Main Stage Highlights from the 2019 RPA Assembly

“The city came into being to preserve life. But the city exists for the good life.”

Quoting Aristotle, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti described his own philosophy during his keynote speech at Regional Plan Association’s 29th Assembly. RPA’s annual gathering of civic and business leaders, government officials, and other interested urbanists explored how to promote both prosperity and community health by “Investing in People and Places,” the theme for this year’s Assembly.  

RPA President and CEO Tom Wright kicked off the morning program sharing important progress the region has made over the past year, from New York becoming the first state in the nation to pass congestion pricing to New Jersey rejoining RGGI to Connecticut’s movement towards tolling highways.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont took the stage emphasizing the value of cross-border collaboration. “Where else can you be both a Yankees and a Red Sox fan” he asked, extolling Connecticut’s virtues. He recalled a recent crisis from his first 100 days in office, when approximately two thirds of Connecticut’s power supply was at risk. Lamont immediately called fellow New England governors, who stepped into the breach to help out. Moving forward, Lamont asserted, this kind of cooperation will be imperative for the strength and resiliency of Connecticut and the New York metropolitan region at large.

The plenary panel explored concrete ways to confront the climate crisis. Cynthia Rosenzweig of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies emphasized the need for more urgency when planning for sea level rise, and Dale Byrk, New York State’s Deputy Secretary for Energy & Environment, argued that the methodology used by government to make policy should take into account the anticipated impacts of climate change. Adaptation to climate change, urged Peggy Shepard, the Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, must not neglect lower-income communities. Rit Aggarwala, Head of Urban Systems at Sidewalk Labs, spoke about the need to shift our paradigm around these issues entirely. “In a world where the climate is going to change, where the ecosystems are going to change, where doing nothing is actually catastrophic itself,” he said, “we are going to have to rethink our fundamental ideas of how we value change and its environmental impact.” The panel was moderated by Andrew Revkin, who has been reporting on climate change since the 1980s.


After a series of late morning breakout panels, RPA began the luncheon program by recognizing and thanking everyone who had been involved in getting congestion pricing passed in New York and shared a special video message from New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford.

During the luncheon program, RPA honored former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen with the John Zuccotti Award for her bold implementation of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s affordable housing policy, among other achievements. Glen, who founded the organization Women.NYC after leaving the Mayor’s office, described for the audience the long road ahead to make New York City the best place in the world for women to succeed.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti captured the audience by describing the transformative infrastructure investments Los Angeles is making. In a fireside chat with Bloomberg Associates’ Janette Sadik-Khan, Garcetti further unpacked how transportation can be used to further quality of life and economic opportunity for residents. When pushed about implementing congestion pricing in Los Angeles, Garcetti pointed out that because of LA’s many centers, any congestion pricing plan would need to capitalize on high-traffic time periods, not necessarily high-traffic locations.

Jamie Dimon closed the program with his thoughts on the importance of the public sector consistently investing in infrastructure, the way private-sector companies “invest through the downturns.” Staying ahead of infrastructure needs is necessary for this country to stay competitive. He also touched on his company’s continued investment in New York City through its new planned midtown office, and the company’s $500 million AdvancingCities initiative that is investing in solutions that bolster communities that have not traditionally benefited from economic growth within specific cities.

RPA is known for its emphasis on infrastructure. Through exploring the concept of “Investing in People and Places”, the main stage speakers at Assembly 2019 focused attention on the human costs and benefits associated with our region’s challenges. The speakers made clear that investments – whether in housing, transportation, energy or elsewhere – become meaningful once they begin supporting the needs of people and of communities.


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