In an equitable region, individuals of all races, incomes, ages, genders and other social identities have equal opportunities to live full, healthy and productive lives.
By 2040, the tri-state region should sharply reduce poverty, end homelessness, close gaps in health and wealth along racial, ethnic, and gender lines, and become one of the least segregated regions in the nation instead of one of the most segregated.
The investments and policies proposed by RPA would reduce inequality and improve the lives of the region’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents.
Over the last century, urban planning and both public- and private-sector actions have undermined the basic human value that everyone should be able to live a full, healthy and productive life, reinforcing the legacy of racism and discrimination in the U.S., and creating the region’s geography of segregation, isolation, and inequality.
Policies like unequal access to financing, restrictive covenants, blockbusting, redlining, and racial steering divided the region into largely poor communities of color and affluent, largely white neighborhoods. The infrastructure that allowed the region to grow created environmental injustices, such as urban highway construction that tore apart immigrant and communities of color, and transportation that served only some parts of the population. These cannot be forgotten, because they shaped where we live, and where we live is directly linked to our access to opportunity: the jobs we can reach, the quality of our health and schools, and ultimately, the success our children can achieve.1
Many of these policies exist in different forms today: discrimination in housing still uses source of income or credit scores to weed out applicants; blacklisting excludes renters who have ever been to court regardless of the reason or outcome; exclusionary zoning keeps segregation alive; inequitable school financing perpetuates unequal educational outcomes; energy and environmental policies create unhealthy living conditions; and transit services do not serve all residents equally.
Equity is also critical to the region’s future health and prosperity. Metropolitan areas with greater inequality experience slower economic growth than others, perhaps because fewer are able to participate fully in the economy.2 And racial and economic inequities impede the social cohesion needed to address the crises of declining affordability, failing infrastructure, and climate change. Done right, planning and development that achieves equity for people of diverse social identities could add tens of billions of dollars to the region’s economy.3 Done wrong, growth and technological change will widen the gulf of inequality and weaken the region’s competitiveness and prosperity.
Reconnecting planning and equity
The proposals and policies in the plan could significantly expand opportunity and reduce inequality. While the plan’s policies cannot alone undo the injustices of the past, its recommendations would lead to housing, jobs, transportation, schools, streets, and parks that serve everyone and explicitly reduce inequities by race and ethnicity, income, and geography. The investments proposed in the plan would also create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity, both through immediate construction contracts and jobs and in longer-term economic growth. The distribution of those jobs and economic activity should expressly contribute to the goals of reducing inequality along racial, ethnic, gender, disability status, and other social fault lines of disadvantage. To do this, infrastructure agencies and other implementing entities must directly contribute to greater equity through contracting and procurement practices.
The Fourth Regional Plan proposes the following actions to remedy injustices of the past and present, and create a more equitable future:
Create affordable and fair housing by both strengthening disadvantaged communities and opening up exclusionary places.
In 2017, the region ranked as one of the least affordable and most highly segregated regions in the country by both race/ethnicity and income. To have communities that are affordable and provide access to opportunity for everyone, government at all levels must make it possible for low-income and Black and Hispanic residents to both remain and thrive in neighborhoods where they live now, and have the choice to move to neighborhoods where they have been excluded historically:
- Protect low-income residents from being displaced from the urban areas where many reside by building wealth in communities that have suffered through disinvestment, strengthening rent regulations and protections, and ending homelessness by providing legal counsel and increased funding for affordable and supportive housing
- Strengthen and improve fair housing laws because affordable housing policies alone will not end discriminatory practices
- Promote mixed-income, multifamily housing, especially in transit-rich areas, including the region’s many smaller cities, towns, and suburban areas
- Build truly affordable housing in all communities by requiring a share of all multifamily housing be affordable, and fixing subsidy policies to expand both very low-income rental housing and non-predatory low- to middle-income home ownership opportunities
- Ensure all housing is healthy, especially because those most likely to live in older, substandard housing are lower-income residents of color who are already disproportionately likely to suffer from worse health outcomes
Make decisions more inclusively.
Across the region, decision-making bodies, from local planning boards to multistate entities and commissions, should be composed of members who more closely reflect the residents they represent. More residents should be able to participate in local elections and decisions, and the decision-making process should fully account for the impact on the health and well-being of everyone. Here is how it could be done:
- Establish standards that reduce economic and health inequities.
- Reform land-use development, transportation, and facilities-siting processes so low-income residents and people of color can help shape projects from inception.
- Allow broader participation in local elections to more closely reflect the demographics of people living in the community.
Reduce inequality by expanding access to economic opportunity.
Public investments recommended in the plan should reduce the racial wealth and income gaps, and be combined with actions that reduce discrimination in jobs, education, and access to services. These include reducing the disproportionately high arrest, indictment, and imprisonment rates in communities of color,4 and improving opportunities for all formerly incarcerated individuals. The plan’s recommendations would also help ensure all children have access to a high-quality education. Today, high-performing schools are largely located in high-income communities, and children living in primarily white communities are four times more likely to live near a high-performing school than children living in majority non-white neighborhoods. To achieve these outcomes would require the following:
- Promote equitable contracting and procurement practices through all levels of government in transportation, housing, and other capital programs that would increase the number and capacity of minority and disadvantaged business enterprises and their access to capital.
