Metro region's growth, success called fragile

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Stagnant wages, high housing costs and taxes are limiting the metropolitan New York region's chances of continued success despite positive change over the past 20 years, the Regional Plan Association's vice president of research told the Long Island Regional Planning Council Tuesday.

Christopher Jones highlighted some of the challenges facing the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut -- an area that includes about 23 million people -- as the nonprofit association embarks on developing its fourth regional plan, to be completed in 2016.

Recommendations from the three regional plans since the association's 1922 founding led to creation of the parkway system on Long Island and roads and bridges elsewhere in the region, transportation plans such as the East Side Access project to Grand Central Terminal, and open space protections and parks development.

Jones laid out results of some "baseline research" that is informing the association's work. For example, the region has added 2.3 million people over the past 20 years, and while more people are leaving the metro area than coming in, the loss is much lower than what occurred in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, he said.

"We call it 'fragile success' because truly there has been a lot of progress made in the region in the last 20 years," Jones said of the status report, which can be viewed at the association's website, www.rpa.org/fourth-plan.

"Much of that success is dependent on how we do with issues like climate change, dependent on how competitive we remain in the global economy," Jones said. "And there are deep-seated problems like inequality and access to opportunity that still haven't been addressed through this period."

Other findings in the report include a drop in crime throughout the region; an increase in life expectancy that is greater than the national increase; and creation of 1.5 million jobs over the last 20 years.

"The big thing about this is we're now growing as fast as the U.S. as a whole, since the late '90s," Jones said, referring to job growth. "That may not be sound like a big deal, but if you look at the postwar history, we've been steadily losing share to places like Atlanta and Dallas and the Sunbelt . . . In the last 15 years or so, we've been holding our own."

The decrease in crime, Jones said, is a "big part of the story of what has made the region more livable in the last 20 years."

Yet, residents' opportunities for betterment "are far too limited for far too many people," Jones said.

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Among the region's challenges, he said, are that average income has declined for all but the most wealthy; four of 10 adults are not in the labor force; 34 percent of adults earn less than $50,000; job gains have come in mostly low-wage industries; almost four of every 10 Long Islanders pay more than one-third of their income for housing; and poverty has increased faster outside New York City.

"People don't feel like they're getting ahead," Jones said. "This comes through in focus groups."

The association continues to seek public input. People can submit questions or comments at http://www.rpa.org/spotlight/what-would-you-change-in-region.

 

Long Island highlights in regional plans

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The Regional Plan Association is preparing to draw up its fourth regional plan for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region. Here are recommendations affecting Long Island that were included in the association's three earlier regional plans.

1929 Proposed development of transportation infrastructure and key roadways, including the Whitestone and Triborough bridges and the Northern and Southern State parkways, bringing together formerly hard-to-reach parts of the region.

1960s The association, in a series of reports published during the decade, proposed creation of a regional public transit agency to manage and revitalize commuter rail and the New York City subway. The recommendation led to establishment of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

1996 Recommendations helped spur creation of the Central Pine Barren Commission, protecting 100,000 acres essential to the Island's groundwater supply. This regional plan also proposed connecting the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, which became today's East Side Access project.

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Source: Regional Plan Association

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