Public Approvals for Private Development Projects

This module will examine how the development approval process shapes large-scale private projects. Whether undertaken by market-oriented developers or mission-driven non-profit institutions, such projects are a major force in shaping cities, and an increasingly comprehensive regulatory process has arisen to address their social and environmental impacts. In balancing private rights and public interests, the public approval process often affects these projects as much as the proponent’s aspirations and market considerations. It has become, in many ways, the crucible in which planning issues are debated, competing interests are resolved and cities are forged, and yet it is rarely analyzed systematically.

The city of Boston, with its distinct physical character, highly engaged citizenry, strong investment climate, and rigorous approval process, is an excellent setting to study this process. Built projects are available for evaluation and project participants are available for class visits, both of which are key parts of the course curriculum. Course readings, lectures and class exercises emphasize the dynamic tensions underlying each aspect of the public approval process – impact reviews, discretionary approvals, public participation, mitigation and public benefits, and final approval decisions – to arrive at a conceptual framework for understanding the process in a range of settings.