, and significant community impact, present challenges for stakeholders while driving urban development (Fiori & Kovaka, 2005; Reboredo, 2021). They reflect the government's focus on strategic economic goals over local residents' livelihoods, creating growth enclaves and leading to landscape fragmentation and social marginalization (Z. Wang & Wu, 2019).

Traditionally, large capitals have absorbed the attention of practitioners and policymakers, often neglecting areas that lack economic weight, political importance, and attractiveness (Cardoso & Meijers, 2021). However, there is a growing shift towards developing peripheral areas, which offer available space and unique qualities in contrast to the crowded urban cores of the regionalization models. These dynamics create tensions in the "soft territories", areas in transition and open to speculation, yet crucial for supporting “global cities” (Friedmann, 2007) while providing diverse local qualities.

Our approach supports the importance of soft peripheries within the globalization system, though not as a competitor but as complementary to the regionalization model. We explore dynamics between an alternative localization model of place-bound micro-projects and the status quo. To achieve this, we focus on circulation within corridors rather than multiplicities of centralities. We introduce "megascapes" as a holistic approach to megaprojects aimed to drive an equilibrium of ecological regeneration and preservation, social opportunity and expression, and economic progress. This approach enhances polycentric nodes through integrated networks and corridors that connect ecological systems, infrastructure, economic flows, livability, housing, and cultural expression, ensuring place bound development thrives with its unique qualities.


The Team

Jesse Hoogeveen   
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A Dutch student who earned his Bachelor's degree in Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft. Following his undergraduate studies, he completed a bridging year in Architecture before pursuing a Master's degree in Urban Design and Planning, also at TU Delft. Raised in Haarlemmermeer, a region reclaimed from water and centrally located within the Randstad metropolitan area, he has developed a keen understanding of spatial planning and urban development dynamics. Through this academic journey, he aims to deepen his expertise in working on larger scales and to navigate the complexities of polycentric urban landscapes.

Yi-An Lu
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Born in Taiwan and raised in the Netherlands, Ian brings a multicultural perspective to his passion for human-centered urbanism. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Architecture, Urbanism, and Building Sciences from TUe, specializing in urban and building physics and architecture history. Currently pursuing an MSc in Urbanism at Delft University of Technology, Ian explores global urban challenges. His interest in the Globalisation course stems from a desire to understand the socio-economic and environmental complexities of urban development within the Greater Bay Area of Guangdong, aligning with his previous project's focus on the polycentric model and transitional urban dynamics.

Lieke Postma
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Having grown up near Leiden in the Netherlands, Lieke studied Architecture and the Built Environment at the Technical University of Delft, during which she discovered her passion for landscape-based design. She is currently pursuing her master's degree in Landscape Architecture at the same university. Motivated by a desire to learn more from the broader urbanism track, she chose the Globalization course this quarter to gain new perspectives and to explore the unique complexities of this megaregion. Through this course, she aims to better understand the vital role of deltaic landscapes in densely-urbanized socio-economic systems like the Greater Bay Area of China.

Valdemarr van Staveren van Dijk
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Obtained his bachelor's degree in Architecture and the Built Environment from TU Delft, where he accumulated experience in Dutch design challenges and the Delft Design Approach. Currently pursuing a master's in Urbanism, he aims to tackle large-scale projects with significant socio-economic and environmental impacts. His interest in international development and socio-economic equity led him to enroll in the Globalisation course. This project represents a departure from the familiar Delft context, challenging his knowledge and skills.

Mary Sutherland
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Raised in Athens, Greece, she obtained her MEng in Architecture from the National Technical University of Athens in 2023. With both Greek and Scottish nationalities, she was influenced by diverse cultural backgrounds, fostering an interest in cross-border socio-cultural relations. Intrigued by the complexity of urban structures, her interests shifted towards strategic urban planning and design. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s in Urbanism at TU Delft. Her focus is on systems thinking and working on flows with a multiscalar approach, which led her to explore the complexity of the GBA. She aims to address current development trends that place areas under pressure and develop strategic transformations that ensure quality of life while promoting nature inclusivity and adaptability.

