Regional Plan Association announced Aug. 7 that President Robert D. Yaro will retire at the end of the year, after 25 years at the urban-planning organization. The executive committee of RPA’s board of directors has unanimously recommended that RPA Executive Director Thomas K. Wright succeed Mr. Yaro as president. Following the transition, Mr. Yaro, 64, will serve as RPA president emeritus and senior advisor, consulting on a range of policy matters.
“I have been privileged over the last quarter century to guide RPA and help address some of the New York metropolitan region’s most pressing challenges,” said Mr. Yaro. “While I will miss working with the extraordinarily talented researchers and policy experts at RPA on a daily basis, I am thrilled to be leaving the organization in the hands of someone as accomplished and visionary as Tom Wright.”
“Bob Yaro has built an extraordinary record of accomplishment at RPA, transforming the organization into a civic powerhouse whose work shapes public policy in our region and in urban areas around the world,” said RPA Chairman Elliot Sander. “The vital work he has done at RPA has laid the groundwork for the Fourth Regional Plan and played a key role in the metropolitan region’s resurgence as a global leader.”
Bob Yaro has been part of RPA’s leadership for 25 years and its president since 2001. During Yaro’s tenure, RPA has been instrumental in proposing and advocating for some of the most significant improvements in transportation, economic development and environmental sustainability in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region. Many of these projects had their roots in RPA’s Third Regional Plan, “A Region at Risk,” which Yaro shepherded in the 1990s.
The region’s biggest transportation initiatives since World War II, the 2nd Avenue Subway and the East Side Access project linking the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal, grew out of recommendations made by RPA. Under Yaro, RPA also played a role in planning for the creation of the JFK AirTrain connecting the LIRR and subway to the airport. RPA has conducted in-depth research on the Northeast rail corridor, calling attention to the dangers of deferring maintenance. And working with the organization’s civic partners, Yaro has led RPA’s continuing efforts to campaign for a new Penn Station, culminating in 2013 with a vote by the New York City Council that rejected Madison Square Garden’s bid for a permanent lease atop the transit hub.
Yaro led efforts at RPA to redevelop Manhattan’s Far West Side, laying out a vision to create the mixed-use district that became Hudson Yards. Today, a thriving business, retail and residential community is under construction, and a new subway station is scheduled to open there later this year. RPA also worked closely with Newark, N.J., Stamford, Conn., and Bridgeport, Conn., on the creation of comprehensive redevelopment plans that have revitalized these cities’ downtowns and strengthened surrounding neighborhoods.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Yaro convened the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, a broad coalition that shaped rebuilding plans for the World Trade Center and Lower Manhattan. The alliance’s public forums culminated in “Listening to the City,” bringing 5,000 New York City residents together at the Javits Center to debate rebuilding plans. Today, Lower Manhattan is thriving as a mixed-use community while the World Trade Center site redevelopment moves forward.
Parks and Open Space
During Yaro’s tenure at RPA, the organization steered key initiatives that led to the preservation of environmentally sensitive land in Long Island, upstate New York and New Jersey, protecting the water supply for millions of residents in the region. RPA also led the transformation of Governors Island from an abandoned Coast Guard base into a popular urban park.
Under Yaro’s leadership, RPA has expanded its role both nationally and around the world. He established America 2050, RPA's initiative to examine long-range infrastructure needs in the U.S. He pioneered the concept of megaregions in identifying the interdependence of large regional areas on infrastructure and natural resources. In 2012, he established the Global Lab, a joint venture with the World Bank to promote improved metropolitan planning in emerging global cities.
In 2013, Yaro initiated RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan, recognizing that while the metropolitan region has made great strides in the last two decades, major challenges threaten to derail its success.
"The New York City region and the nation are blessed to have Bob Yaro's leadership at RPA,” said Polly Trottenberg, commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation. “Bob has worked tirelessly to promote smart, sustainable infrastructure and economic growth in urban America with a rare mix of long-term vision and day-to-day pragmatism.”
Richard Ravitch, former lieutenant governor of New York and former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said, “RPA is more important today than it has ever been. As a civic institution it makes a major difference to our city. And it is a credit to the organization that this transition shows it has perfected the art of succession of leadership."
Former New Jersey Gov. James Florio, RPA vice chairman and co-chair of the New Jersey Committee, said, “Having run the State of New Jersey, I know how important it is to have an independent, expert voice advising governments in planning for the future. I congratulate Bob on his extraordinary record of accomplishment, and I know that RPA, under Tom’s leadership, will continue to play a vital role in our region’s civic affairs.”
Yaro has served on New York City's Sustainability Advisory Board, and he advised the city in creation of PlaNYC, New York's long-term sustainability plan. In 1997, he co-founded and became co-chair of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, a business-civic coalition that has advocated successfully for funding the MTA's capital programs. Yaro has served on numerous city and state commissions, including New York City's Waterfront Management Advisory Board, the blue ribbon panel on the Tappan Zee Bridge, New York State’s 2100 Commission and the state's New York Works infrastructure task force.
In addition to his role at RPA, Yaro has served as professor of practice in city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania since 2002. He also has taught at Harvard University, Columbia University and co-founded the Center for Rural Massachusetts at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Tom Wright, 45, is one of the country’s most distinguished urban policy leaders. Since joining RPA in 2001, he has shaped key policy initiatives and overseen the organization’s day-to-day operations. Previously, he was deputy executive director of the New Jersey Office of State Planning, where he oversaw the adoption of the 2001 New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan. Wright also is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and Columbia University. The full board of directors will vote on Mr. Wright's nomination at its next meeting.
“From leading major development plans to championing safe and sustainable projects, Tom has already helped shape the future of transportation in the metropolitan area,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, principal at Bloomberg Associates and former New York City Department of Transportation commissioner. “His appointment is good news for the region’s transportation agencies and for the 23 million people who call the tri-state area home.”