Urban Design

Department Mission

Urban design is the art and science of shaping a city's public realm. That realm is collectively comprised of public spaces, the activities that occur within them, and the buildings that frame them.  The role of the BPDA's Urban Design (UD) department is to ensure that the urban design principles that define Boston’s unique character are widely promoted and embedded in the planning and redevelopment projects in the city. Every day, UD's multi disciplined staff faces the challenge of honoring the City's historic character while promoting contemporary development.

Role in the Agency

The UD department is pivotal to both the Planning and the Development departments of the Boston Planning & Development Agency.  UD's input informs planning studies by contributing key urban design principles as well as by providing visualization tools to help 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 Article 80 and Zoning Board of Appeal design review. Throughout the planning and development processes, urban design staff help to proactively guide future development by actively leading or participating in the discussion. UD ensures that there is a balance between contemporary architecture and Boston's historical context, be it a small porch addition in Roslindale or a downtown high-rise.  Design review also exists to ensure that the public realm of streets, sidewalks, open spaces, and ground plane are designed to enrich public life and Boston’s reputation as a walking city.


The size of the department is intentionally small and its organization relatively flat. This ensures efficiency and promotes individual responsibility and initiative.  The department is structured around individuals or small teams with the following specific areas of expertise and accountability:

For more information, please contact Michael Cannizzo, Deputy Director for Urban Design, or Meera Deean, Assistant Deputy Director for Urban Design.

Design Review and Studies

The design review function of the UD department plays a key role in the interagency review team for Article 80 large and small project review, Zoning Board of Appeals, and institutional planning.  Along with Design Review, Urban Design 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.

If you are a developer looking to begin the development review process, please find information in the Development Review Guidelines.

Landscape Design

The BPDA Design Review 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 Staff Landscape Architect acts as a liaison to Public Improvement Commission and provides review and coordination support to public-private Partnerships developed with established business associations and improvement districts with the intent of beautifying important retail districts throughout the City.

Green/Sustainability Initiatives

The UD department leads sustainability  and green building initiatives within the BPDA.  Working across departments within the BPDA, the City of Boston’s Environment & Energy, Public Works, Transportation, and Neighborhood Development departments. Urban Design staff advances policies and practices to make Boston more sustainable.

Model Building

The BPDA is home to a 1:40 inch scale, physical, bass wood model of the downtown and portions of Innovation District, Charlestown, North End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay. It was started in the 1980’s 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 to the BPDA and the city.

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