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A Region at Risk: The Third Regional Plan For The New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area

A Region at Risk: The Third Regional Plan For The New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area

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by Robert Yaro

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Regional Plan Association, the nation's oldest regional planning organization, has worked since 1929 to improve the quality of life in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area. The Association has crafted two long-term plans and successfully promoted their implementation through advocacy and coalition building.The Association's Third Regional Plan


Regional Plan Association, the nation's oldest regional planning organization, has worked since 1929 to improve the quality of life in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area. The Association has crafted two long-term plans and successfully promoted their implementation through advocacy and coalition building.The Association's Third Regional Plan describes a series of key initiatives aimed at not only improving quality of life, but also at increasing economic competitiveness, encouraging more sustainable patterns of growth, and expanding opportunities and choice in employment, housing, and community.The Plan presents five major campaigns, each of which combines the goals of economic, equity, and environmental improvements. They are: Greensward -- to protect and restore large natural resource systems at the periphery of urbanized areas Centers -- to "recenter" regions that have experienced decades of sprawl growth Mobility -- to transform existing transit infrastructure to create a regional express rail network that would dramatically improve public transit, reduce highway congestion, and speed freight movement Workforce -- to provide the region's workforce with the skills and opportunities needed to participate in the economy of the future Governance -- to rationalize the activities of existing authorities, encourage service sharing among municipal governments, and encourage more effective state and regional land-use planning programs While focusing on the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area, the Plan's broad themes have universal applicability to regions throughout the industrialized world.

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A Region at Risk

The Third Regional Plan For The New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area

By Robert Yaro, Tony Hiss


Copyright © 1996 Regional Plan Association
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-393-5


The Three E's

EACH OF THE "THREE E'S" also has broad applicability to metropolitan regions throughout the industrialized world. Virtually every North American metropolitan region, both large and small, faces similar concerns—among them are shifting employment prospects created by global competition, industry restructuring, and immigration; growing disparities between poor central cities and inner suburbs and rich outer suburbs; and sprawl and gridlock as a result of decentered, automobile-based growth. It has become clear that the "Three E's" now provide a universal context for discussing regional issues.


With national governments less able to regulate economic activity, regions have a growing need to develop their own strategies. They must focus on their particular advantages in the global marketplace—the clusters of related industries that anchor their economy, the talents of their population, and the character of their communities and environment—to move beyond policies that rely solely on tax cuts, business incentives, and promotional campaigns. The right mix of investments in advanced infrastructure, workforce skills, and quality of life improvements are crucial to long-term success, and this will require collaborative relationships between business, government, and labor to succeed.

The strategies outlined in this plan—maintaining a diverse, high-skill workforce, investing in an extensive but aging transit system, and energizing people's entrepreneurial talents with more efficient, flexible systems of governance—emerge from the particular strengths and industry profile of the Tri-State region.


Every world center faces daunting challenges to reverse the divisive trends resulting from economic transformation and global resettlement patterns. Global competition, technological change, and corporate restructuring have resulted in widening income disparities between the affluent and the poor, exacerbating long-standing racial and class divisions. Simultaneously, a handful of regions—including New York, Chicago, Miami, and Toronto—are attracting most of the vast number of immigrants flocking to North America, creating a truly multicultural society. Declining numbers of low-skill jobs, stagnant incomes for the middle-class, and increasing numbers of newcomers are creating larger concentrations of poor residents in metropolitan areas at a time when economic conditions are particularly fluid.

New residents bring with them enormous talent and cultural diversity—New York City, for one, could never have come into being without them. However, accommodating new residents requires new investments in schools, in workforce training, and in housing and public services. Federal funding has not been provided for these purposes. Localities have been left to deal with these new demands while conditions for many native-born residents are worsening, particularly for those in low-skill jobs. The benefits of immigration are certainly worth the effort to address its short-term costs, but it is equally important to ensure that people already here have the same kind of amenities and opportunities that we extend to newcomers.

In the metropolitan context, these forces have also had an impact on the gap between cities and suburbs. The movement of middle-class residents of all racial and ethnic groups from cities to the outer suburbs has left central cities for the poorest residents. And in many regions, inner suburbs now have more in common with center cities than they do with outer suburbs. Most regions continue to develop new rings of suburban growth, threatening to further isolate downtowns and center-city neighborhoods and diminish their tax base at the same time that urban welfare, police, education, and other costs continue to escalate. At the same time, middle-income whites continue to migrate out of this region—and from metropolitan Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and similar places—to smaller communities. Continuation of this trend could lead to even deeper racial and social polarization for the entire country.


The extreme deconcentration of North America's metropolitan regions has played havoc with the green infrastructure of watersheds, farmland, estuaries, woodlands, and other resources that make life in these places possible and desirable. While open "greenfields" are increasingly prone to development, vast areas of our cities have become desolate "brownfields"—contaminated urban lands abandoned by both business and government. Conventional solid waste management and pollution control facilities seem to have only limited success in protecting the environment. And they are expensive because they rely on "end of the pipe" treatment and focus on cleaning up toxic materials after they have already been made rather than redesigning industries so that they process only benign materials. Many taxes and regulations designed to protect the environment have the perverse effect of discouraging both traditional and neo-traditional compact development, which generates far less pollution than sprawl.


