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Public Improvement Commission

Last updated: 5/25/17

Public Improvement Commission

The commission owns and controls Boston’s public space. We play an important role in the City’s development and permitting.

First established in 1954, we are an independent body located in Public Works. Members of the Public Improvement Commission include:

  • the commissioner of Public Works, who acts as its chairperson
  • the commissioners of Property Management, Inspectional Services, and Transportation
  • the executive director of Boston Water and Sewer
  • the Executive Secretary, and
  • Administrative personnel.
Still have questions? Contact:
Public Works
1 City Hall Square
Room 714
Boston, MA 02201-2024
United States

If you have any questions, contact the Public Improvement Commission at 617-635-4960 or by email at

If you have more questions about permitting, contact Public Works’ Permitting Division at 617-635-4909.

Our responsibilities

If you want to use public space for your business venture, you need our approval. Our work includes many responsibilities:

  • We order the creation, repair, adjusting, or renaming of highways.
  • We call for the construction of sewers and storm drains.
  • We use eminent domain to take land for the City, except housing and off-street parking.
  • We levy taxes for betterment projects involving the street, sidewalks, and sewers.


We allow development in the following categories:

Commission actions


Line and Grade and Layout Approval

We create the right-of-way lines and characteristics of a public way (Line and Grade) and a private way (Layout). We also make sure everything is within City standards.

Discontinuance and Abandonment

We end the City’s interest in a public way (Discontinuance) or a private way (abandonment). This can be a surface, subsurface, or airspace action.

Widening and Relocation

We move right-of-way lines on a public or private roadway.


We allow the public to use the City’s public space but keep control of the property.

Specific Repairs

We add or change items, like street furniture or trees, on a public way.


We approve the use of a public way for Sidewalk Cafes, Projections (like canopies or awnings), Earth Retention Systems, Monitoring Wells, or Areaways.

Grant of Location

We give utility companies access to subsurface and overhead lines on a public way.

Street Name Change

We change the name of a roadway or structure.

Reviewing documents

We also review certain development and constructions documents under Public Works. They include:

Document Description

Site Plan

The site plan for new construction and remodeling projects needs our approval. We focus on the project’s impact on public space.

Curb Cut (Driveways)

We work with Public Works’ Permitting Division and review plans for new curbs and changes to curbs.