Evgenia Vamvakousi
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Coming from Santorini, an island in the South Aegean, Greece, Evgenia studied Spatial Planning and Development at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. After several years of studying and working in the city, she discovered her enthusiasm for strategic planning and systemic thinking. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s in Urbanism at TU Delft. Captivated by the program’s focus on the symbiotic interplay between nature and humanity, she has developed a deeper appreciation for regional planning, its complexity, and its effects down to the human scale. She decided to join the Globalisation course to explore its unique context in the Greater Bay Area of China, delving into its multi-scalar socio-economic and environmental complexities.


The Quest

Neglect and marginalisation of less dense urbanised areas

"Time-space compression (space and time collapse to facilitate flexible accumulation) has given rise to accessible catch-phrases such as “the global village” and “this is a small world.” Yet for many of the inhabitants of the global city, the “shrinking world” phenomenon is deeply literal: the lived space of everday life is shrinking to make room for rezoning, construction of infrastructures, space modification — all in the name of urban development." Huang (2004)

Critical environmental conditions due to globalization in deltaic context

"In light of globalization-related development trends and the increasing importance of coastal areas for the Chinese economy as whole, climatic change may have severe economic impacts. From an ecosystem perspective, coastal areas of China are thus likely to experience the negative consequences of both economic globalization and climate change." (O’Brien, K.L.,2000)


Concentrated development: the current model of urbanisation

"The initiation of mega-projects is generally to make up for the shortcomings or deficiencies of the existing carrying capacity of cities, the purpose is to improve the economic, social or ecological carrying capacity. However, the construction and operation of mega-projects may not always be successful, it depends on the existing and potential carrying capacity of cities, any mismatch will lead the project to failure." Lixia Zheng (2020)

Soft Locations

Our own definition
"Areas in waiting form with critical socio-environmental conditions that are susceptible to change and under tension from the regionalisation model."


The Challenge

To explore an alternative model to the megaproject-oriented development process that allows frequently neglected soft locations to withstand tensions from mega developments, while actively participating in the development of the GBA. 

What greater effects get created by the rapid agglomeration model on its territories? How could they be integrated without losing their identity?

How does the globalization model impact- and how is it impacted by the deltaic conditions? What steps can be taken to lower the negative impacts?

Is concentrated development the holistic method to move the GBA forward? What alternative development models could be used instead?


The Games

The team temporarily split up into two, each creating a game using different morphological tools. Both games are a game of negotiation in which the goal is to re-define the soft locations in the GBA, creating alternative future strategies. Each game led to 3 scenarios.

Agglomer-EDGE - The Game

This game is played by three players with clashing interests. Economic, ecological, and social criteria compete strategically. Central to the gameboard are megaprojects and mega urban developments, both existing and planned. The game consists of three rounds that feature varying power dynamics among the players and introduce exogenous factors. These elements create critical uncertainties and diverse realities, framing different values for each player. Throughout the game, the players use units of 1km2 to establish their edges of development. At the same time, they negotiate with each other, losing units for projects that demand greater effort and planning, while gaining units to ensure liveability standards are always maintained within the mega developments.

Scenario 1 - Past Trends 
The first scenario is played from the the past trends: Economy driven. The game revolves around three core categories that decide the goal for each player: urban development method, environmental approach, and population trend. In the first game, following the current trends, urbanization radiates from central cores resulting in an increasing population, and creating fragmented ecological development that must integrate with economic infrastructure. 

Scenario 2 - Future Trends 
In the second scenario of the game, the focus shifts to a future, based on current development plans for the GBA. The economic and urban development aims to create two "bananas". These are robust urban links. Ecological development has more space but remains fragmented, connected by corridors. The social perspective leads the game, prioritizing liveability and social projects, while economic and ecological players react to these initiatives.

Scenario 3 - Ecological Perspective 
In the third scenario the focus is on climate and ecological protection and regeneration. The ecologist leads, with economic and social players reacting. They aim to build an interwoven network of three "bananas," strategically connecting and ensuring economic resilience. With a decreasing population, the leading ecological player can develop and overtake areas from the social player, creating an ecological spine branching throughout the GBA.

