Urban Projects and the Development Approval Process

Course Description and Objectives:Large-scale development projects in American cities typically require a series of approvals from municipal, state and occasionally federal boards and agencies. These development approvals relate to almost every aspect of project design, ranging from the shadow impacts of alternative massing schemes to the location of loading entrances. The increasingly rigorous development approval process influences project design at least as much as the building program, the client\’s aspirations and market considerations. Because it has perhaps the most demanding approval process of any American city, Boston provides an excellent laboratory in which to observe the effects of this process on project design, and, by extension, on urban form. Using several noteworthy large-scale Boston projects as case studies, the course will review primary materials such as press accounts, agency regulations, project permit submissions and agency decisions, combined with class visits by regulators, developers, activists and consultants involved in case study Boston projects. The course will examine the underlying public policy concerns which the development approval process seeks to address; the ground rules for the functioning of public review bodies; the role of public participation in the development approval process; and the role of the project developer and the development team in shaping the outcome of development approvals. The course will explore the influence of the development approval process on the final physical form of projects and will conclude with an analysis of successes and failures in responding to issues raised in the approval process.The course is intended for students in urban planning, urban design, architecture and landscape architecture. While there are no prerequisites, a basic familiarity with zoning and other land-use regulation will be helpful. To facilitate class discussion and presentation of case study projects (see Section 3 below), enrollment will be limited to 20 students.Course Organization:Each three-hour class session will consist of a discussion topic, followed by a guest speaker or speakers and/or presentation of a specific project. Course Readings and Requirements:Course readings will include press accounts and selected zoning and regulatory materials on Boston projects and development controversies provided by the instructor; and project permit submissions, impact reports and agency decisions for specific Boston projects obtained by the student from public agencies. The course grade will be based on: (1) class participation; (2) a final paper – no more than six pages long if by an individual student, and no more than 10 pages long if by a student team – analyzing the influence of the development approval process on the final design of a specific project, chosen by the student or student team, based upon a review of environmental impact reports and other project submissions and final approval decisions; and (3) a presentation of the project to the class.