Fallout: The Devastating Effects the RPA Has Had on the Tri-State and How its Reshaping the Region to Benefit the Few

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rpa blog

Something truly prophetic is happening to New Jersey.  The Garden State has lost its green.  Places that were once rural and wooded are now paved and developed.  With new development has come an increase in cost of living.  Residents must share their backyards and sidewalks with deer who take refuge in shallow woods throughout the neighborhoods.  The countryside feel that once made New Jersey so appealing to the refugees of Brooklyn and Staten Island, in many areas, no longer exist.  It seems as if a new apartment complex is going up every other day and with it comes higher taxes.  New Jersey is being urbanized on a scale never seen and despite what the suits in Trenton might say it’s not bringing economic and social growth to the communities.

The local politicians do what they always do and claim that the construction boom will bring more jobs while relieving the communities of the tax burden.  This is a simplistic view backed by nothing.  The jobs created have historically consisted of largely part-time jobs that pay minimum wage.  The talking heads of local governments claim that residents will be exempt from an increase in taxes and that that burden will fall on the new companies that set up shop in town which will then generate revenue for the townships so they can invest it into the community.  But for some strange reason taxes have continued to increase for New Jersey residents.

As for the illusion of job growth, well, it is just that.  Yes, a lot of jobs will be created but what the cackling hens of politics will not say is what kinds of jobs.  Not too many that will pay a living that is for sure.  What can be more utopian than having to work two jobs to make ends meet?  And no matter how much they raise the minimum wage it will never be able to catch up with inflation. 

In Monmouth County, a one-bedroom apartment goes for around $1,400 a month plus utilities.  Dramatically different from the $600-$800 range from a time long ago.  It’s hard to understand how someone with kids that must work as a part-timer would be able to afford a home or even rent a multiple bedroom apartment making fifteen dollars an hour but according to the powers that be…that is job growth.

As for the environment, the New York Metro area, has replaced or is in the process of replacing (depending on the area) its natural landscape with small cities.  Houses: for the most part, are no longer being built, instead luxury apartment complexes with storefronts on the bottom are the new trend.  The other trend is warehouses and fulfillment centers to meet the demands of the ecommerce industry.  Arguably, the warehousing sector would be one of the only sources for the full-time employment that is being propped up.  That said, its questionable of just how much of that industry will be replaced by automation in the not so distant future and not to mention, at least in the case of Amazon who is the dominant force in this industry, the intense labor issues confronting the workers.

New Jersey is transforming into something unrecognizable and many of its citizens are against it.  They wish to keep their hometowns as towns and not turn them into miniature New York’s.  The governments either portray it as good thing or claim to be against the building.  But either way they keep allowing developers to continue to build despite their cries of climate change and saving the environment.  Clearly there is a double standard here.

This crisis is not isolated to each individual town or county but is in fact all connected to the same entities.  Nor can it all be blamed on Staten Islanders and Brooklynites that have fled New York.  This is something that has been orchestrated and on-going for the past century.  It has been slowly building up decade after decade.  To understand the destruction of New Jersey we need to look to its neighbor New York.  While it is easy to blame over-development on New Yorkers it is never pointed out that the City of New York has gone through the same destruction that has hit New Jersey.  The two regions are connected, their fates are intertwined.  What negativity happens in New York has a domino effect that devastates its surrounding areas.  Therefore, its necessary to examine the fall of New York to understand New Jersey’s fate.

So how did New York City become the unaffordable, overcrowded, anti-small business, anti-working-class corporate kingdom it is now?  Well, it was not the hipsters as is often blamed any more than it wis Staten Islanders that are destroying the Jersey Shore.  Although in both cases they play their part, every one of us does in some way, but it is a small role at best.  No, the destroyers of once a diverse, rich city are the same culprits that are overseeing the fall of New Jersey’s Garden.  The blame can be put on a few non-profit organizations largely based out of Manhattan.  The one most responsible is the Regional Plan Association (RPA). 

