The State of New Jersey Office for Planning Advocacy (OPA) recently unveiled Gov. Chris Christie’s vision for a new State Strategic Job Growth Plan. The draft plan completely revamps the state plan that was adopted a decade ago. New Jersey’s landscape has changed a lot since then: 243,000 housing units have been added; New Jersey’s population has grown by 377,000; and over 30 percent of New Jersey’s 5 million acres have become suburbanized. Meanwhile, our cities have continued to lose population.
The last state plan disappointed almost everyone — planners, developers, municipalities, and environmentalists. It contained much in the way of aspirational language but had limited impact — only 17 of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities achieved consistency with the plan, known as “plan endorsement.” Incentives were few and state agencies, for the most part, didn’t change the way they did business to support state plan implementation.
The new plan has the potential to change all that. It sets forth four goals: targeted economic growth, effective planning for vibrant regions, preservation and enhancement of critical state resources, and tactical alignment of government. It proposes “guiding principles for state decision-making”: predictability, spatial efficiency, leveraging assets, sustainability, and institutionalizing change.
The plan is paired with an executive order signed by Christie on October 19, creating a State Strategic Plan Steering Committee. The committee, to be headed by the lieutenant governor, is intended to align state agency investments, regulations, and policies with the new plan.
The plan hinges upon the formation of “priority industry clusters”: geographic regions designed to support targeted growth industries. This is a concept that PlanSmart NJ, an advocate for state planning and sustainable economic growth, has long championed. To thrive, these industries need infrastructure investment; livable, mixed-use communities with housing opportunities in close commuting distance from work; and a synergistic relationship with higher education institutions.
This new state plan sets priorities and recognizes the essential relationship between economic vitality and quality of life here in New Jersey. To ensure effective and balanced implementation, however, some additional steps need to be taken. For the plan to truly succeed here in New Jersey, here are some measures that PlanSmart NJ believes should be implemented before its adoption next year:
Christie’s new state plan is poised to transform our planning systems to provide state agency alignment and foster strong regional economies. With the adoption of the changes proposed above, we are confident that it can do even more to support economic growth, protect New Jersey’s environment, and foster livable communities for years to come.