Author: Greg Clark
In April, New York’s Regional Plan Association launched the International Advisory Committee on the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region’s Fourth Regional Plan. Greg Clark looks at the association behind the plan, and reflects on the challenges that the New York region faces.
The Regional Plan Association (RPA) is the oldest urban research organisation in the United States, and prepares long-range plans and policies to guide the development of the 31-county New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region. To date, it has produced three regional plans (in 1929, 1968 and 1996) which have provided a blueprint and inspiration for the region’s transport, open space, infrastructure and economic development. The fourth regional plan is currently under development, and when launched in 2016 will create a strategy for the region’s growth and governance for the next 25 years.
The RPA is an independent body which does not form part of New York City Hall. However, its recommendations are exceptionally well regarded and its advocacy very powerful, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the RPA’s funding model is based on endowments, which allows its research and advocacy to be non-partisan, participatory and evidence-led. Secondly, it draws support from a wide range of stakeholders across the Tri-State region’s business, philanthropic, civic and planning communities. In preparation for its fourth Regional Plan, RPA has even begun an expanded phase of civic engagement and knowledge-sharing from global peers (hence the launch of the International Advisory Committee). Thirdly, the association’s near-century of stability and experience makes it an invaluable partner in metropolitan planning.
The New York metropolitan region today is a global success story which offers inspiration to city-regions worldwide. Nonetheless, it faces novel and multiple challenges, which the fourth Regional Plan will seek to address. These challenges were articulated in the RPA’s 2014 report, Fragile Success[i]. They include fragmented regional decision-making across three state governments, the economic de-coupling of the City from the wider region, stagnant real incomes for the bottom 75% of wage-earners, the development impact of the technology sector growth, the need for renewal at the Port Authority, under-supply of housing and the vulnerability of regional systems to climate change-related weather events.
The new plan will push for solutions to these problems. Amongst other initiatives, it will support a range of transport improvements in the region including high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor, congestion pricing for New York City and an extension of the PATH rapid transit subway from downtown Newark to Newark Airport. It will also define new ways to accommodate the expected growth in New York’s population.[ii]
The formation of an international advisory committee for the fourth Regional Plan is a key part of the effort to integrate New York with global thinking and practice.[iii]
“Every global city-region needs to address the same fundamental set of issues,” began Bob Yaro, President of RPA, and the workshop’s co-chair. “Their institutions may be different, their scale may be different, their development stage may be different, but what they are all dealing with are universal questions.”
New York has a regional governance ‘fog’ that is more confused than many of its international competitors. This, combined with a broken relationship with federal government, means a lack of will to deliver the infrastructure projects and systems that will make the region future-proof. “More than anything”, advised Vienna’s Eugen Antalovksy, “New York needs a metropolitan economic agenda.”
The International Advisory Committee therefore proposed that the fourth Regional Plan be even bolder than its predecessors. Chief among ten recommendations is that the RPA mobilises the full range of resources for cross-border coalitions to ensure Plan implementation. The Committee also advocated multi-channel engagement with citizens to make them active Plan monitors and ‘co-owners’, based on clear economic, inclusiveness and liveability targets.
New York’s next regional plan should build the case for increased investment in transport and infrastructure systems. A rise in transit fares was urged, combined with ‘beneficiary pays’ funding techniques for a major programme of expansion, upgrades and technological improvements, delivered by a reformed Port Authority and MTA. The full set of suggestions is now being considered by RPA, as an input to their work ahead of the Plan’s eventual launch in 2016.
The governance landscape of the New York metropolitan area is complex and crowded, with the RPA being one of multiple actors with an interest in the region’s future development. However, if coupled with effective coalition building and engaged citizen support, the RPA’s voice should be heard by the city-region’s leaders. Certainly, the association’s impressive credentials and track record suggest that they would be wise to listen closely.
[i] Fragile Success: Taking Stock of the New York Metropolitan Region
[ii] Urban DNA: Shaping New York’s Future
[iii] RTPI Article on International Advisory Committee