The Master of Real Estate

In the early 20th Century, the Regional Plan Association, a non-profit organization, was created in New York City.  The purpose of the RPA was to provide money and urban renewal planning ideas to the city and its surrounding counties which supposedly aimed at improving the quality of life.  This would include infrastructure improvement, zoning, and construction among other things.  However, the people that would benefit from it would not be the average citizen.

The RPA is viewed as a philanthropic entity that is fighting for equality and environmental justice.  However, upon further examination one can see that many of the RPA’s plans ended up displacing residents, raising taxes and took away jobs.  To fully understand the function of the RPA one must observe its core.  The creators of the RPA would include bankers such as Dwight Morrow of J.P. Morgan, Robert De Forest, the Long Island baron and director of Jersey Central, as well as real estate titans like the Pratt family of Brooklyn and the William Sloane Coffins and Cord Meyer families of Queens, directors of the Penn and NY Centrals including NY Central director Frederick Delano, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s uncle as well as the major non-profits such as the Rockefeller and Russell Sage Foundations.  In other words, the RPA was created and made up of the Big Business elites of the day and not of anyone of the working and middle class that would end up being negatively affected by the RPA’s plans.

Nowhere is there a better critique of the Regional Plan Association than the book Assassination of New York by left-wing progressive journalist and academic Robert Fitch.  In it Fitch rightly describes how the RPA is not a progressive organization fighting for the equality of regular people but a lapdog for the capitalist dynasties of the Tri-state that uses cutthroat tactics and deceptive maneuvers to push out the blue collar industries and all lower class inhabitants and create a playground for the wealthiest class.  Fitch referred to this class as FIRE, an acronym he coined that stands for F-finance, I-insurance, RE-real estate.

This may seem conspiratorial at first but if history is to be observed one can see how true it really is.  With so many millions and billions being invested in economic, social, and environmental justice, how come it seems like things are getting worse in those areas and not better.  Once that question is asked, we can start looking past the surficial view of things and look at the subject more critically.

The First Regional Plan was created in 1929 just before the Great Depression.  Its focus would be “decentralizing” the city through the creation of highways and bridges.  Notice the term “decentralizing.”  It basically means putting people or “things” where they belong.  For example, the Long Island Expressway was created by early RPA planners to avoid the creation of mass transit which would attract employers and cause population congestion on Long Island and ruin the residential real estate. 

The early part of the plan can be attributed significantly to Robert De Forest and the Russell Sage Foundation.  De Forest: aside from being a major player in the railroad business, was also a trust and estate lawyer.  He handled the financial affairs of Mrs. Russell Sage after her husband passed.  De Forest convinced Mrs. Sage to endow the Russell Sage Foundation which he would control as Vice President and then eventually President. 

Other big money players were the Kuhn, Loeb banker Jacob Schiff who would implement the “Galveston Plan” which pertained to the transferring of poor Jewish immigrants from New York to Galveston, Texas supposedly to eliminate poverty from the Lower East Side.  The Cord Meyer family of Queens who’s Cord Meyer Development Co., ran by Charles G. Meyer was the driving force in developing central Queens.  Also, F.B. Pratt of the dynastic Pratt family in Brooklyn who created the Pratt Institute and who’s family members still sit on the board to this day.  F.B. Pratt inherited central Brooklyn from his father Charles.  They owned pieces of downtown Manhattan as well and were vice presidents of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities.

The early days of the RPA were strongly managed and funded by the Long Island barons like De Forest and the Russell Sage Foundation but by the nineteen fifties the Rockefeller family and the Ford Foundation would take a more significant role.  Their target would be the blue-collar industries including the port and the communities around them.  The removal of the port would have two benefits: one, it would free up space for more lucrative business and two, it would lower property taxes for them.  Through this the cities FIRE elite would earn major profits in real estate, save big on property taxes, and privatize the land making the city government easier to control.