Toward Solutions: Five Campaigns

IN MANY AREAS of post-modern and post-industrial life, changes are accelerating beyond anyone's ability to see more than a few years ahead. Places, on the other hand, have qualities that can endure and gather strength, age after age. And this region, by simply anchoring itself firmly to its own superb natural abundance and extraordinary human achievements and talents, can create a permanent quality of life and structure for living that can both accommodate and weather all the changes that may come its way.

RPA has identified five crosscutting campaigns designed to respond in a comprehensive way to the issues defined by the "Three E's." Most of these initiatives could be adapted to the needs of other large and small North American metropolitan regions. In the Tri-State Metropolitan Region, the continuing "Three E" strengths of the place—our ecosystems, our centers, our transportation systems, our people, and our history of working together—can form a secure basis for future prosperity. Treasure them now and, whatever happens, we will have all the ingredients for success: our watersheds, mountains, rivers, and beaches; the cities and towns that embody 400 years of know-how, aspirations, and satisfactions; the infrastructure that keeps us all hooked together; new skills and an expanded ability to participate in each new economy that arises; and inclusive and flexible systems of governance, taxation, and regulations.

These inheritances are the bedrock on which the Third Regional Plan builds. Five initiatives anchor the plan—Greensward, Centers, Mobility, Workforce, and Governance. Together, they have been designed to reenergize the region by re-greening, re-connecting, and re-centering it. The Greensward safeguards the region's green infrastructure of forests, watersheds, estuaries, and farms, and it establishes green limits for future growth. Centers makes the region's existing major employment and residential areas the focus for the next generation of growth. Mobility transforms our transportation network to knit together the re-strengthened centers. Workforce provides groups and individuals living in these centers with the skills and connections needed to bring them into the region's economic mainstream. Achieving these ends will require new ways of organizing and energizing our political and civic institutions, as outlined in Governance. Collectively, all of these strategies underpin the region's quality of life and competitiveness, and they can guide us to sustainable growth as we enter the 21st century.


An astounding 40% of the region's landmass—more than 3 million acres—is covered by intact ecosystems, watersheds, rivers, estuaries, forests, and farmlands of national or regional significance that naturally organize themselves into five kinds of treasured landscapes: pineland reserves, mountain reserves, river valley reserves, maritime reserves, and farmland reserves. RPA's position about these great reserve areas is clear: they are special places that define the region, and they must always remain such. Because they have always supported vital human communities, they have never been off limits to development, but it has always been development that respects the natural systems in place.

These natural systems are not suitable for large-scale sprawl. Instead, these reserves should form a permanent "green edge to rapid growth," encircling the core of the region. To encourage the reserves to support appropriate smaller scale growth, RPA is working, where feasible, to encourage locally controlled, subregional commissions that could take on the joint task of managing the conservation of these vital places. A prototype of these regional reserve commissions already exists: the new Long Island Pine Barrens Commission, which is protecting 50,000 acres of land on top of eastern Long Island's only aquifer, while also supervising suitable development on an adjacent 50,000 acres. Building on this precedent, in 1995 a coalition of watershed towns and New York City agreed to create a balance between conservation and development in the city's upstate watersheds. By promoting the right kind of necessary growth, the 11 reserves proposed in this plan can protect 2.5 million acres that would otherwise succumb to unsustainable sprawl.

The Greensward is not a brand-new idea—rather it is a case of this region playing catch up with much of the rest of the industrialized world. To control suburban sprawl, a growing number of world centers have created permanent green belts, protecting large natural resource systems at the periphery of their urbanized areas and creating regional growth management systems to contain sprawl. London's Green Belt, established half a century ago, has become a model for other regions, even as development has moved to concentrated cities, towns, and villages beyond the Green Belt. Paris' new Plan Vert, or Green Plan, calls for creation of a similar network of protected landscapes and natural resource systems in that region. Planners in Tokyo are investigating ways to create a similar system in the mountains surrounding the capital region. In 1994 an RPA-sponsored team of American and Japanese planners prepared a green belt plan for the Miura area south of Tokyo as part of the U.S.–Japan Metropolitan Planning Exchange.

In North America, San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia have initiatives led by civic groups to create metropolitan green belts. Portland, Oregon's Metropolitan Greenspaces plan represents a collaboration between environmental and community groups and Portland Metro, the regional service district. And in Greater Toronto, a mosaic of private initiatives to save the Oak Ridge Moraine and Niagara Escarpment, ridge lines that define the region's northern and western edges, complement public efforts to reclaim and preserve the region's lakefront.

