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What is Public Works?


 When it comes to public works, one size definitely does not fit all, so defining the term becomes problematic. Even APWA members have trouble arriving at a common definition. Because of the multi-faceted, ever-evolving nature of public works, we may never arrive at a final definition but, for now, the following definition seems appropriate:

Public works is the combination of physical assets, management practices, policies, and personnel necessary for government to provide and sustain structures and services essential to the welfare and acceptable quality of life for its citizens.



Various public works models

In the real world there is no one, ideal structure for a public works operation. Even though some public works services are considered “must haves” in every community, they may not be readily identified on a city organizational chart, or delivered in the same way, or to the same level, from one community to the next. In fact, some municipalities may not even have a department named public works.

Who Delivers the Public Works Services?

What About the Public Utilities? 

The United States has approximately 19,400 municipalities of varying sizes, and Canada is home to nearly 3,700 more. In each community, whatever its size, there are needs common to all human beings that must be met through the provision of public works services.  These needs are met on a daily basis by visionary, values-driven, and hardworking men and women who provide and sustain public works services in the best interests of their communities.

Want to know more?

Core Competencies of a Public Works Leader  
Core Responsibilities of a Public Works Leader  
Public Works Fact Sheets