Urban engineering
Municipal or urban engineering applies the tools of science, art and engineering in an urban environment.


Municipal engineering is concerned with municipal
A municipality is essentially an urban administrative division having corporate status and usually powers of self-government. It can also be used to mean the governing body of a municipality. A municipality is a general-purpose administrative subdivision, as opposed to a special-purpose district...

Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function...

. This involves specifying, designing, constructing, and maintaining streets
Streets are the plural of street, a type of road.Streets or The Streets may also refer to:* The Streets, alias of Mike Skinner, a British rapper* Streets , a rock band fronted by Kansas vocalist Steve Walsh...

, sidewalks, water supply networks, sewer
Sanitary sewer
A sanitary sewer is a separate underground carriage system specifically for transporting sewage from houses and commercial buildings to treatment or disposal. Sanitary sewers serving industrial areas also carry industrial wastewater...

s, street light
Street light
A street light, lamppost, street lamp, light standard, or lamp standard is a raised source of light on the edge of a road or walkway, which is turned on or lit at a certain time every night. Modern lamps may also have light-sensitive photocells to turn them on at dusk, off at dawn, or activate...

ing, municipal solid waste
Municipal solid waste
Municipal solid waste , commonly known as trash or garbage , refuse or rubbish is a waste type consisting of everyday items we consume and discard. It predominantly includes food wastes, yard wastes, containers and product packaging, and other miscellaneous inorganic wastes from residential,...

 management and disposal, storage depots for various bulk materials used for maintenance and public works (salt, sand, etc.), public parks
Urban park
An urban park, is also known as a municipal park or a public park, public open space or municipal gardens , is a park in cities and other incorporated places to offer recreation and green space to residents of, and visitors to, the municipality...

 and bicycle paths
Segregated cycle facilities
Segregated cycle facilities are marked lanes, tracks, shoulders and paths designated for use by cyclists from which motorised traffic is generally excluded...

. In the case of underground utility
Public utility
A public utility is an organization that maintains the infrastructure for a public service . Public utilities are subject to forms of public control and regulation ranging from local community-based groups to state-wide government monopolies...

 networks, it may also include the civil portion (conduits and access chambers) of the local distribution networks of electrical and telecommunications services. It can also include the optimizing of garbage
Municipal solid waste
Municipal solid waste , commonly known as trash or garbage , refuse or rubbish is a waste type consisting of everyday items we consume and discard. It predominantly includes food wastes, yard wastes, containers and product packaging, and other miscellaneous inorganic wastes from residential,...

 collection and bus service
Public transport bus service
Bus services play a major role in the provision of public transport. These services can take many forms, varying in distance covered and types of vehicle used, and can operate with fixed or flexible routes and schedules...

 networks. Some of these disciplines overlap with other civil engineering specialties, however municipal engineering focuses on the coordination of these infrastructure networks and services, as they are often built simultaneously (for a given street or development project), and managed by the same municipal authority.


Modern municipal engineering finds its origins in the 19th-century United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, following the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 and the growth of large industrial cities. The threat to urban populations from epidemics of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhus lead to the development of a profession devoted to "sanitary science" that later became "municipal engineering".

A key figure of the so-called "public health movement" was Edwin Chadwick
Edwin Chadwick
Sir Edwin Chadwick KCB was an English social reformer, noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health...

, author of the parliamentary report "The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population", published in 1842.

Early British legislation included:
  • Burgh Police Act 1833 - powers of paving, lighting, cleansing, watching, supplying with water and improving their communities.
  • Municipal Corporations Act 1835
    Municipal Corporations Act 1835
    The Municipal Corporations Act 1835  – sometimes known as the Municipal Reform Act, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed local government in the incorporated boroughs of England and Wales...

  • Public Health Act 1866
    Public Health Act 1866
    The Public Health Act 1866 was an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. The Act allowed the formation of drainage districts and enabled the provision of better house drainage. The second part of the Act dealt with nuisances and stated that it was the duty of councils to locate nuisances and...

     – formation of drainage boards
  • Public Health Act 1875
    Public Health Act 1875
    The Public Health Act 1875 was established in the United Kingdom to combat filthy urban living conditions, which caused various public health threats, including the spread of many diseases such as cholera and typhus. Reformers wanted to resolve sanitary problems, because sewage was flowing down the...

     known at the time as the Great Public Health Act

This legislation provided local authorities with powers to undertake municipal engineering projects and to appoint borough surveyors (later known as "municipal engineers").

In the U.K, the Association of Municipal Engineers, (subsequently named Institution of Municipal Engineers), was established in 1874 under the encouragement of the Institution of Civil Engineers, to address the issue of the application of sanitary science. By the early 20th century, Municipal Engineering had become a broad discipline embracing many of the responsibilities undertaken by local authorities, including roads, drainage, flood control, coastal engineering, public health, waste management, street cleaning, water supply, sewers, waste water treatment, crematoria, public baths, slum clearance, town planning, public housing, energy supply, parks, leisure facilities, libraries, town halls and other municipal buildings.

