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Third Regional Plan for New York Tri-state Region

Keyword: Economic Development


The just completed Third Regional Plan represents the continuation of a 75 year tradition of metropolitan planning by Regional Plan Association for the Tri-state metropolitan region surrounding New York City, North America's largest urban region. RPA is a non-governmental, membership organization consisting of business, civic and community leaders. RPA's first and second plans (1929 and 1968, respectively) laid out the region's basic transportation and environmental infrastructure, and led to establishment of regional authorities. The third plan's focus is on steps needed to sustain quality of life and environmental systems, and promote greater social integration and economic competitiveness in the first decades of the 21st century. Demonstration and advocacy projects completed as part of the plan have already improved the environment, community design and economic opportunity for millions of the region's residents. The process of developing the plan, and the plan's implementation strategy involves extensive collaboration among hundreds of "third sector" civic groups throughout the region. This unique collaborative process could become a model for metropolitan regions around the world.


Regional Plan Association's Third Regional Plan, A Region At Risk, will be released in February 1996. This plan, the 6-year process that led to its completion, the organization that supervised its development, and its "third sector" implementation strategy, represent a unique and important model for shaping economic, social, environmental, land use and public investment policy in the world's large metropolitan regions. The concept of an independent NGO planning initiative makes increasing sense in the vast majority of these regions that have expanded beyond inflexible political boundaries. Finally, it has already provided tangible benefits to millions of residents of the New York Tri-state region.

RPA is an independent, not for profit organization of business, civic and community leaders founded in 1929 to promote implementation of the Regional Plan for New York and its Environs, completed that year by its predecessor, ad hoc group. The fundamental idea behind RPA's creation was that an independent civic group could build a vision for the region's future, and effectively advocate with government and industry for its implementation. This was a revolutionary idea in the 1920's, but it has become increasingly relevant in the late 20th century, when "public-private partnerships" and third sector leadership have become widely accepted, although infrequently practiced, concepts.

RPA's first plan laid out the basic environmental, transportation, governance and community design systems that have shaped this region for nearly three quarters of a century, and enabled the New York Tri-state region to become a global center of commerce, communications, the arts and government. This plan was the world's first comprehensive metropolitan plan, and it became a prototype for similar plans in other regions throughout the world.

RPA's Second Regional Plan, completed in 1968, promoted new strategies to control suburban sprawl, rebuild cities, modernize transit, and protect environmental systems.
Both plans have had a profound and positive effect, not only on the lives of the Tri-state region's 20 million residents, but also the lives of millions of residents in other metropolitan regions that have emulated strategies first developed in RPA's plans. These include strategies to build and manage regional highway and rail systems, create systems of protected landscapes and open spaces, and promote concepts for community and urban design that have influenced patterns of metropolitan growth in North America and other areas.

The first plan's system of bridges, tunnels, highways and parkways provided a model for similar systems in other US regions. The system of parks and reserves proposed in the first plan, and expanded in the second, created a half-million hectare system of permanently protected, accessible open space in this region, and inspired development of similar systems in other metropolitan areas. These transportation and environment initiatives inspired US legislation and investment programs that have shaped the metropolitan landscapes of the whole country, and have more recently been adapted to other countries.

The first plan's neighborhood unit concept, and its standards for community design continue to shape "New Urbanist" thinking about town planning throughout the world today. And the second plan's admonitions against suburban sprawl represented the first comprehensive indictment of decentralized, land- and energy-consuming patterns of growth that now face most large metropolitan regions in both developed and developing countries, threatening the regional and global environment, communities and people.

In keeping with this tradition of innovation, the Third Plan also breaks important new ground. First, it is a comprehensive, long range, region-wide plan completed in an era in which narrowly defined, short-range, and parochial planning has become the norm. It looks at the metropolitan region as the fundamental unit in the global economy, and as the defining unit for the economic, social equity and environmental systems (the 3 E's) that shape the lives of all metropolitan residents. And it firmly establishes the inextricable links between the three E's and the need to integrate public and private strategies to promote positive change all three areas.

