A central issue for the New York City Charter – from the consolidation of Greater New York City a century ago until today – has been the question of scale. Or perhaps I should say the questions of scale. There really have been two questions: Is New York City large enough to deal with problems of regional scope? Does New York City have the necessary mechanisms to deal with problems that are of sublocal scope? In other words, can the City of New York provide both the regional and local governance New Yorkers need?
The creation of Greater New York was driven largely by regional concerns. Greater New York was established to create one government large enough to deal with the regional issues of economic development, land improvement, infrastructure finance, port and harbor development, and transportation. Greater New York was to provide a regional government that matched the regional scale of the area's economy and pattern of development. Greater New York did not include the entire New York region. Given the constraints of federalism, the inclusion of the communities on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River was never a serious possibility. But the consolidated city was of substantial territorial scope, including farms, open space, countryside, and villages, as well as the principal cities of the region.
As a regional government, Greater New York had considerable success. Consolidation was followed by the rapid development of the Bronx and Queens, and the construction of new physical infrastructure and improvements, including streets, sidewalks, electric lighting, and rapid transit. The crushing density of population in lower Manhattan was relieved by the development of upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs. For the next fifty years, much of New York City's "suburban" growth occurred within the city's boundaries. Brooklyn grew by 135 %, peaking at 2.3 million people in 1950. The Bronx grew by an astronomical 625 % to 1.5 million people in 1950. Queens exploded by 1200 percent, before finally peaking at 2 million people in 1970. Staten Island, which had just 67,000 people at the turn of the century, is still growing as it approaches a population of 400,000. Thus, as a result of consolidation, the city retained a considerable portion of the tax base resulting from economic and demographic growth within its boundaries.
The New York City Charter and the Question of Scale,
N. Y. L. Sch. L. Rev.
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