A drawing from the Second Regional Plan depicting a gravity-vacuum tube, which was proposed as a possible way to speed up the subway.

Photo by: RPA

A drawing from the Second Regional Plan depicting a gravity-vacuum tube, which was proposed as a possible way to speed up the subway.

In 1929, New York City had just under 7 million people. Jimmy Walker—known more for his partying with starlets than his administrative skills—was mayor. The year’s best picture was something called “The Broadway Melody.” There were 48 U.S. states. Penicillin had just been discovered the year before. And already, some in New York were issuing a call that has been echoed every since—a call for better planning.

“The future growth of the community must be more deliberately and more boldly planed than it has been in the past,” declared the new Regional Plan Association, or RPA, in its first regional plan.

As City Limits reports in this month’s issue, no organization has done more to plan for the future of the metropolitan region than the RPA.

In three sweeping regional plans (the second in the 1960s and the third in 1996) and scores of reports in between and since, RPA has documented the challenges facing New York.

Not all their ideas look as good now as they did then (for instance, building highways through the fabric of midtown and lower Manhattan doesn’t seem so wise to 21st Century eyes), but many—a concern about income inequality, a persistent prescience about sprawl—were ahead of their time. And while not all RPA’s recommendations were followed, many have been.

Here, courtesy of RPA, is a sampling of some of their past plans for New York’s future.

  • 1929: The First Regional Plan, part I (excerpt)
    RPA lays out a vision for 20th Century New York’s roads and rails.
  • 1929: The First Regional Plan, part II (excerpt)
    RPA’s 1929 plan for land use in the city and its environs.
  • 1960: The Race For Open Space (excerpt)
    As it prepared the Second Regional Plan, RPA sounded an early alarm on the need to protect space in the metropolitan area from advancing urban and suburban sprawl.
  • 1967: The Region’s Growth (excerpt)
    Excerpt from the 1967 report by RPA projecting the size and composition of the future New York City region.
  • 1968: Waste Management (excerpt)
    As it prepared the Second Regional Plan, RPA looked specifically at how to manage the area’s “solid, liquid and gaseous wastes.”
  • 1969: Urban Design, Manhattan (excerpt)
    In this report, RPA asked, “Are there better design principles than those which today produce nearly uniform office buildings running in slab formation like dominoes up midtown avenues?”
  • 1975: Urban Space For Pedestrians (excerpt)
    This report addresses the myth that high-density urban areas are “overcrowded” by looking at what makes particular parts of the city congested, especially for walkers.
  • 1968: The Second Regional Plan (excerpt)
    In one of several documents prepared as part of RPA’s second regional plan, the authors sounded alarms on sprawl and income inequality. They also called for more expressways and new subway technology.
  • 1996: The Third Regional Plan: A Region At Risk (excerpt)
    Decidedly pessimistic in tone, RPA’s 1996 plan worried about declining federal support to and increasing international competition for New York. It proposed preserving green space and creating new transit options.