The Urban Design (UD) department is responsible for crafting and executing a beautiful, human-scale, and inclusive vision for the design of the built environment across Boston. We champion the transformative power of sustainable, walkable communities that support social, mental, and physical health while improving resiliency and promoting equity. Every day, the multidisciplinary urban design team faces the challenge of balancing the City's historic qualities and contemporary architecture, be it a small porch addition in Roslindale or a downtown high rise. The UD Department also exists to ensure that the public realm which includes streets, sidewalks, open spaces, and ground floors are designed to enrich public life and contribute to Boston's reputation as a walkable city.
Role in the Agency
The Urban Design Department is a pivotal part of the City of Boston and works closely with the Planning, Real Estate and Development Review Divisions. Urban Design provides input and informs planning studies by contributing key urban design principles as well as by helping determine the appropriate densities, heights, and characteristics of an area. The Urban Design Department also plays a crucial role in the development process by shaping individual building projects through design review required through Article 80, Zoning Board of Appeal, and management of the Boston Civic Design Commission processes.
The department has been organized with two divisions, Design and Design Review. Together the divisions work towards delivering an integrated, comprehensive and streamlined process that centers design excellence and implementation.
The Design Division is responsible for working in close collaboration with the Planning Department and across city cabinets to advance solutions that support better design outcomes for our communities. Areas of expertise include:
Urban Design Studies
The Urban Design department leads design studies, working with the Planning Division and other City departments. These design studies and analyses inform Planning and Zoning initiatives, parcel dispositions, City projects, and other initiatives.
The BPDA is home to a 1:40 inch scale, physical, basswood model of the downtown and portions of the Innovation District, Charlestown, North End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay. It was started in the 1980s and is kept current by an in-house full time model builder. The model is used to study planning and development options within this area as well as to describe the city to visitors.
Design Review Division
The Design Review Division is responsible for guiding projects through the regulatory frameworks identified in our zoning code for design review. The team plays a crucial role in the development process by shaping projects through design review.. Areas of expertise include:
The Design Review department plays a key role in interagency design review for Article 80 large and small project review, Zoning Board of Appeals, and institutional planning. The department also offers comprehensive sign review, providing small and large businesses the opportunity to work with BPDA Urban Design staff to tailor their specific business’s signage needs.
Public Realm Review
As part of design review, the BPDA provides landscape design review, which assists with site layout, grading and drainage, site accessibility, planting selections, site material selections, relevance of the proposed site design to the proposed building, and compliance with the Boston Complete Streets Initiative.
The BPDA Landscape architects acts as liaisons to the Public Improvement Commission (PIC).
Sustainability and Resilience Review
To advance the City's resiliency and carbon emissions reduction goals, and in accordance with Article 37 and Article 25A of the zoning code, Urban Design staff conduct sustainability and resilience review of development projects.
Boston Zoning Code Article 37 Green Buildings ensures that major building projects are planned, designed, constructed, and managed to minimize adverse environmental impacts; conserve natural resources; promote a more sustainable city; and enhance the quality of life in Boston.
Boston Zoning Code Article 25A Coastal Flood Resilience Overlay District (CFROD) works to protect persons and structures from the adverse effects of sea level rise and storm surge associated with climate change.
Diana Fernandez Bibeau, Deputy Chief of Urban Design
Meera Deean, Deputy Director for Design
Seth Riseman, Deputy Director for Design Review
For more information, please contact Diana Fernandez Bibeau, Deputy Chief of Urban Design.