RPA’s Regional Plans

RPA has published three previous regional plans to guide the growth of the region, in the 1920s, the 1960s, and the mid-1990s. A large number of RPA’s past proposals for infrastructure investments, urban development, and environmental protection have been adopted, enhancing the region’s quality of life and economic success. For a comprehensive look back at the impact of RPA’s regional plans, download the e-book: Shaping the Region.

Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, 1929

The Regional Plan produced the first definitive regional map of New York, documenting existing conditions block-byblock. It collected and analyzed extensive quantitative data about demographics, population distribution, economic conditions, land utilization, transportation, natural features, and other characteristics of the greater region, at a time when such data were difficult to come by.

Many proposals from the first plan were implemented in the 1930s and 1940s. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first as New York governor and then as president, needed construction programs to put unemployed workers back to work in New York, he turned to RPA’s plan. Later, as Robert Moses, Austin Tobin, and John D. Rockefeller set out to shape New York into a modern city, they also relied on RPA’s proposals.

By the middle of the 20th century, the majority of the first plan’s key urban and infrastructure recommendations had been implemented, including moving the location of the George Washington Bridge from midtown to 178th Street to prevent midtown traffic, building the Verrazano and Triborough bridges, the Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels, three regional airports at LaGuardia, Newark, and JFK, as well as the Merritt, Long Island State and Palisades Interstate parkways.

The plan inspired hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure and city-building projects that enabled New York to become the leading global city in the middle of the 20th century.

Second Regional Plan, 1968

At a time when wealthier white residents were fleeing the city for the suburbs, RPA’s Second Regional Plan focused on the need to invest in regional centers and transit, and to reign in sprawl.

RPA successfully pushed the federal government to fund public transit like it funded highways. The second plan’s focus on federal funding of mass transit paved the way for the recovery of the subway system in the 1990s, the formation of Metropolitan Transit Authority, MTA’s first long range capital plan in 1968, and the creation of New Jersey Transit.

As employers began to leave Manhattan in favor of suburban campuses, the second plan advocated for creating dense subregional centers of employment in cities such as Stamford, New Brunswick, and White Plains. The plan also introduced the need for mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods in regional centers as well as high-rise apartments in the center of metropolitan communities.

The second plan also called for the preservation of the region’s natural resources, which led to RPA’s pivotal role in the creation of the Gateway National Recreational Area, the nation’s first urban national park. Additionally, by 1973, local governments acquired 210 square miles of open space for permanent preservation, thanks to significant federal funding advocated for by RPA.

Third Regional Plan, 1996

RPA’s Third Regional Plan warned that without major new investments in New York City, as well as the region’s infrastructure and the environment, the tri-state region would be at risk of a slow and painful recovery from the economic downturn of the early 1990s.

It laid out a vision for the Far West Side that included a mixed-use expansion of the Midtown business district. Today’s Hudson Yards community closely resembles RPA’s proposal for the site.

The plan also emphasized the importance of having a transportation network that could support growth. RPA worked closely with the Port Authority to identify the route and service for the AirTrain to JFK Airport. Several other RPA supported transit expansion projects completed or close to completion include the Fulton Street Transit Center, phase one of the Second Avenue subway, East Side Access, and the extension of the #7 subway line to the Far West Side.

The third plan also set in motion steps for the permanent conservation of several region-shaping open spaces, including Governors Island, the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, and the large, underutilized urban waterfronts of the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Long Island Sound.

If the Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, from 1922, was about realizing that New York City was part of a larger regional economy and natural ecosystem; if the Second Regional Plan of 1968 was about trying to concentrate unconstrained sprawl into a constellation of regional cities; and if the Third Regional Plan of 1996 was about reinvesting in the infrastructure systems of the region to reassert our prominence on the national and international stage—then the lesson we learned from four years of data analysis and public engagement is that the Fourth Regional Plan is about creating and re-creating our public institutions, and shaping them to make positive change happen.