RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan has no shortage of heavy lifts—reconstruct New York City’s subways in 15 years, end homelessness by 2040, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. “Yeah, that all sounds great, but how are you going to do that?” is the most frequent and important reaction to the plan.
Part of the answer is embedded in the plan itself. A driving principle, and the focus of several of its key recommendations, is that it is both necessary and possible to fix the institutions that will have to deliver big projects and policy shifts. And in fact, several of RPA’s recommendations for reforming how transit projects can be delivered in less time and at lower cost are already being taken up by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
RPA’s track record also speaks to the power of bold ideas in overcoming skepticism and inertia. Each of the three previous plans succeeded in advancing proposals that seemed outlandish at the time, from protecting a million acres of open space to finally building the Second Avenue Subway.
But a new report by Siemens, a global provider of innovative engineering and technology solutions represented on RPA’s Board of Directors, argues that RPA and its plan should give greater emphasis to how the private sector can drive change. The report, A Region Embracing the Future: Siemens Response to Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Regional Plan, was developed by Siemens’ Cities Center of Competence and contains a number of important insights.
First, the plan is worth its costs. Just 11 of the energy and infrastructure proposals in the plan would result in 37% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 58% reduction in nitrogen oxide. These would also result in 500,000 person years of employment from their implementation and operation, on top of long-term improvements in economic productivity.
Second, new technologies that can vastly improve service and efficiency should be incorporated into every new infrastructure project. For example, a new Port Authority Bus Terminal should be fully equipped with software that manages parking, fleet management and passenger loading and unloading.
Finally, public private partnerships can both accelerate public sector reforms and advance improvements even before these take place. Inter-sector working groups could forge collaboration between transportation, electricity and technology providers. Greater use of private finance can help defray some of the public expense. And perhaps most importantly, the private sector can be an advocate for the needed but difficult actions needed to create a more prosperous and sustainable future.