In the UK, the development of different strands of knowledge necessary for the management of municipal infrastructure led to the emergence of separate specialised institutions, including:
  • For drainage: Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, 1895
  • For town planning: Town Planning Institute 1914 … subsequently becoming the Royal Town Planning Institute
  • For street lighting: Association of Public Lighting Engineers, 1934…subsequently becoming the Institution of Lighting Engineers
  • For highway engineering: Institution of Highways and Transportation, 1930
  • For public housing: Institute of Housing, 1931

In 1984 the Institution of Municipal Engineers merged with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Since the 1970s, there has been a global trend toward increasing privatisation and outsourcing of municipal engineering services.

In the UK in the 1990s a change in management philosophy brought the demise of the traditional organisational structure of boroughs where the three functions of town clerk, borough treasurer and borough engineer were replaced by an administrative structure with a larger number of specialised departments.

In the late 1990s and early 21st century there was increasing dissatisfaction over what was perceived to be fractured and dysfunctional public services designed along narrow specialties. A more holistic approach to urban engineering began to emerge as an alternative concept. Critics of the specialised approach included the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment
Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment
The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment was an executive non-departmental public body of the UK government, established in 1999. It was funded by both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government.-Function:CABE was the...

 that complained that the specialised approach to management of the public realm focussed too much on the on efficient movement of vehicles rather than the more general interests of local communities.

Professional practice

In the United Kingdom there is no longer any formal professional qualification in municipal engineering although there are degree courses available in urban engineering.

A professional certificate in Urban Engineering is available from through the Institution of Incorporated Engineers via the Public Realm Information and Advice Network.

The British Institution of Civil Engineers
Institution of Civil Engineers
Founded on 2 January 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers is an independent professional association, based in central London, representing civil engineering. Like its early membership, the majority of its current members are British engineers, but it also has members in more than 150...

 (ICE) caters to practitioners employed in the public sector, private consultancy and academia through its Proceedings Journal Municipal Engineer. The journal, first published in 1873, has a global scope and covers the whole life cycle of municipal services addressing technical, political and community issues . In addition an
Expert Panel responds on behalf of ICE to Government consultations and is represented on the International Federation of Municipal Engineering.

International Organisation

The International Federation of Municipal Engineering (IFME) is an organisation comprising professional municipal engineers from all round the world. IFME's mission is to connect municipal engineers, public works professionals, public agencies, institutions and businesses around the world in order that they can share a global pool of knowledge and experience. The aim is to foster continued improvement in the quality of public works and wider community services.

The inaugural meeting was held in 1960 at the UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 headquarters in Paris. Membership has grown steadily and in 2009 comprised representatives from national associations in: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Israel, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Southern Africa (South Africa, Botawana, Namibia & Zimbabwe), Sweden, UK (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland) and USA. Belgium and San Marino are presently Corresponding Members.

Related engineering disciplines

Municipal or urban engineering combines elements of environmental engineering
Environmental engineering
Environmental engineering is the application of science and engineering principles to improve the natural environment , to provide healthy water, air, and land for human habitation and for other organisms, and to remediate polluted sites...

, water resources engineering and transport engineering
Transport engineering
Transportation engineering is the application of technology and scientific principles to the planning, functional design, operation and management of facilities for any mode of transportation in order to provide for the safe, rapid, comfortable, convenient, economical, and environmentally...


Relationship to urban design or urban planning

Today, municipal engineering may be confused with urban design
Urban design
Urban design concerns the arrangement, appearance and functionality of towns and cities, and in particular the shaping and uses of urban public space. It has traditionally been regarded as a disciplinary subset of urban planning, landscape architecture, or architecture and in more recent times has...

 or urban planning
Urban planning
Urban planning incorporates areas such as economics, design, ecology, sociology, geography, law, political science, and statistics to guide and ensure the orderly development of settlements and communities....

. Whereas the urbanist or urban planner may design the general layout of streets and public places, the municipal engineer is concerned with the detailed design. For example, in the case of the design of a new street, the urbanist may specify the general layout of the street, including landscaping, surface finishings and urban accessories, but the municipal engineer will prepare the detailed plans and specifications for the roads, sidewalks, municipal services and street lighting. However Municipal Engineering as practiced a century ago fully embraced the function of urban design and urban planning, even though the terms had yet to be coined.

See also

  • The French School of Urban Engineering
    Ecole des ingenieurs de la Ville de Paris
    The École des ingénieurs de la ville de Paris is the only French « Grande Ecole d'Ingenieurs»,with an emphasis on urban engineering. Supportedby the City of Paris, this higher education school is amember of the PRES Paris-Est, along with the Ecole des Ponts....


Index to the Proceedings of the Institution of Municipal Engineers, from 1874

The municipal and sanitary engineer's handbook (1883)
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