Through the game, conflicts and interrelations are managed with the players' interactions showcasing action-reaction processes, highlighting the complexity of negotiations. As the game progresses, the focus of development shifts, with edge conditions defining alternative configurations different from the current ones. These edge conditions vary, including mono-edge and multi-edge overlaps with different intensities, creating diverse clusters of development. In cases of more edges overlapping, more powerful centres were created, shaping concentration, dispersion, and chained models. Edges serve as critical points where multiple conditions meet and act as negotiating boundaries or gateway lines where diverse functions meet. The three scenarios reveal both stronger and less effective outcomes. Some edge clusters were created in more than one scenario, but their qualities are different, sometimes focusing on a more economic-driven development or a more balanced socio-economic and environmental approach.

Criss Cross - The Game

Criss cross is a two-player turn-based strategy game in which an urbanist and ecologist try to re-define the soft locations in the Hong Kong / Shenzhen region. Negotiation is necessary to reach an outcome that benefits both stakeholders.

Layered approach

To be able to define how soft locations relate to the global city while also contributing to the biodiversity in the GBA, the game is played through multiple layers. The existing morphology forms the base. This is then translated into a baseboard with crosses on which the games get played. The outcomes of the games are then analyzed and translated into strategic scenarios. These scenarios get compared to the existing morphology, and reflected upon to create sensible conclusions.


For the baseboard, we utilized the morphological value of crosses. The board is divided into a grid of 3x3km areas on which the crosses are placed. The soft spots were first marked with yellow crosses. These are the areas on the grid which had neither a strong urban character nor a strong ecological one. The rest of the area is further defined by red crosses standing for strong urban spaces, and green crosses representing strong ecological spaces. The prominent cores in the area indicate a strong defined and hard to change spatial character. Around these cores, clusters are portrayed to indicate a strong spatial influence. Urban clusters are indicated with orange lines, while ecological clusters use blue lines.

How to play

  1. Each turn, a player has 3 available moves. The player can place down strips to take over crosses. Each placed strip will cost one move. Thus naturally, bridging over uses one move while taking over a cross uses two moves.
  2. In order to take over a yellow cross the player has to have two existing connections. Taking over an opponent’s cross requires three connections. In order to achieve these connections, diagonal connections can be made. Players can negotiate to share a cross together.
  3. The player can create a new core for 3 moves, thus costing the player an entire turn. These cores will be more difficult to take over for the opposite player, and from these cores, clusters can be expanded.
  4. The players are being guided by goal cards that tell you what strategy to follow. You start the game with two goal cards, and a random new card is drawn each time you complete a goal.
  5. Each 10 turns, a random chance card is drawn. These cards can impact crosses on the board either positively or negatively.
  6. Your final score is calculated by adding up the number of your crosses (1 point), cores (2 points), corridors (1/2 point) and the bonuses you gained from completing goal cards.

Scenario 1

Scenario 2

Scenario 3

The game led to three unique scenarios. Scenario 1 is focused on connecting different green areas with each other through the use of major green corridors, while Shenzhen is merging with the Northern Territories and expanding into the sea. Scenario 2 envisions a strong urban coastal region with large clusters connected by a green structure resembling an umbrella. Scenario 3 features a robust urban cluster in Shenzhen extending in various directions, seperated by green pockets and corridors waving through the urban fabric. The core concepts of each scenario have been developed into three sets of strategic tiles.
  • Shenzhen separated by green corridor
  • Large green structure ventilates the cities
  • Dolphin bay, zone covered and protected
  • Building into the sea. Land reclamation
  • Large Hong Kong expansion and densification
  • Huiyang separated from Shenzhen and shrinking
  • Prominent cluster west coast of shenzhen
  • Northern territories mergence with shenzhen
  • Pockets of green inside urban
  • Directionality northern residential district towar
  • North green corridors into mainland, South ecology
  • Wavy forms or Urban and green, pockets of air and
  • small scale green corridors to tackle urban heat
  • GBA Port Connection; Urbanize the western Bay
  • Northern territories mergence with shenzhen

Shared Conclusion

Both games resulted in three different scenarios each, giving us six unique future scenarios for the GBA. What is notable is that the re-defining of the corridor along- and beyond the border of Hong Kong and Shenzhen is an important aspect in each of these scenarios.

