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In this section we discuss three institutional approaches to planning at the metropolitan level: the authority, the regional planning agency, and the Council of Governments. Although they are separate approaches, they have many points in common.

The need for metropolitan-area planning was recognized at least as far back as the turn of the twentieth century. Recall that the 1909 Plan for the City of Chicago contained regional elements for both transportation and open space. However, the first big surge of interest in regional planning came in the 1920s. The primary cause was the huge increase in automobile ownership that occurred during the 1920s and the related growth of the suburbs. As the compact city of the nineteenth century gave way to the metropolitan area of the twentieth century, the need for metropolitan-area planning became evident, particularly in regard to transportation and utilities.

One response to this need was the regional planning agency. One of the first, and probably the best known, of these organizations was the Regional Plan Association in New York. The plan, described in Chapter 3, covered more than 5,000 square miles in three states: New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. By the end of the 1920s, there were about 15 regional plans in the United States. Many of them, like the plan for the New York region, were done entirely under private auspices. Such plans had absolutely no official sanction or any force of law. They affected the region only to the extent that they influenced the opinions of public officials and their constituents. Other regional plans of the period were governmentally chartered and funded, so they had a certain statutory relationship to the political establishment. But even then, the power of such a group was essentially only the power of persuasion, since it is only the legislative and executive branches of states and municipalities that can make laws and appropriate monies.

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