Through the 1947 bill the World Trade Corporation was created which was headed by Winthrop Aldrich, chairman of Chase Bank and uncle to David and Nelson Rockefeller.  The WTC cleared out the Washington Market and move it to the Bronx, created the World Trade Center and helped to transfer control of the New York City port into the hands of the Port Authority who Fitch believed was created for the purpose of removing the port from the city.  The transfer of the port to New Jersey would not just benefit the FIRE elites of New York but also Robert De Forest who was a director of Jersey Central as well as other NJ railroad interests who owned property on the other side of the river and who had a presence on the RPA’s board.

Prior to 1958 the waterfront was filled with longshoremen, truckers, fish mongers, merchants and produce businesses.  The Rockefeller’s disposed of all that and although it was true that organized crime controlled the longshoremen instead of doing something about the city removed them altogether taking away a large sector of jobs. 

The garment industry would be another target.  It was an industry that was enlarging in the Midtown area as well as the workers residential neighborhoods.  Along the east sides waterfront lay slaughterhouses, the workers of these industries commuted from Downtown with the white-collar upper class as well as having a strong presence next to high-grade shopping centers.  Complaints by city politicians towards the garment workers went as far back as the turn of the 20th Century and led to the RPA’s 1911 Zoning Act.  Zoning was implemented to remove the poor and working classes away from the bourgeoisie of the city.  Later, as times became more progressive the RPA would take more subtle approaches like taxing the lower classes to discourage occupation around upper class areas.  They put a tax on the use of streets, use of transit facilities for its workers and put special construction requirements for its buildings.

The RPA’s plans did not just involve the removal of the blue-collar industry in Manhattan where thousands of jobs were lost but also Downtown Brooklyn as well.  For example, Brooklyn’s largest factory was moved to Virginia for the sole reason that it just so happened to be sitting on prime real estate.  The workers who were mostly made up of African Americans would lose their jobs and would be unable to move to Virginia to save them.  The United Electrical Workers (UE) tried to fight the plan but lost. 

By the time, the RPA’s Second Regional Plan came around in 1968 the emphasis had shifted from decentralization to centralization which is something that has continued to the present.  The RPA’s plans would be temporarily stalled with the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s but reboot again in the eighties.  Forty-second street would be a prime target removing the working class that was made of Irish and Puerto Ricans with the creation of the 42nd Street Plan backed by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.  Another big plan would be David Rockefeller’s Westway highway which was killed thanks to the interference of environmental activists Marcy Benstock of the Clean Air Campaign who claimed that there were errors in the environmental studies conducted by the Corps. Of Engineers but would be revived by Mario Cuomo as The Hudson River Conservancy.  David not only falsely claimed that project Westway would benefit small industries like the garment and retail businesses and was supported by and would benefit the majority of New Yorkers, but even went as far as to mock Marcy Benstock as some kind of environmental kook in his memoirs. 

In David’s Memoirs he describes just how he really felt about the average New Yorker, “On the west side, squat, low-rise buildings and warehouses built in the late nineteenth century were occupied by hundreds of stores who’s dirty windows featured hand-lettered signs for cheap electronic gadgets.  The east side was even worse.  A defunct elevated railway, slowly rusting away and home to thousands of pigeons, loomed over a neighborhood of abandoned piers and warehouses.  Just north, the Fulton Fish Market added a unique redolence to the area, especially on hot summer days.”  Memoirs pg. 389

Those “low-rise buildings” with “dirty windows” as David described were occupied by residents and business’ that people depended on.  Yes, the infrastructure needed to be updated and the buildings remodeled or even replaced altogether.  That is not the issue.  The issue is that those that lived and worked in that neighborhood were not meant to enjoy the revitalization.  They would be pushed out of their homes and lose their jobs while being replaced with skyscrapers and parks designated for those of a higher class and tourist. 