Gameboarding helped us to get a clear grasp on the different edge conditions in the area and how they may develop, which invited us to do more specific and in-depth research.


Identifying Typologies 

Our research identified 12 typologies of soft locations across different scales, focusing on middle and low-density peripheries, contributing to a spatial understanding crucial for future planning and development strategies

The Vision

  • Megascape Symbiosis Vision
  • Megascapes
  • Green Blue Nexus
In 2030 and beyond, the Greater Bay Area's peripheral territories are envisioned as focal points for development. Our proposal introduces the concept of "megascapes," conglomerations that integrate soft locations into a complementary system alongside regionalization models.

The northern territory focuses on integrating manufacturing, innovation, and trade, while the southern corridor addresses ecological challenges from the marine belt, promoting international cooperation and preserving cultural heritage. The transition to innovation and technology industries is emphasized, with a productive landscape linking soft territories.

Our vision prioritizes transformability and new dynamics between megascapes, emphasizing circulation systems at smaller scales and their interaction with larger urban agglomerations. This model respects socio-environmental sensitivities and local capacities, promoting urbanization through place-bound microprojects that align with local conditions.

Central to our approach is a green-blue nexus connecting ecological resources across the GBA. It integrates natural and urban areas, focusing on water retention upstream and accommodating rivers in low-lying areas vulnerable to environmental pressures. This strategy safeguards biodiversity and addresses sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion along coastal belts.

Overall, our vision doesn't offer universal solutions but provides a flexible platform for tailored development solutions, enabling self-directed growth within megascapes while managing local complexities.


Our own definition
"Self-directed territories consisting of functional conglomerations that respond to the local sensitivities of the area and the surrounding transformations"

Moving from megaprojects as a catalyst of urban development to creating megascapes of placebound strategic interventions


Our vision outlines a strategic roadmap for the place-bound development of the GBA's territories, focusing on revitalizing local economies and enhancing spatial justice through multifunctional dispersion. We aim to manage natural and climate risks in deltaic conditions, preserve biodiversity, and create compact, double-repair agglomerations while controlling hyperdensification. Our strategy emphasizes cultural and natural capital preservation, promotes social innovation, and enhances spatial quality of life.

Each goal is supported by strategic actions categorized into themes: green and blue infrastructure, productive landscapes, innovation & technology, heritage, safety and policies. Policies prioritize empowering local communities, fostering bottom-up initiatives, and ensuring inclusive planning processes to achieve these objectives.

In order to translate the strategy spatially, a set of cross-scalar interventions and policies was created.


In addition to our main vision, we've developed a series of characters based on identified soft location typologies and our goals for enhancing local qualities. These characters represent integrated productive, urban, and natural landscapes tailored to local socio-economic and environmental conditions.

Our approach consolidates dense innovation and education cores to prevent urban sprawl, fostering knowledge sharing and partnerships among industries, research centers, and educational institutions. Compact industrial clusters with green-blue elements promote environmental impact and quality. Retrofitting targets cultural heritage preservation and eco-tourism promotion, integrating infrastructure to maintain high-quality built environments and healthy living conditions.

Efforts include biodiversity preservation and mitigation of environmental issues like soil pollution and urban heat islands. Ecological rehabilitation zones are regulated for sustainable development, complemented by tactical green initiatives addressing local challenges and improving spatial quality. Revitalization supports local economies through integrated agricultural and manufacturing clusters, enhancing urban food production.

Multiscalar Approach 

Crucial in the strategy is the multi-scalar approach. From the vision on the mega scale we move to the micro scale and the individual territorial characters. During the planning process a continuous back-casting process was conducted in order to understand how transformations in the macro scale impact the micro and vice versa.