At the same time that green belts are established to limit outward sprawl, new initiatives are needed to green and revitalize urban spaces. Attractive parks, playgrounds, and streetscapes help make cities livable and attractive for residents and businesses. Better management of the urban forest of street trees and woodlots has proven benefits for environmental quality, energy use, and property value. There is also an opportunity to transform abandoned and underutilized urban waterfronts of the New York–New Jersey Harbor and the Long Island Sound into new public spaces and development projects. Improving the environmental quality of the region's cities will make it easier for people to choose to live and work in urban areas.


The region's cities and other centers have retained much of their economic vitality, although the loss of entry-level and middle-income jobs has had a devastating effect on many urban communities. The region's urban core still retains almost half of the jobs and people—an impressive achievement considering the decline of centers in many other American metropolitan areas. At the same time the region's highway-oriented suburbs gained 2 million payroll jobs during the last 25 years and have now essentially run out of room to grow. It is time to set up a three-way split of the next 2.5 million jobs that could come our way between 1995 and 2020.

Because of the way work is changing, 500,000 of those new jobs are likely to be arranged as "homework" or "telecommuting" situations. What RPA is proposing is a 50-50 split of the remaining 2 million jobs, with 1 million going to "recentering" suburbs. ("Re-centering" suburbs are edge cities working to overcome their rawness by becoming more town-like, where offices, shops, and parks are for the first time grouped within walking distance of each other.)

The centers certainly have the land to support another million jobs. RPA estimates that the region has more than 50,000 "brownfield" acres—abandoned industrial sites, landfills, and waterfronts. RPA has already helped a Danish developer find one such site for a 200-store factory outlet mall in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Thanks to RPA's help in cutting through red tape (the permitting process required the consent of 25 different agencies), the developer's costs are now comparable to what they might be on a less-accessible "greenfield" site, meaning one never before developed, out on the edge of the region. As a result, he can afford to create a 10-acre marsh on the edge of his land that will serve as habitat for the endangered least tern.

Of course, centers need to be re-magnetized in two other ways before jobs can flow freely to them: they need to be places where people feel safe and welcomed. And they need to be reconnected to the millions of people that have been excluded from their benefits, by linking urban schools and community groups with downtown employers.

The plan also builds on the "pro-centering" approaches already successfully adopted in other first-world regions. Proposals here to recycle thousands of acres of abandoned brownfields are refinements of highly acclaimed initiatives in metropolitan London, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, and Toronto. These include:

• London's efforts to reclaim the East Thames industrial corridor and the success of Groundwork trusts throughout the United Kingdom in reclaiming thousands of acres of derelict industrial land.

• Berlin's plans to reclaim its docks and the derelict areas adjoining the former Berlin Wall.

• Paris' efforts to recycle former industrial land along the Seine.

• Toronto's successful efforts to recycle former lakefront industrial and port facilities.

The plan's transit-friendly communities initiative emulates policies in Western Europe and Japan that promote lucrative, livable compact patterns of growth around rail systems. It builds on the historic transit-oriented patterns of growth that still characterize most of the mature northeastern and mid-western metropolitan regions in North America.

At the heart of the Tri-State Metropolitan Region, the plan's proposals to couple Rx rail improvements with civic design improvements in Manhattan's midtown and downtown districts builds on Paris' RER regional express rail and Grands Projets urban redevelopment initiatives; this strategy could also be replicated in every North American region that retains or plans to strengthen its regional rail system and core downtown district.


In our region—in any region—the kind of transportation available shapes the growth that occurs, both where it goes and the form it takes. In addition, a region's transportation system has as much to do with the pace of growth as it does with the speed of traffic, which means that an improved transportation network can accelerate growth rates, sometimes quite dramatically. In the 19th century, for instance, completion of the Erie Canal and a new breed of ocean-going clipper ships and, later, iron-hulled steamboats brought this region to early prominence.

In the 20th century, the region's unique transportation system—which in its current configuration includes 2,000 miles of major highways and 1,250 miles of rail lines—has already made possible two sustained waves of region building. First came the rail-supported growth—the centered growth, a massive program of (for the most part) highly concentrated development during the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of this century. This was the Tri-State Metropolitan Region's coming-of-age, the great age of skyscrapers and "canyons of steel," the boom time that solidified dozens of downtowns and made the Manhattan skyline one of the wonders of the modern world.

Then came the highways, mostly during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, setting up the now-familiar postwar growth pattern, when the big centers went on hold and some of the smaller centers spiraled into decline, while highway-focused, decentered development spread out across most of the region. The inner half of the region—the land south of the Appalachian highlands—now holds both its older, railroad-grown centers and a much larger number of highway-served newcomers, including 20 "edge city" suburban office clusters, almost 40 megamalls (probably the world's greatest concentration of giant shopping malls), and hundreds of smaller strip malls.


Excerpted from A Region at Risk by Robert Yaro, Tony Hiss. Copyright © 1996 Regional Plan Association. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Robert D. Yaro is executive director of Regional Plan Association, based in New York City. Tony Hiss is author of The Experience of Place.

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A Region At Risk: The Third Regional Plan For The New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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