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The Public Authority

Another path to regional planning, also of 1920s origin, was the creation of authorities. An authority is an organization that is generally created by state government or in some cases by the joint action of two or more state governments. Rather than being a general purpose government like that of a town or city, it is a quasi-governmental organization with some of the usual powers of government. For example, an authority often has the power to raise money through the issuance of tax-exempt bonds. It may also have the power to take property through condemnation or to override local land-use controls. In general, it has a single task or set of tasks assigned to it. In modern administrative jargon, it is set up to be very "task oriented." Authorities were not and are not created to do general purpose planning in the sense that a regional planning agency is. However, the decisions of an authority may well shape a region and constitute planning decisions under another name.

The authority exists "at the pleasure" of the state legislature(s) that created it, and it can always, at least in principle, be abolished by the same legislative body or bodies. Its board of directors is appointed by the same legislature(s). That feature, too, constitutes a powerful element of legislative control. Yet authorities do sometimes become a force of their own and achieve a substantial degree of autonomy. Although ultimately under legislative control, authorities are much further from political control than, say, a city agency such as a public works department. They operate separately from municipal and state governments, and they are further from the reach of the voter because he or she does not vote for the board members directly. Rather, the voter votes for the legislators, who then choose the authority's board.

The first authority in the United States was the Port of New York Authority, subsequently renamed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It was created jointly by the legislatures of New York and New Jersey in 1921. As discussed in the next section of this chapter, it has been a powerful force in shaping the New York region.

The fact that both regional organizations mentioned thus far, namely the Regional Plan Association and then Port Authority of New York, were created in the New York region is not entirely coincidental. Regional planning and development efforts come into being where the disproportion between the size of the real city—the economic and social city—and the political city is great. The New York region was by far the nation's largest metropolitan area in the 1920s, and the problems of achieving coordinated action were compounded by its being a multi-state region divided by a mile wide river. It is not surprising that much of the apparatus of regional cooperation should have evolved where the need for it was greatest.

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