The first major wave of planning for metropolitan areas occurred in the 1920s. The primary force behind it was the great increase in automobile ownership and the related increase in suburbanization. As the area of urbanization spilled out of municipal boundaries, the need for planning at an intermunicipal level became apparent.
In the 1920s two types of organization appeared in response to this need. One was the regional planning agency, of which the best known was the Regional Plan Association (RPA) in the New York metropolitan area. Some agencies, like the RPA, were entirely private organizations with no official aegis at all. Others were created by legislative act. But in either case regional planning agencies had no power to implement. Instead, they existed purely to advise, with implementation left entirely to the governments of the region. The second type of organization that appeared in the 1920s was the authority. These were organizations created by state legislatures with a definite mission (in transportation, utilities, and the like), and with some, but not all, of the powers of government. Although authorities were not specifically "tasked" with overall metropolitan-area planning, decisions they made about public infrastructure often turned out to be major planning decisions. In the postWorld War II period, a third instrument for cooperation at the intermuncipal level appeared. This was the Council of Governments (COG). Today there are about 450 COGs in the United States, and most municipalities in the United States belong to one. Some belong to more than one. The growth of COGs was promoted in large measure by the federal government's regional planning requirements for funding bills in transportation, urban redevelopment, environmental improvement, and social services.
This chapter concludes with three case studies: the evolution of regional planning in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, the origins and growth of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the history of the Atlanta Regional Commission.