Saturday, October 13, 2012

Revisiting the Introduction of the Second Regional Plan of New York Process Papers

The Regional Plan Association has produced three regional plans for the New York region. (Website here, wikipedia here.) The famous first one was introduced in 1929. The second was in 1968 and the third in 1996. Here is the introduction to the a supporting document about the planning process for the Second Regional Plan written in 1967:

Footloose describes our era.                                
The factory is freed from its sources of raw materials, from rivers and railroads. The worker need not be within walking distance of his job as a century ago nor even within walking distance of subway, railroad or street railway as sixty years ago. Recreation areas for day-long trips can be anywhere in the metropolitan region-and most will be crowded on nice days wherever they are.                                                
Fast-changing also describes our era.                      
The bulldozer can turn a slum into a desert in a few days. Landscapists can turn it into a park shortly after-or construction workers into houses or offices. Nor does it take long for residents to turn a nice neighborhood into a slum.                                     
Fantastically productive also describes it.   
Our economy now produces three times as much as in the booming years of the '20's (measured by the same dollar), and production of goods and services per capita leaps by about one-fourth each decade.                       
The planner, accordingly, is increasingly freer of economic and transportation limitations. Many locations are about equally efficient for production and distribution of goods and services-and with our increasing wealth, other values more often than before challenge efficient production and distribution as important criteria.                                            
With basic economic necessities of diminishing importance in regional planning, issues more related to personal taste come to the fore, and planners have become sensitive to the possibility that the choices they would make for a metropolitan area may not be the same as others would make.   
This describes a very different approach to cities and regions than we have today. We have (hopefully) learned a lot about  cities, for instance certain industries favor proximity and agglomeration more than is suggested above. In addition, it is clear that transportation limitations continue and remain critical to address. However, this is a more optimistic introduction than I would expect from a planning report today. Maybe what we write these days will also seem optimistic to those who read it in 45 years.

Ultimately, the notion that transportation policy is largely guided by heterogeneous preferences and quality of life issues hasn't quite come to pass, though I'll argue there is more evidence of personal tastes influencing policy on a large scale nowadays than was the case in the 1960s.

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