The Rockefeller’s have done a superb job at polishing their image.  No more are they looked upon as ruthless capitalist as was the founder John D. Rockefeller.  Today, the name symbolizes philanthropy and progressivism in the minds of the masses.  Those of us that take a more academic approach see this for the propaganda it is.  One needs to look no further than at their urban renewal methods.  John D. Rockefeller III cleared out 20,000 residents to create the Lincoln Center.  Thanks to David’s Downtown Lower Manhattan Association (DLMA) 30,000 people would be forced to move out of the electrical district to make way for the World Trade Center as well as 6,000 tenants for his Morningside Heights uptown.

The Rockefeller family is also well-known for being major activists against climate change.  In 2006, then Senator Jay Rockefeller attempted to get Rex Tillerson to stop financing groups that denied climate change but to no avail.  Ten years later David’s daughter Neva, wrote an op-ed for the LA Times criticizing ExxonMobil.  For several years members of the Rockefeller family have been trying to get ExxonMobil out of fossil fuels and into alternative energy sources.  The media loves to harp on this and present it as an illustration of how the Rockefeller’s are for fighting for the environment. 

What is never mentioned though is how the Rockefeller’s still have continued to be a driving force in the fossil fuel industry.  In 2016 for example, the Rockefeller Financial Services (which manages investments for wealthy clients) held owning shares in Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell.  And in 2012, Steven Rockefeller Jr., Nelson’s grandson, created the Rockefeller Oil Company and began investing in Russia’s Western Siberia.  Rockefeller Oil even bought 100% Techneftinvesta, Russia’s largest oil and gas company.

Just like the Rockefellers, the RPA portrays itself as some type of social justice warrior setting goals and policy recommendations for the Tri-State region. This could not be farther from the truth.  In sum, the RPA is putting out an assault on the common people and the environment that surrounds them by using cutthroat tactics disguised as progressivism that are targeted at property owners and the untouched land that provides a thriving ecosystem.  The average person may think this is somewhat farfetched unless you read the RPA’s plans through a critical lens.  The Fourth Regional Plan consist of terms like affordable housing, diversity, smart growth, sustainability and equity.  Words that sound progressive to hide their true intentions.  

Don’t be fooled by the euphemisms, in a 1926 memo written on the plan’s “Basic General Assumptions” it was suggested that directors “avoid use of ‘centralization and decentralization.’  Instead use terms like ‘better balance,’ distribution of building,’ ‘less friction of space.’

Let us first focus on another term the RPA likes to throw around: revitalize.  The RPA’s plans focus on several areas for revitalization.  Nassau County, Long Island, Patterson, NJ, Newburgh, NY, Newark, the Meadowlands, and several areas in New York City, among others.  Most of these areas are extremely poor and crime ridden, unappealing to any type of company to set up shop. 

The Fourth Regional Plan describes how they will revitalize these areas starting in the downtown and that they will work with community leaders to make sure that the local residents don’t get priced out and will benefit from the job growth.  They rightly bring attention to how other revitalized areas have caused gentrification and that their primary focus is making sure the community is protected and benefits most from the changes while at the same time bringing in new companies and residents.  What they fail to mention is that the gentrification caused in other areas are the results of the RPA’s own plans. 

Affordable housing is also a major talking point of the RPA.  They push for towns and cities to build a certain amount of affordable housing units.  This is another charade.  Often these “affordable homes” cost eighteen-hundred dollars a month for a one-bedroom. 

In New York for example, many residents in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn were evicted, priced out or had their property taken from them by way of eminent domain.  This was all thanks to the scheming of the RPA.  Yet, New Yorkers and New Jersians are supposed to believe that not only was the RPA, the city’s largest urban planning organization, not involved in gentrification but is going to restructure these new targeted areas in a way that will benefit the locals.  It is obvious that the kings of urban renewal don’t view regular people as very intelligent.

Charging to Drive

Another part of the Fourth Regional Plan is the so-called fight against climate change.  The Fourth Regional Plan is chalk full of rhetoric regarding greenhouse gases and sustainability.  One of the recommendations that are being pushed by the RPA is to charge people for driving.  The goal is to track people wherever they go no matter which road they use.  They will be able to do this by using methods known as Vehicle-Miles Travelled (VMT) and Miles-Based User Fee (MBUF).  These methods will utilize “GPS and cellular technology,” and generate “enough revenue to fill the gaps in transportation budgets in all three states, as well as pay for upgrades and expansion projects.”

