What is Public Works?

Portrait of professionals and workers with crowd of business people in background
Portrait of professionals and workers with crowd of business people in background

Citizens may not comprehend how heavily public works is relied upon in their community and how much of a role they play in their day-to-day lives. Public works maintain sanitary, storm, and wastewater systems, street lighting and signal systems, equipment maintenance, and street systems maintenance.

Definition of Public Works

If you search “the definition of public works,” you will find various definitions. That’s because one size does not fit all in public works, so it is impossible to define just one definition for public works. With the department being multi-faceted and everchanging, this definition does the best at summarizing all the many aspects of public works:

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

A Look at the Structure of Public Works

Just like there can be more than one definition for “public work,” there are also different structures for public works operations. Some cities may not have public works on their organizational chart, or municipalities may not have a department called public works. Even if that is the case, there are still divisions in place to ensure communities remain in good condition, such as:

  • Administrative and Customer Service
  • Facilities Maintenance Division
  • Fleet & Equipment Maintenance Division
  • Wastewater Division
  • Engineering & Construction Division
  • Stormwater Management Division
  • And so many more!
More Than One Type of Public Works

Every community has a strategy in place to manage water, utilities, and trash collection, but there are different kinds of concepts when it comes to public works:

  1. Governmental units provide the services, own the facilities, and are funded through taxation.
  2. The private sector delivers public works services.
  3. Services are outsourced or done through a privately owned corporation- often discounted as valid public works because of private sector control.
Don’t Forget About Public Utilities

Public utilities include water, gas, electricity, telephone, mass transportation, and communication facilities. Even though they are not owned or operated by a government agency, they are still affected by public interest, so they are under some government regulation- meaning the utilities operate either under a monopoly in their markets, charge for services, or work under a license. Despite this coming across as not a cost-effective option, if a municipality did not have utilities, the public health and welfare of the community would be in danger.

Even though municipalities all operate public works differently, they all have the same goal- meeting the needs of their citizens. With such a big responsibility, public works need all the help they can get.

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