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The Plans that Built Greater New York

Historians in the News
tags: New York City, urban history, city planning, metropolitan areas



In her first State of the State address, New York Governor Kathy Hochul put forward what she described as a “bold idea” — the “Interborough Express,” a 14-mile freight line flipped into a new mass transit link between Brooklyn and Queens. 

If built, the line would fill a major gap in the city’s mass transit map. She instructed New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to begin the process of studying what could be the biggest expansion to its systems since World War II. (A few weeks later, the report came back as feasible.) 

But this big idea was nothing new. A quarter century ago, the Regional Plan Association — a nonprofit civic organization that develops urban planning ideas for the metroplex spanning parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — proposed what it called the Triboro. Hochul’s version snipped off the Bronx section from RPA’s layout, but otherwise lifted the vision, stations and connections almost word for word.

RPA-backed ideas made multiple appearances in Hochul’s address. The new governor backed legalizing accessory dwelling unitsraising the floor area ratio (FAR) cap on new developments to densify areas, and building more transit-oriented development. She also touted the long-awaited renovation of Penn Station and the new Gateway tunnel under the Hudson River. All RPA priorities.

The timing couldn’t be more felicitous: 2022 marks the centennial for RPA, the oldest civic organization of its kind in America. For the tri-state region, an area that’s home to 24 million people and a tenth of U.S. GDP, this team of planners and advocates functions as an in-house guru, guiding the trajectory of the country’s greatest megalopolis. At several critical junctures, RPA has tried to finagle a future, most notably through its series of Regional Plans — once-a-generation field maps to the region’s growth — and countless smaller publications. And they’ve done so with startling clairvoyance.

“When I talk about RPA and its history, each of the Regional Plans is both a reflection and guidance towards what regional planning meant during that period of time that it was released,” said Tom Wright, the organization’s current president. “They kind of defined what a regional plan was in 1929, in the late 1960s and ’70s, and then 1996. And they’re shaping what other people are thinking about what a plan means.” 

Read entire article at Bloomberg CityLab

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