New RPA Research Suggests Region’s Gains Are Tenuous

A data-driven analysis by Regional Plan Association has found that while the New York metropolitan region has made tremendous strides in the last two decades, longstanding and emerging problems threaten to derail our success.

The report, Fragile Success: Taking Stock of the Tri-State Region, reveals in a series of charts, interactive maps and text a region that has made significant gains in economic vitality, safety, public health and quality of life. Yet many residents of the 31-county tri-state region are struggling to keep up, as soaring housing costs and a rising cost of living outstrip household income.

The research uncovered some worrying signs that our suburban communities are losing ground to New York City, including sluggish job growth and housing construction, a faster increase in the poverty rate and a dwindling ability to attract younger residents.

The report also examines the growing threat facing our coastal region from severe storms and climate change, revealing that scores of key facilities throughout the region, from power plants to transportation hubs to hospitals, are vulnerable to flooding. That risk is projected to grow substantially in the coming decade as sea levels rise.

“What this report makes clear is that while our region has many advantages, our institutions often have failed to make the difficult choices necessary to ensure our continued prosperity,” said Rohit Aggarwala, Co-Chair, RPA Fourth Regional Plan Committee. “We know that major cities and regions around the world are taking bold steps to overhaul longstanding practices and invest in their futures. If we don’t do the same, we will put the success of future generations in jeopardy.”

“When we launched our work on the Fourth Regional Plan a year ago, we knew that in order to make recommendations for the region's future, it would be vital to have a deep understanding of where we stand today,” said RPA Vice President for Strategy Juliette Michaelson, who oversees the Fourth Regional Plan effort. “We believe this report captures, in an engaging and accessible way, our strengths and challenges as a region.”

Key findings of Fragile Success:

  • Life expectancy has increased twice as fast in the region than in the U.S.;
  • Nearly four in 10 households in the New York metropolitan region spend more than a third of their income on housing;
  • More than half of our region’s power-generating capacity will be vulnerable to flooding by 2050. Today, more than a quarter of that capacity is in areas prone to flooding;
  • In a sharp departure from longstanding patterns, the tri-state area’s suburbs are falling behind New York City, as poverty rates rise faster, constructions lags behind and job growth fails to keep pace with the city;
  • The region is among the most segregated in the country, and few children growing up in poor or nonwhite neighborhoods have access to a high-performing school.
  • Many sectors that have seen the greatest gains in number of employees pay the lowest wages;
  • The extent of government services, especially education, funded by local property taxes is greater than in many other parts of the country;
  • The metropolitan region includes more than 3,000 governments or special purpose districts. While these entities bring local government closer to citizens, this fragmentation also drives up costs, slows decision making and make it more difficult to implement important regional projects.

The findings are part of RPA’s initial work on the Fourth Regional Plan, a multiyear research and public engagement initiative launched in 2013. The plan, the first such effort in a generation, is examining the metropolitan region’s most pressing challenges, including declining economic opportunity, climate change and ineffective governance.

“While this region has made great progress in the last 20 years, the policy changes we make now will determine whether the region continues to thrive in the future,” said Paul Francis, Co-Chair of RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan Committee and Distinguished Senior Fellow, The Frank J. Guarini Center on Environmental & Land Use Law, New York University School of Law.

Regional Plan Association has had a major role in shaping public policy since it was established in the 1920s to survey, analyze and plan the future growth of the metropolitan region. Beginning with the groundbreaking regional plan of 1929, which was the first initiative to recognize a metropolitan region that included New Jersey and Connecticut, RPA has developed long-range strategies for the region about once every generation.

Over the next two years, RPA will be expanding the research process and developing policy recommendations. A vital part of this undertaking will involve gathering input from government, business, and civic and community organizations throughout the tri-state area. Residents can read more about the plan and contribute ideas of their own on the Fourth Plan website, www.rpa.org/fourth-plan.

The complete report can be viewed at http://fragile-success.rpa.org.

For more information about the Fourth Regional Plan, please visit http://www.rpa.org/fourth-plan.