Since the 1920s, Regional Plan Association has developed groundbreaking long-range plans to guide the growth of the New York metropolitan area. These efforts have shaped and improved the region’s economic health, environmental sustainability and quality of life. Ideas and recommendations put forth in these plans have led to the establishment of some of the New York metropolitan region’s most significant infrastructure, open space and economic development projects, including new bridges and roadways, improvements to our transit network, the preservation of vital open space and the renewed emphasis on creating sustainable communities centered around jobs and transit.
Read an overview of the historic three regional plans, in Shaping the Region (PDF, 15 MB).
When prominent business, professional and civic leaders decided in 1922 to plan for the metropolitan region’s future growth, they were taking a unique and ambitious step. Previous planning efforts here and around the world generally focused on individual cities, rather than on large areas encompassing many urban centers and stretching across state boundaries. The landmark effort, which was published in 1929 and led to the incorporation of Regional Plan Association as a permanent, nonprofit organization to see through the implementation of the plan, provided the blueprint for the transportation and open space networks that we take for granted today.
The first plan, formally titled The Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, proposed an elaborate network of highways, railroads and parks, along with residential, commercial and industrial centers, as the foundation of the physical and social development of the region. The goal was to provide access to more of the region and give options for living beyond the overcrowded core. The plan also 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.
At a time when the consensus was that automobile-enabled decentralization was good, RPA identified and quantified the alarming trends caused by sprawl, including environmental degradation and decline of older urban centers. The second plan, published in a series of reports during the 1960s, called for building the transit network necessary for urban centers to thrive. This central premise came to be reflected in the renewed investment in the region’s transit network in later decades.
A cornerstone of RPA’s third regional plan, A Region at Risk, was the recognition that the region’s continued prosperity and global standing were no longer guaranteed. Success could no longer be defined in simple terms of economic growth without accounting for social and environmental costs and benefits.
The fourth plan seeks to address issues including housing affordability, overburdened transportation infrastructure, and vulnerability to climate change—by addressing the underlying shortcomings in the region’s governance structures.
The plan finds that while the overall tri-state economy is booming, too many people are not benefiting from that growth. Major changes are needed to reverse this trend and create a new type of growth that brings more shared prosperity, equity, improved health and sustainability for the region.
Major challenges and areas of opportunity are organized under four action areas: Institutions, Transportation, Climate Change and Affordability.
Institutions: Housing policies, local land use practices, and tax structures are inefficient and reinforce inequality and segregation. Public institutions are slow to incorporate state-of-the-art technology to improve the quality of services, and truly addressing the growing threat of climate change requires investments far more ambitious and strategic than we have made so far. Solving these existential challenges will require public officials and citizens to reassess fundamental assumptions about public institutions. This transformation is the underpinning for many of the recommendations in the plan.
Transportation: Transportation is the backbone of the region’s economy. It is also vital to the quality of life of everyone who lives and works here. But years of population and job growth and underinvestment in both maintenance and new construction have led to congestion, lack of reliability, and major disruptions on a regular basis. Some transportation improvements are relatively quick and inexpensive, such as redesigning our streets to accommodate walking, biking and buses. But the region also needs to invest in new large-scale projects to modernize and extend the subways and regional rail networks, as well as upgrade airports and seaports. These investments will have far-reaching and positive effects on land use, settlement patterns, public health, goods movement, the economy, and the environment.
Climate change: Climate change is already transforming the region. Reducing the region’s greenhouse gas emissions is critical, but it won’t be enough. We must accelerate efforts to adapt to the impact of a changing climate. Today, more than one million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities. By 2050, nearly two million people and one million jobs would be threatened. We must adapt our coastal communities and, in some cases, transition away from the most endangered areas. We will also need to invest in green infrastructure in our cities to mitigate the urban heat-island effect, reduce stormwater runoff and sewer overflows, and improve the health and well-being of residents.
Affordability: Over the last two decades the tri-state region has become more attractive to people and businesses—but it has also become more expensive. While household incomes have stagnated, housing costs have risen sharply, straining family budgets and resulting in increased displacement and homelessness. What’s more, the region’s history of racial and economic discrimination has kept many residents away from neighborhoods with quality schools and good jobs. Instead, many live in areas that are unsafe or environmentally hazardous. The region needs quality housing for all income levels in places that have good transit service. It must also invest in smaller cities and downtowns to boost economic opportunities throughout the region.
View the fourth plan at fourthplan.org