They also recommend adjusting fees to “influence travel behavior, reduce unnecessary driving, and encourage other ways of getting around (like biking or taking the bus).  Fees can be set higher or lower based on capacity, vehicle weight, or fuel efficiency.”

The RPA constantly contradicts itself by saying that most of the cost to fight greenhouse gas emissions will come from the market and that consumers would be protected from the bulk of the cost.  However, they go on to admit that consumers would be affected by an increase in home heating fuel prices.  The RPA wishes to discourage people from driving through subtle policy changes like charging people for driving too much through one of their GPS tracking methods which is also an invasion of privacy, raising the gas tax and hiking the tolls while also creating new ones like on the bridges of the inner boroughs of New York City(the toll on the Verrazano Bridge was the work of the RPA.)  This is similar to the taxing of the blue-collar industries in Midtown to encourage relocating. 

The goal here is to get people off the roads and onto mass transit, a bike or walk all for the sake of fighting climate change. This would explain why there are so many bike lanes in New York. Interesting coming from people that have caused and still are causing massive inequality and environmental destruction.  It is never the government or big corporations, who are causing all the issues, that need to take responsibility, its always the middle and working class that must be punished. 

Destroying the Environment to Save the Environment

Another big topic of the Fourth Regional Plan is land preservation.  The RPA keeps emphasizing on preserving farmland and woods.  However, their actions say otherwise.  Keep in mind that it was thanks to the RPA’s past planning that so many New Yorkers fled the city.  High taxes, rent and eviction pushed everyone to the suburbs which was cause for more building.  

The RPA supports the establishing of state programs and non-profit land trusts like “New York’s Environmental Protection Fund, New Jersey’s Green Acres, and Connecticut’s acquisition program.”  According to the RPA “this would lead to preservation of the most fertile and economically viable farmland; forests that absorb carbon and clean the air; and trails that connect communities to nature and allow species to migrate as the environment changes.”

On the surface this sounds as if the RPA is doing the right thing by backing organizations that claim to be protecting the environment and fighting deforestation.  And yet, with all their money and resources deforestation is happening on a such a massive scale throughout the region.  The RPA further pushes the idea of organizing “a coalition to promote a regional trail network.”

The goal of this “regional network” is to put “almost nine million people within a half-mile of a trail-trails that would connect to over 70,000 acres of protected and/or publicly owned spaces.”  Connecting trails to many towns throughout the region may seem like a good idea until one realizes how artificial it is.  It seems as if their destroying most of the land and leaving a small percentage of it to use as parks.  This is not the first time the RPA has put so much emphasis on parks.  Afterall, it was De Forest and the Cord Meyers that created many of the parks in Queens which conveniently separated the lower-class neighborhoods from that of the more affluent like Bayside and Nassau County.  As Fitch states, “the park is thus the modern planning equivalent of the medieval moat, protecting the barons’ castles.”

In neighborhoods there may be woods in-between cul-de-sacs but its shallow with not much room for wildlife to live and roam.  At the rate developers are tearing down woods and building over farmland these interconnected trails do not seem much different.  In fact, the way the RPA makes it sound these nature trails might as well be Disney World.   “The network would also pass through 287 of the region’s municipalities, opening up economic-development opportunities around tourism, recreation, and hospitality.”  This is the illusion of nature, space, and freedom. 

It all seems green until your bumping into a couple taking a photo and spot the condos peeking out past the trees.  These trail networks seem to represent more of economic and resort hubs than anything resembling nature.  This should be expected given the amount of corporate and banking entities that not only sit on the RPA’s board but also on other so-called land preservation organizations working with the RPA such as the Trust for Public Land and Scenic Hudson which “can play an important role in prioritizing open-space acquisition or securing easements for lands that contribute to the network.”  More than likely these bankers, CEO’s and hedge fund managers that dominate the board of these environmental organizations will profit extensively from this trail network and all the real estate, business and tourism industries that come with it.