Second, the plan was developed, and is being implemented through a unique collaboration among the region's community, environmental and business groups --its civic sector. In this sense, RPA's plan has already demonstrated a principal that is being widely discussed throughout the world: the potential to mobilize the "third" or civic sector to provide leadership on important economic, social, environmental and other issues.

The plan proposes to rebuild the region's competitiveness in the global economy by promoting its quality of life through a set of linked 3 E strategies, a number of which have already produced important benefits benefiting millions of residents of the Tri-state metropolitan region:
- On Long Island, N.Y., in 1993 RPA helped convene a coalition of more than 25 environmental, community and business groups to develop legislation protecting the 50,000 hectare Central Pine Barrens, Long Island's reserve water supply, and a unique natural area containing dozens of rare or endangered species. RPA then helped develop the permanent management plan for this important resource area, assuring three million Long Islanders of a permanent, safe water supply.
- In 1994 RPA helped convene a civic coalition promoting the preservation of Sterling Forest, a 8,000 hectare natural area at the headwaters of northern New Jersey's public watersheds. Currently the site of a major proposed commercial development project, RPA's efforts have already produced funding commitments from the states of New York and New Jersey (and a pending commitment from the US Congress) that will permanently protect this site and the drinking water supply of more than 2 million New Jersey residents. These actions will also protect the Appalachian Trail corridor and contiguous public open spaces, that serve millions of other metropolitan residents.
- Since 1991 RPA has been part of a civic coalition that successfully advocated redevelopment of Riverside South, Manhattan's largest development parcel, after decades of contentious debate and delay, in a way that provides 12 hectares of new riverfront parkland, provides hundreds of new affordable housing units, and that links West Side neighborhoods with the Hudson River. Nearly 2 million Manhattan residents and millions more in the region will directly, or indirectly benefit from this project.
- RPA inventoried bypassed and derelict industrial land in Union County, NJ, and helped promote reform of the state's contaminated sites recovery law. An RPA-sponsored demonstration project resulted in reclamation of a 100 hectare former landfill into a major new commercial development and wetlands restoration project.

The effectiveness of this civic coalition model is now being demonstrated in other areas and with regard to other issues. RPA expects to convene similar coalitions to promote policies, programs and investments needed to implement other recommendations of the Third Plan.

The Plan's key recommendations are organized around five "action campaigns" (greensward, centers, mobility, workforce, governance) that will become the focus for the work of new civic coalitions. A number of these initiatives could become models for similar efforts in other metropolitan regions. These include:


Greensward plan will create a network of 11 large natural resource systems, permanently protecting the region's green infrastructure of watersheds, wildlife habitat, forests and farms and estuaries. Each will be managed by a locally-initiated, regional bodiy. (2 of the 11 -- the LI pine barrens and NJ Pinelands, are already protected; a third, the New York City's upstate watersheds, serving 8 million residents, is the subject of a recent agreement. These reserves will also serve as a permanent urban growth boundary for region, to limit further suburban sprawl. A parallel system of protected greenways and urban forests and parks will link urban centers to the reserves.


The goal of the Centers campaign is to attract half of the region's expected 2 million jobs by 2020 in the Manhattan CBD and 11 regional downtowns.
The campaign also promotes the creation of cbo's in every inner-city community, proposes measures to provide them with housing and economic developent funds, and to link them to regional employment centers.
The campaign also promotes development of transit and pedestrian friendly centers linked to the regional rail system.


The campaign proposes to transform the regional rail system by integrating portions of seven existing rail systems into a new Regional Express or "Rx" system linking all of the region's major employment and residential centers. By linking existing lines with new and revitalized connections, expanding the existing 3,000 km rail system by only 2%, vast new capacity and dramatic reductions in commuting time and congestion can be achieved, dramatically improving access to centers on the Rx system..
Complementary strategies are laid out for market pricing of highways and improving freight movement.


Strategies are set forth to reform school finance, link schools to work, and create a life-long learning system, providing residents (particularly immigrants and inner-city minorities) with the skills needed to participate in the rapidly expanding information and technology based industries of the future.


