In this part of the Urban Nebula project, different phases in the spatio-economic transformation of the Schiphol region - from polder, via suburban area into nebula city - are studied. The bases are the spasmodic shifts in spatio-economic structures such as clustering, sprawl, splintering, changing land ownership and migration. The institutional environment shapes the field in which various collective arrangements are established and then develop along a specific path, ultimately producing the spatio-economic morphology of the city and region.

The fierce growth of the airport gave a decisive impetus to the metamorphosis of the Schiphol region from an agrarian area into a new urban centre (Airport City). The most important explanations for this metamorphosis can be found in the modernising processes, the growing economic significance of aviation for the national economy, the prosperity of the Schiphol region, and its spatial impact on the metropolitan area of Amsterdam and the Randstad.

On the one hand, the research offers a synthesis of various institutional approaches and defines the concept of ‘collective arrangement’ in the spatial and economic order of the region. In the economic, social and political sciences, several theories have been presented about the role, importance and meaning of (changing) formal and informal institutional arrangements in connection with spatial planning, the organisation of economic activities and the structural change of cities and regions. This synthesis results in a consistent theoretical framework that aims to map the historical phases of the spatio-economic transformation of the Schiphol region.

On the other hand, a connection is made between influential elements of these institutional approaches, namely the theory of agglomeration economies, network theory and other urban and regional economic theories. These theories have dominated the accounts of the spatio-economic metamorphosis of the Schiphol region hitherto. The difference between the institutional factors and the environmental factors is, however, decisive: in this research shifts in both the economic and the spatial structure are considered in a path through time with standardised measuring moments. Integrating a historical perspective facilitates the identification of these two types of shifts and enables the above-mentioned metamorphosis to be explained.

The empirical evidence of the changes in the spatio-economic structure of the Schiphol region consists of quantitative/statistical analyses, within which historical intervals are constructed, as collected from municipal, regional and provincial sources.