Stakeholders projections

Stakeholder projections
Planning instruments & markets
During this project, preliminary stakeholder mapping identified core, direct, and indirect stakeholders, evaluated by their power and interest in the project. Our strategy includes interventions and policies at different scales, using tools for shaping, regulating, building capacity, and stimulating stakeholders. Policies are categorized into:
  1. Regulating: Active and strict influences where policymakers maintain control.
  2. Stimulating: Active and lean influences where policymakers guide change.
  3. Shaping: Strict and passive influences where policymakers control but do not actively participate.
  4. Capacity Building: Lean and passive influences where policymakers delegate control and foster new capabilities.
A stakeholder projection framework was developed to clarify roles and contributions in the process.

Strategic Locations

With the GBA vision defined, strategic interventions are crucial for its realization. This involves in-depth analysis of the urban fabric to ensure alignment with the vision's large-scale goals. Two key locations, the Dongguan Innovation Belt and Hong Kong Northern Territories, were chosen for further analysis based on three criteria:
  1. Areas of significant transition, from urban centers undergoing economic reform to regions experiencing socio-economic shifts.
  2. Locations within identified soft territories, emphasizing sustainable development.
  3. Representation of diverse soft typologies for a comprehensive approach.


Dongguan, enclosed by mountain ridges and the Pearl River estuary, is characterized by diverse soft typologies, including low-density industrial zones, agricultural plots, and fragmented green/blue systems. Rapid urbanization has led to environmental challenges like urban heat, landslides, and flooding.

Dongguan's new economic development plan aims to revitalize the city through three development belts and two key zones. The first "cooperation" belt connects Dongguan to the GBA economic network. The "traditional manufacturing" belt aims to bolster the city's industrial legacy. The "innovation and technology" belt targets the Songshan Lake area, home to high-end facilities like Huawei's campus and Great Bay University.

The Binhaiwan Bay Area, with three reclaimed estuary peninsulas, will extend the Qianhai cooperation zone into Dongguan, converging all three development belts.

The vision for Dongguan proposes transforming industrial sites into compact innovation cores, forming a knowledge and economy network. The urban fabric will become a mixed-use tapestry, integrating urban soft locations with development prospects. Cultural and heritage sites will be protected, creating zones for traditional agricultural practices and heritage. Existing green-blue borders will be safeguarded from further urbanization, and fragmented green areas and the Pearl River system will be connected through blue-green infrastructure.

A multi-scalar approach will guide the evolution of soft typologies. The nano scale focuses on specific characteristics within soft typologies, while the micro scale targets the innovation and technology belt, expected to undergo significant socio-economic shifts. A phased strategy will ensure alignment with the regional vision, driving sustainable development and innovation in Dongguan.
  • Soft Typologies
  • Development Trendss
  • Dongguan Vision
Historically dominated by agriculture and natural landscapes, Songshan Lake has seen urbanization but retains remnants of its agricultural past. The current urban fabric includes low-density residential districts and high-rise buildings catering to the manufacturing sector. Large-footprint manufacturing halls dominate the area, enclosing and fragmenting natural spaces along the mountain ridge and lake shore.
Understanding these characteristics allows us to develop a phased transition strategy to harmonize industrial presence with natural and agricultural preservation, fostering an integrated and sustainable urban environment. The strategy for Songshan Lake involves three phases:
  1. Protection: Buffer borders and establish policies to protect existing nature, water bodies, and heritage sites. Transform traditional manufacturing zones along economic arteries into ‘double repair’ industrial sites.
  2. Displacement: Relocate industries to intensified ‘double repair’ sites, freeing up space for environmental reclamation. Expand and protect natural areas and water bodies.
  3. Connection: Create green-blue corridors to link ecological zones and water bodies, allowing free dispersion between ecosystems. Implement a heritage trail connecting heritage sites. Integrate peripheral zones into mixed-use residential areas.

