Robert Lane Presents the Fourth Regional Plan: A Bold Tri-State Response to Affordable Housing and Climate Change

topographical map of the New York City tri-state area
A map of the New York City tri-state area shows the key elements of the Fourth Regional Plan. image / ORG Permanent Modernity for the Fourth Regional Plan
a slide with four images and the headings climate change, transportaion, affordable housing, fix institutions
A slide from Rob Lane's presentation details the four key tenets of the Fourth Regional Plan. image / Rob Lane
map of New York City tri-state area with coastal areas shaded in yellow, orange, or red to show climate change impact
A map of the tri-state area shows the impact of sea level rise by 2050. According to Lane, more than two million people and one million jobs will be at risk of flooding. image / Rob Lane
A map of the New York City tri-state area shows the key elements of the Fourth Regional Plan. image / ORG Permanent Modernity for the Fourth Regional Plan A slide from Rob Lane's presentation details the four key tenets of the Fourth Regional Plan. image / Rob Lane A map of the tri-state area shows the impact of sea level rise by 2050. According to Lane, more than two million people and one million jobs will be at risk of flooding. image / Rob Lane
News
April 2, 2018

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) dares to envision a New York tri-state area united in pursuit of functional adaptations to population growth and sea-level rise.

On March 16, Robert Lane presented the RPA's Fourth Regional Plan in the Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, highlighting the plan's proposed solutions to enhance both prosperity and sustainability in the metropolitan area.

While previous plans have focused on issues surrounding urban renewal or traffic congestion, the Fourth Plan's strongest element is its adaptation to climate change, said Linda Shi, assistant professor in city and regional planning.

"This is the first [plan] where institutional and governance issues are at the forefront of what they're doing," said Shi, who introduced Lane's presentation.

An architect by training, Lane is an RPA senior fellow and spearheaded the Fourth Plan's regional design aspect.

Released in November 2017, the Fourth Plan reimagines the region's growth and development by improving four core action areas: creating affordable housing, adapting with changing coastlines, integrating and rebuilding transit systems, and transforming governance by changing and consolidating institutions.

Serving the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the Regional Plan is not a government entity. It has no legal authority, but rather performs visioning exercises with advisory or inspirational purposes to manage the region's growth and development.

Shi, who specializes in urban environmental governance, said she was particularly interested in the Fourth Plan "because it puts its foot down on a particular vision of climate change adaptation."

Since the Third Regional Plan's 1996 debut, the RPA has democratized its process to account for New York City as both a megaregion and a more mature region.

The plan is not New York City–centric, recognizing that its effects ripple north along the coast to Boston and south to Washington, DC. It doesn't focus on building entire expanses but rather on increasing connectivity within its boundaries by improving transit infrastructure. And most strikingly in the 20 years since the previous plan, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy solidified climate change as a very real existential threat to the region.

The Fourth Plan has 61 different recommendations to address these profound changes.

Among them, some of the most innovative include:

  • Restructuring the Port Authority
  • Establishing a regional coastal commission
  • Adapting a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Transforming the Meadowlands into a national park
  • Expanding  and unifying public transit, and
  • Creating more public mixed-use space that includes affordable housing in all communities.

Although the plan proposes changes to a wide array of different institutions and infrastructure, most of the proposals revolve around reducing the financial burden on individual municipalities to implement change.

Shi was particularly impressed with the idea of a tri-state coastal commission to coordinate funding.

"What you don't want is to have each municipality spend and invest in things that can have externalities and spillover effects on its neighbors, and you also don't want some places not to be adapting when they should be adapting," Shi said.

The most contentious proposal is likely to be breaking up the Port Authority's operations into individual public benefit corporations each with their own business models. The Port Authority would act as a coordinating entity collecting and distributing fees.

"We believe we can do that through higher tolls — [because] we're not a political entity we can touch the third rail of suggesting higher taxes," Lane said, "and actually use technology on the highways to tax people on vehicle miles traveled rather than flat fees to get on and off the road."

The largest question that remains is one of implementation, said Prakriti Shukla (M.R.P. '19), a student who attended the lecture. "The proposal and its ideas have been bold enough to question governance structures. But how will they translate on the ground?"

Lane's response is optimistic.

"It takes a lot of determination and it takes a lot of time."

By Jennifer Wholey