- Invest in effective workforce training programs that target disadvantaged community residents, implementing and enforcing targeted hiring policies.
- Restore regional job centers in low-income cities and promote opportunity for marginalized communities by investing in workforce development and cooperative businesses for existing residents and capitalizing on existing urban assets.
- Reduce property taxes for those least able to pay them, and consolidate and better fund school districts to help give everyone access to a quality education.
- Eliminate the digital divide with universal access to affordable, high-speed internet.
Create new relationships between communities, industry, and nature to provide dignified, productive, and ecologically sustainable livelihoods.
Future economic growth should reverse the undue burden of environmental costs that previous development placed on low-income communities and communities of color. These areas house a disproportionate number of waste-transfer stations, power-generation plants, trash incinerators, landfills, regional sewage-treatment plants, and contaminated sites, and experience high levels of noise, air and water pollution, lack of green space and waterfront access, and related health problems. Black and Hispanic residents in these communities face disproportionate rates of lead poisoning and asthma.5 Principles of environmental justice—rooted in the belief that all people, regardless of race/ethnicty, income, age, gender, or other social identity have the right to a clean and healthy environment in which to live, work, learn, play, and pray—should guide a just transition in which affected workers and communities are equal partners in a well-planned shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. To accomplish this, the region will need to undertake the following:
- Transform historically environmentally burdened neighborhoods into healthy communities by reducing pollution from ports, airports, trucks, and highways, and transitioning from polluting energy sources and incorporating cumulative impact considerations in environmental decision-making.
- Ensure our most vulnerable residents and communities are protected from extreme weather events that cause flooding and extreme heat, and have the ability to adapt and thrive in the time of climate change.
- Set aggressive goals to arrive at a low-carbon economy, while prioritizing resources toward vulnerable, disadvantaged, and frontline communities and workers
- Transition justly to a clean-energy future, ensuring grassroots and advocacy organizations are involved in the decision-making processes
- Remediate environmental hazards as the region repurposes its auto-dependent landscapes
- Connect urban neighborhoods with parks and greenery and an easily accessible regional trail network to allow everyone to benefit from the region’s open spaces and natural beauty.
Invest in transportation to link everyone to more opportunities, while lowering costs for those with the least ability to pay.
Communities that were once divided and blighted by urban highways should be reconnected. Access to commuter rail and public transportation should become more equitable across the region, with respect to affordability and also access to service. In 2017, MetroCards were unaffordable for one in four New Yorkers.6 By 2040, the region’s transit should enable social mobility more than ever before. This could be accomplished by the following:
- Reconnect communities divided by highway construction. The Cross Bronx Expressway, the Gowanus Expressway, the downtown New Haven portion of Interstate 91, and Route 280 in Orange and Newark are prime examples of transportation infrastructure erected at the expense of often thriving communities, many immigrant and of color, that can be decked over, buried, or removed to reverse the legacies of blight, divided communities, and pollution.
- Rebuild the subway system to reach underserved areas and improve access for the disabled and elderly without displacing long-term residents.
- Create world-class bus service that employs the best available technologies to better serve urban areas, including outside of NYC.
- Prioritize regional rail improvements with service and pricing configurations that benefit lower-income communities so they can affordably access jobs in places farther away.
- Ensure new on-demand car services are affordable to low- to moderate-income residents.
1. RPA, “Spatial Planning and Inequality,” 2015
2. Springer Link, “Income inequality and economic growth: a panel VAR approach,” 2015
3. PolicyLink, “The Equity Profile of Long Island,” 2017
4. NAACP, “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,” 2016
5. PolicyLink, “Full Employment for All: The Social and Economic Benefits of Race and Gender Equity in Employment,” 2015
6. Riders Alliance, “Community Service Society, Riders Alliance Launch ‘Fair Fares’ Campaign for Reduced-Fare MetroCards for Lowest-Income New Yorkers,” 2016
3Create a Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation4Modernize transit systems outside New York City
9Reduce reliance on local property taxes
10Create regional school districts and services
11Make New York City property taxes fair12Make the planning and development process more inclusive, predictable, and efficient
13Increase participation in local government14Expand affordable internet access across the region
22Build new subway lines to underserved areas of the city
24Improve bus service, and introduce new light rail and streetcar lines
25Expand suburban transit options with affordable, on-demand service27Remove, bury, or deck over highways that blight communities
31Protect densely populated communities along the coast from storms and flooding37Cool our communities
46Protect low-income residents from displacement
47Strengthen and enforce fair housing laws
48Remove barriers to transit-oriented and mixed-use development50Build affordable housing in all communities across the region
51Make all housing healthy housing52Reform housing subsidies
54Restore regional job centers
55Make room for the next generation of industry
56Promote partnerships between anchor institutions and local communities58Turn environmentally burdened neighborhoods into healthy communities
59Support and expand community-centered arts and culture60Expand access to healthy, affordable food
61Expand and improve public space in the urban core