The strategy aims to transform the fractured landscape of monofunctional urban islands into an interconnected system of mixed-use environmental urban areas. This phased approach ensures that industrial, residential, and natural elements coexist sustainably, enhancing the overall quality of life and ecological health of Songshan Lake.

Shenzhen - Hong Kong

Development Trends
In the vision for Hong Kong (Conceptual Spatial Framework, 2021), the selected strategic location is crucial to the knowledge and technology corridor, promoting economic growth and innovation. This area, known as the Northern Metropolis, is divided into four zones.
  1. High-end Professional Services and Logistics hub
  2. Innovation and Technology Hub
  3. Boundary Commerce and Industry Zone
  4. Blue-Green Recreation, Tourism, and Conservation Circle
Shared territory soft locations
This strategic location lies between multiple major urban areas. Shenzhen's center, Mirs Bay Port, and the San Tin Technopole with planned new towns in Hong Kong. We defined soft locations based on the previously defined typologies and a new location-specific typology: "shared territory". With the anticipated removal of the Shenzhen - Hong Kong border, new dynamics and opportunities arise, leading to the emergence of new soft locations.

Our proposed strategy focuses on four key characters: 
  1. Consolidating: Instead of one large San Tin Technopole, multiple smaller innovation cores are spread across the area, integrating local socio-environmental conditions and creating a network for knowledge sharing.
  2. Retrofitting: This involves preserving cultural heritage through a heritage trail connecting traditional villages and museums, and reintroducing traditional farming practices for sustainability.
  3. Safeguarding: A focus on environmental preservation by improving ecological corridors, implementing water-sensitive urban design, and enhancing urban green spaces.
  4. Revitalizing: The integration of urban and productive landscapes, promoting sustainability through methods like paludiculture and vertical farming, enhancing both economic and environmental aspects.
Soft typologies
New Territories strategic plan
Productive Landscapes & Ecology
Located centrally, this section integrates productive landscapes with urban areas, featuring innovative paludiculture for sustainable production and enhanced ecological value. Key elements include a new dike for flood protection, integral to the water management strategy, and a wetland to boost biodiversity and natural water management. Additionally, a new campus promotes education, knowledge sharing and technological advancement, reinforcing the area's role as a hub for learning and development. This section exemplifies the strategy by combining sustainability, ecological health and innovation.
Heritage & Ecology
Located in a valley near the Shenzhen border, this section is strategically positioned between key ecological and economic areas. It borders Mirs Bay to the east and new e-commerce clusters to the west, with protected nature reserves to the north and south connected via an eco-bridge. The valley features several traditional villages linked by the Heritage Trail, enhancing cultural tourism. The eco-bridge promotes natural integration across the valley. Combining nature, culture, and modern trade, this section is vital to the regional strategy, boosting both tourism and the local economy.
Border Ecology & Nature Preservation
Situated at the border of dense Shenzhen and Hong Kong's New Territories, this section focuses on new border ecology. Emphasizing ecological conservation and water management along the river, a soft green edge enhances biodiversity and serves as recreational space on the Hong Kong side. Traditional fishponds on the right promote sustainable production and cultural values while buffering against river floods. The Heritage Trail traverses this area, connecting cultural sites for conservation and appreciation. This blend of ecological preservation, sustainable practices, and cultural heritage strengthens the border zone, crucial for both nature conservation and cultural preservation between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

Flows in the GBA

The "concentration in dispersion" model forms a system of interconnected megascapes in the GBA. These megascapes, characterized by
their multiplicity of functions and focus on local transformations, operate both independently and in relation to the mega agglomerations, creating attractive living conditions. This encourages population concentration in GBA peripheries, appealing to those relocating from other parts of China or moving away from densely populated urban cores.

Functional and socio-economic flows are redistributed across different megascapes, each prioritizing local capacities and multiple functions. This results in megascapes with specific directionalities that interrelate within the overall system. Feedback loops between the regionalization model and megascapes ensure complementary development. Mega agglomerations provide essential services and administration, while the peripheries support the supply chain for the entire GBA. Each megascape functions as an autonomous entity, contributing to a cohesive, interconnected network.