Emphasis on Smart Growth

 It is also a goal of the RPA to implement smart growth which revolves around another key word: mixed-use development, which is a type of urban planning/zoning that combines residential apartments with commercial and entertainment sectors.  Building homes is no longer sustainable according to the Fourth Regional Plan.  Young people can no longer afford to buy houses and plus it would not be inclusive for those that cannot afford them.  Instead of trying to fix the economic issues facing the future generations which was largely caused by the too big to fail banks, its more appropriate to just jam everyone in a single area. 

Also, it is desired that those that live in existing homes rent rooms for family members or other people.  Those with second homes that aren’t their primary address such as beach or countryside houses for the summer should rent them out or sell them to a first time low-income home buyer for a low price or face being hit with a surcharge.  Also, thanks to the fear of another Hurricane Sandy happening again those that live in certain areas on the shore will eventually be encouraged to move or face a surcharge on their property-casualty insurance premiums.  This even though hurricanes are not unique to New Jersey or consistent. 

Moreover, these new smart communities are to be placed on the highways where there are bus routes, making a trip to the bus walkable.  Warehouses and fulfillment centers are to be built in more wooded areas away from the commercial/residential locations, so residencies and shopping centers do not lose their appeal.  This is exactly what is being done in Monmouth County where woods are being cut down in biblical proportions.  Wildlife is being replaced with those same warehouses and smart growth communities as well as backroads being expanded.  This is right out of the RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan. 

Observing the neighborhood before and after pictures on the Fourth Regional Plan’s webpage one sees the before picture as how it is now with a wide road and cars on the street and space in- between houses.  The after picture shows homes extended with small micro apartments added on, a narrow road with what looks to be some kind of small transportation vehicle and all around residents are hanging out together.

Conclusion

Bottom line.  The Regional Plan Association is not the knight and shining armor that it pretends to be.  To this day it is still made up with bankers, real estate tycoons and other corporate elites like the RPA’s Vice Chair Douglas Durst of the New York real estate dynasty, the Durst family and Chairman of Durst Organization and Jason Post who sits as the Chair of Communications Committee and is Director of Global Communications and Public Affairs at Google, Inc.  It is no wonder why theirs so much push for smart growth, GPS tracking and data collecting on drivers and fulfillment centers when there is someone from Google sitting on the RPA’s board. 

Furthermore, they are still funded by the same non-profits such as the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among others.  A lot of criticism has been said about the RPA in this article however, they are not the all-powerful cult that it may sound like.  As Fitch referred to them, the RPA is just a bulletin board for what the people funding them want.  That is, the non-profit organizations mentioned that gave birth to the RPA and has continued to guide them throughout the years and up to the present.

If real change is to occur whether it be in New York or New Jersey or anywhere else it must come from the people that live in those towns, boroughs, and neighborhoods.  Who sits on your town council?  Or your county board?  Is it someone that represents you or the RPA?  That is key: getting involved in your community and knowing who’s who.  Residents may be surprised to find that some of their representatives are pets of big non-profits.  If your council is not doing what’s best for you then maybe it’s time for you to get involved.  The residents are the ones that are going to have to live with the results not the billionaires that have multiple mansions spread out across the globe isolated from any common folk and who appear to be exempt from the policies that are implemented thanks to the recommendations of the Regional Plan Association. 

Bibliography:

David Rockefeller, Memoirs (New York, NY, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003).

Gerard Colby with Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done The Conquest of The Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (Open Road Media, 2017).

Regional Plan Board of Directors: https://rpa.org/about/board

Robert Fitch, The Assassination of New York (London, WIV, New York, NY, Verso, 1993).

The Fourth Regional Plan: https://rpa.org/work/reports/the-fourth-regional-plan

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