As an agency concerned with urban planning, the BPDA does not consider requests for zoning variances from individual property owners. These are heard by the city's own Zoning Board of Appeals, a seven-person body appointed by the Mayor of Boston.
Some consider the BPDA's roles as both real estate owner and developer, and approval authority over private development projects, to be a conflict of interest.
One of the first projects the BRA took on was the demolition of the West End of Boston, in an infamous urban renewal project that generated a considerable negative reaction locally and across the country. At the same time, nineteenth-century buildings around Scollay Square were demolished to make way for the new Government Center. Many consider the finished project (which includes Boston City Hall) an eyesore, and the surrounding large brick plaza as an uncomfortable place to be. Another urban renewal project was the Prudential Tower development over the Boston and Albany Railroad right-of-way in Back Bay; as part of this project, Mechanics Hall on Huntington Avenue was taken by the city using eminent domain and demolished in 1959.
The BRA is currently collaborating with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy on various development projects such as the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which is being developed atop the Big Dig and is opening up the waterfront to pedestrians. The BRA owns real estate throughout the city and together with community participation through planning initiatives, issues Requests for Proposals as part of the land disposition process in order to achieve neighborhood-based community development goals. Another example of the BRA's work involves collaboration with the State Coastal Zone Management Department for waterfront planning and redevelopment of privately owned and MassPort-owned properties. An example of municipal harbor planning involves the "East Boston Municipal Harbor Plan" where properties of varied ownership along the waterfront are currently being developed and Fort Point Channel development.
The BRA has also undertaken improvements on Columbia Road in Dorchester, a narrow stretch of green space that Frederick Law Olmsted once envisioned as The Dorchesterway, the final link in the Emerald Necklace park system.