The plan proposes strategies to reform tax systems by providing user fees for a significant share of the estimated $75 billion in new capital investments needed to implement the plan, and an equivalent amount of new investments in education and workforce. The governance campaign also promotes restructuring of existing public authorities, and strategies for cooperation between states and communities to improve service delivery and reduce intra-regional competition. Importantly, the plan promotes local and regional initaitives to meet the region's needs.
A proposed set of "green accounts," a regional capital investment program, "smart infrastructure" investments designed to replace "end of the pipe treatment" with eco-system pased plans, and regulatory and land use planning reforms are designed to promote sustainable patterns of growth, and other actions consistent with key Agenda 21 actions.


The benefits of a long range metropolitan plan sponsored by an independent civic group has been demonstrated by RPA for 75 years. The Third Regional Plan, and its 3E planning framework and civic coalition implementation strategy, could provide a model for the world's other rapidly growing metropolitan regions.


RPA has successfully initiated and advocated:

  • permanent protection of public water supply watersheds for 14 million residents;
  • protection of more than a 500,000 hectares of open space and natural areas;
  • creation of new model for locally controlled regional land use regulatory systems protecting 50,000 area;
  • infrastructure investments and public policies attracting or retaining one million jobs in urban centers;
  • capital investments and governance reforms to rebuild subway and commuter rail services for 5 million daily riders;
  • reclamation of 100 acre hectare contaminated site, as demonstration of regional brownfield recovery project.


RPA's five action campaigns lay out detailed strategies for implementing the plan and its key policy and investment recommendations over a period of years. These efforts will build on RPA's 75 year history of public education and plan advocacy, its strong base of support with business, community and civic leaders, and the visibility that demonstration projects have already received (as outlined above). Civic, or third sector coalitions have already been organized around key recommendations.

Reforms of existing government institutions and authorities have already begun, with civic coalitions (either convened by RPA, or involving RPA's participation) providing technical assistance and public advocacy and support for these initiatives. The first of these reforms involves state growth management systems in all three states within the region; New Jersey has already adoped implementing legislation; in Connecticut, an RPA task force is promoting legislation; and in New York, a civic coalition is developing around this issue.
Restructuring of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and its capital investment program has already begun. And the proposed management plan for another regional authority, the Hackensack Meadowlands
Commission, is the subject of intense negotiations between a civic coalition and state and federal officials.

To ensure a continuing strong base for the action campaigns, RPA has restructured its governing board and state advisory committees around the five campaigns. All three state governors and the Mayor of New York City have made public commitments to support implementation of the plan. These public commitments have been included in a TV decumentary televised throughout the region. Members of the region's congressional delegation have also agreed to organize a congressional coalition in in support of needed federal legislation.

To ensure that these efforts will be sustained, all of RPA's advocacy, public outreach and other activities have been organized around the action campaigns. Fundraising efforts have also been organized around these campaigns, with the goal of expanding foundation and government support for these efforts. (Already, one-half of RPA's $2.5 million budget comes from these sources; the other half comes from membership dues.) Each campaign is being staffed with a full-time campaign manager, who is charged with promoting research, advocacy and third sector coalition building for their campaign.


RPA has identified a comprehensive set of indicators for assessing progress in achieving the region's economic, social and environmental goals. These include:


  • per capita income
  • number of jobs in region
  • percentage of population employed
  • real average wage
  • gross regional product growth


  • average household income
  • below poverty line, by race


  • acres of open space and developed area
  • air quality
  • material recycled as a percentage of waste stream
  • solid waste collected per person


  • delay time on highways, and at bridges and tunnels
  • passenger comfort level
  • passenger miles traveled by transit, cars

    Centers and mobility

  • % of population in compact communities
  • trips to centers
  • jobs in downtowns
  • serious crimes


  • median house price to median income ratio


    Robert D. Yaro, Regional Plan Assoc.
    570 Lexington Avenue, 20th Fl.,
    New York
    New York


    Regional Plan Association
    570 Lexington Avenue
    New York
    New York


    Yaro, Robert D., Executive Director, RPA
    570 Lexington Avenue
    New York
    New York

    Kahan, Richard , The Urban Assembly
    1330 Ave. of the Americas, 4th Fl.
    New York,
    New York

    Robert Geddes
    1 Palmer Square, Rm 420
    New Jersey

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