A Great Future Doesn’t Just Happen: Why We Need a New Regional Vision

When a city or region is thriving, people might credit impersonal factors like geography or historical trends. Yet many things we view as organic -- a robust economy, a thriving cultural scene, opportunity for residents and newcomers, and a balance between urban density and open space -- emerge partly as a result of careful planning.

Regional Plan Association was established in the 1920s for precisely this purpose: to take stock of the region, envision it 30 years out and plan for its continued success.

At RPA’s annual Assembly on April 19, we announced the launch of work on a new regional plan for the New York-New-Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area, the first such plan in more than a generation. The research effort will develop a blueprint for growth and sustainability in the tri-state area that looks beyond election cycles and economic trends, just as prior plans created by RPA have done for earlier eras.

This endeavor is rooted in the belief that since our environment, travel patterns and commercial activity span city and state boundaries, we must address these issues from a regional perspective. The Fourth Regional Plan for the greater New York region will examine our most pressing challenges, including climate change, fiscal uncertainty and declining economic opportunity, and will propose policies and investments to ensure our common prosperity for the coming decades.

RPA’s three previous regional plans, produced in 1929, 1968 and 1996, came at a critical time in the region’s development and led to major changes in transportation, community development, environmental protection and social welfare. RPA believes that the metropolitan region has reached another critical juncture. On the one hand, we have made tremendous advances in the last 20 years. People are now moving into city centers instead of fleeing them. Crime is down dramatically, and we are making investments in infrastructure after decades of neglect. Abandoned industrial waterfronts have been turned into thriving parks, and threatened open spaces have been preserved.

Yet there are threats to our progress. Climate change poses both short and long-term consequences to our coastal cities. More of the region’s residents can’t find housing they can afford, and many are struggling under growing financial pressure. Much of our infrastructure is deteriorating, and increasingly we lag behind our global peers in implementing new ideas and technology. Our public institutions, plagued by high levels of debt and outdated structures, often fail to address our most pressing long-term needs.

At this year’s Assembly, we asked speakers, panel participants and audience members to debate the problems that will be the focus of the fourth plan. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy kicked off the day with a keynote address that underscored the danger in falling behind in infrastructure investment. Speaking before a packed ballroom at lunch, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called for the federal government to take the lead in preparing for and protecting against extreme weather events, as well as for a national infrastructure investment bank to advance projects of national significance. Lively panel discussions tackled subjects including the future of Penn Station, the challenge of protecting waterfronts from severe storms and ways that state and local governments can address gaps in economic opportunity. Video of keynote addresses and plenary panels is available here

We announced the plan at the Assembly to hear from the nearly 1,000 attendees, among them civic and business leaders and experts in myriad disciplines, about their views on the region’s priorities. We can’t develop a long-range plan without input from across the region, and we plan to engage community organizations, civic groups, businesses and citizens that together make our region vibrant and successful.

We also want to hear how you think the region’s challenges should be addressed. You can send comments to [email protected] or tweet us at @regionalplan. You also can read more about the plans and download all three plans for the New York region at www.rpa.org/regionalplans.