In 1936, New York City adopted a new city charter, creating the City Planning Commission and charging it with drafting a master plan that would “provide for the improvement of the city and its future growth and development and afford adequate facilities for the housing, transportation, distribution, comfort, convenience, health and welfare of its population.”
Somehow, the commission never got around to producing this master plan, but the next version of the charter, in 1961, was even more ambitious, adding “business,” “industry” and “recreation” to the list of “adequate and appropriate” facilities to be included in the plan. Mayor John Lindsay, elected in 1965, was determined to produce a plan as called for by the charter; in 1969, the Plan for New York City was released as a draft in six volumes.
This mighty master-planning process produced nothing of much consequence. Certainly, there was a splendid Mass Transit Program, but little of it was ever built. There was also an Arterial Highways Program, but little of that was built, either. Most of the plan was merely descriptive of the city; little was suggested of the wrenching social and economic changes the city was about to undergo. The plan was never adopted. In the next major charter revision, in 1975, the requirement for a master plan was deleted.
Eric Kober is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He retired in 2017 as director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning. Follow him on Twitter here.
This piece was adapted from City Journal.
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