Public Approvals for Private Development Projects

Because most urban development is undertaken by private proponents but has important societal implications, it is subject to increasingly rigorous and often contentious public review. Administered at several levels of government, these reviews and approvals address both environmental impacts such as air and water pollution and habitat alteration, and social impacts such as mobility, density and affordable housing. They often shape private projects as much the building program and the real estate market, and can even eclipse planning as a shaper of the built world.This module will explore the legal and policy framework for the discretionary approval by public bodies of large-scale private projects. We will use Boston case study projects– market-oriented development projects and facilities for museums, hospitals and universities–to examine how the public approval process attempts to balance private rights and public interests in making development decisions. A project proponent, a public official, and a community activist will each visit the class to offer their varying perspectives. Class discussion will be emphasized. Course readings will include primary materials such as project submissions and agency decisions. Written assignments will include short class discussion assignments and a final paper which analyzes the effect of the public approval process on a built Boston project chosen by the student or student team.