In 1922, some of New York’s most prominent business and professional leaders joined forces to launch an ambitious effort to survey, analyze and plan the future growth of the metropolitan region.
This initiative was the first to recognize a New York metropolitan region– one that encompassed New Jersey and Connecticut. The results of this effort were the publication in 1929 of the landmark “Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs,” the first long-range, region-wide master plan for the New York metropolitan region, and the formation of the Regional Plan Association, an organization whose purpose at the time was to see that the plan was implemented.
Developing long-range regional plans remained a core focus of the organization over the next nine decades, and it remains a key part of the organization’s role today. Yet over the years, long-range plans have come to represent only a fraction of RPA’s work. Since the 1930s, RPA has conducted groundbreaking research on issues of land use, transportation, the environmental, economic development and opportunity. It also has led advocacy campaigns in support of the organization’s goal of fostering a thriving, diverse and environmentally sustainable region.
In recent years, RPA has helped drive consensus about the need to increase rail service between New York and New Jersey and to develop a new Amtrak hub at the future Moynihan Station. Groundbreaking research by RPA demonstrated that shortening rail commutes in New Jersey significantly increased home values near stations. RPA projected that the completion of the East Side Access project linking the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal would boost home values in Long Island.
RPA helped protect and provide access to the important natural landscapes that sustain our cities and suburbs. RPA led efforts to revitalize Gateway National Recreation Area and Governors Island and successfully campaigned for greenways along the Brooklyn Waterfront and Jamaica Bay. RPA also has been working with communities to help protect the forested watersheds of the New Jersey Highlands critical to water supply. Our research has advanced thinking about the economic value of urban parks and the importance of large landscape conservation.
Recognizing that New York is facing many of the same challenges as its global peers, RPA in 2012 and 2013 held unprecedented summits in New York and Singapore for leaders of the world’s top transit agencies.
At the start of the 21st century, RPA's activities and accomplishments were shaped by the Third Regional Plan and by history. Most notably, shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, RPA convened the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, a coalition of more than 75 business, community and environmental groups representing a cross-section of New York and the region to provide an umbrella for civic planning and advocacy efforts in support of the rebuilding process. The alliance helped the civic community play a crucial role in the process, hosting the historic “Listening to the City” forums and working closely with rebuilding officials on development principles and project ideas.
In the 2000s, RPA was proud to have played a prominent role in a milestone for the region: the return of Governors Island to the people of New York and the creation of a thriving public park. RPA also led efforts to secure public funding for vital transportation projects, including the Second Avenue Subway.
In 2005, RPA was the first major civic group to call for a major mixed-use district on the Hudson Rail Yards instead of a football stadium. The plan ultimately adopted by the city closely resembled RPA’s proposal.
RPA also worked with local communities to develop plans for Stamford, Conn., East Harlem and developed recommendations for a new central business district in Long Island City that were later implemented.
During this decade, RPA formed the Northeast Alliance for Rail and America 2050 programs to provide leadership in the Northeast and across the U.S. on a broad range of transportation and economic-development issues.
In 1996, RPA released its third regional plan, "A Region at Risk: The Third Regional Plan for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Region." It issued an urgent call to public and private sector leaders in the 31-county tri-state area to band together to harness the region's superior human, economic and natural resources, and presented programs to improve the region's cornerstones: its economy, environment and social equity.
RPA also helped form the Empire State Transportation Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 civic, business, labor and environmental groups, to promote sound investment in transportation infrastructure.
During this decade, RPA proposed the creation of a rail line linking Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx to allow commuters to travel between boroughs without having to enter Manhattan. That idea is once again being discussed by city leaders.
RPA formed the Governors Island Group, a coalition of civic, preservation and business groups, and released a report which recommended that Governors Island become a great new public park and that commercial development be in keeping with the historic structures that exist there.
Construction and operation began on a light rail line along the west bank of the Hudson River in New Jersey, an idea drawn from RPA studies in 1966 and 1985. RPA played a major role in securing federal, state and private funding to purchase New York’s vast Sterling Forest property for preservation as a state park. RPA also played a prominent role in plans to revitalize Newark’s downtown, and encouraged denser development in key suburban hub cities.
RPA supported the Metropolitan Transit Authority as it negotiated a capital budgeting program to rehabilitate buses, subways and commuter rail systems. RPA also advocated a one-mile extension of Newark Airport's people-mover to connect the airport to the Northeast Corridor commuter line, a project that became the AirTrain. RPA helped establish New Jersey Future to campaign for the New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan, which was adopted in 1992. RPA produced a report for Downtown Brooklyn that proposed a new development complex: Metrotech Center.
In Paterson, N.J., RPA helped preserve an historic factory district by proposing that a new highway circumvent it. In plans for the New Jersey Meadowlands, RPA increased housing densities and reduced office development that would have further drained surrounding cities.
RPA led the effort to create Gateway National Recreation Center, which in 1972 became the first major federal recreation area in an urban setting.
During the decade, RPA helped foster the creation of NJ Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The Mass Transit Act of 1964 adopted RPA's principle of federal assumption of capital costs for urban mass transit. RPA persuaded New Jersey officials to establish the Capital Needs Commission, which recommended a bond program that generated almost $1 billion for critical infrastructure and capital investments.
In an era when the automobile was paramount, RPA lobbied for limited car access to the region's core to reduce congestion and encourage the use of mass transit. The organization convinced the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to route new highway lanes to the George Washington Bridge, instead of to the Lincoln Tunnel; challenged a proposal to add a third tube to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel; and opposed a bridge across the Long Island Sound from Rye to Oyster Bay.
The Verrazano Narrows Bridge, begun by the Port Authority in 1955, effectively completed the regional highway system that had been proposed by RPA in 1929.
Development around Newark Bay, including the seaport and Newark Airport, followed RPA's recommendation that more Port Authority industrial activities should locate outside Manhattan.
At a time when Robert Moses’s ideas about public works went largely unquestioned, RPA opposed Robert Moses's proposal to build a bridge from Manhattan's Battery Park to Brooklyn. RPA instead supported the idea of constructing a tunnel between Brooklyn and the Battery, a project that was completed in 1950.
In 1949, New York Life Insurance Company completed Fresh Meadows, a residential development in Queens that embodied many of RPA's neighborhood unit principles-mixed-level residences, nearby schools and shopping, open spaces and pedestrian connections.
Recommended in RPA’s First Regional Plan, the New Jersey skyway from Elizabeth to the Holland Tunnel was completed in 1932; the Whitestone Bridge connecting the Long Island highway system with the Bronx arterial system was completed in 1939; and the Henry Hudson Parkway was built between 1935 and 1938.
RPA identified specific natural areas that could be acquired for public use and persuaded various public agencies to purchase land, doubling the region's park space. Early acquisitions were made in Nassau, Suffolk, Putnam and Dutchess counties, and in Flushing Meadows, Orchard Beach Park and the Palisades.
RPA assisted local governments to establish planning boards, including a city planning commission for New York City. From 1929 to 1939, the number of planning boards in the region increased from 61 to 204.
RPA suggested the location of regional airports, endorsing the city's proposal for expanded operations at Idlewild Airport, now JFK. Later, RPA was instrumental in putting the administration of the three regional airports -- Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark -- together under the Port Authority.
Based on RPA’s recommendation in the first regional plan, the Port Authority relocated a planned Hudson River crossing at 57th Street and replaced it with the George Washington Bridge at 178th Street. As an organization with a regional outlook, RPA understood that the bridge would primarily be used for through travel and should avoid the congestion of midtown. The George Washington Bridge was completed in 1931.