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Overview

This unit is responsible for designing city streets and highways, designing and constructing city bridges, and performing all surveying functions of the city, including furnishing lines and grades, preparing maps, plans, land, and street opening records.

Developer's Checklist for Plan Specifications
City-Owned Bridge Database
Map of Districts

The History of the Survey Bureau can be traced to the City's founding and William Penn, who recognized the need and advanced the idea that the City of Philadelphia should develop through a controlled system of planning and surveying. The earliest legislation providing for controlled surveying in the City of Philadelphia was the Act of 1710, passed by the Colonial Assembly over 300 years ago. This Act and several subsequent Acts created the position of Surveyors and Regulators and provided them with the power to "regulate party walls, building foundations and partition fences in the City of Philadelphia."

Penn's original City, as described in the Charter of 1701, provided that the bounds should extend in the narrowest part of the peninsula between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers bounded on the north by Vine Street and on the south by Cedar Street (now South Street). This was the original Corporation. As the City grew in population and developed geographically, the surrounding areas were incorporated into Districts with separate municipal governments independent of each other. By the Consolidation Act of 1854 these Districts and the remaining county of Philadelphia were consolidated into the geographical limits of the present City.

With respect to the functions and duties of the Surveyors and Regulators, the Acts incorporating the Districts of Southward and the Northern Liberties were typical. They included the planning of the streets system, regulating lines and grades, designing and constructing sewers, bridges and culverts, regulating and laying out of lots and the subdivision of land. The title became District Surveyor and Regulator and has continued as such to the present day.

The supplement to the Consolidation Act approved April 21, 1855 organized the District Surveyors and Regulators into the Board of Surveyors, under the direction of the Chief Engineer and Surveyor. It became the first official planning body for the City. Today, the Board of Surveyors, as directed by Ordinance of Council, administers the confirmed City Plan of the street system in Philadelphia. It is required by law to hold public hearings for parties interested in making changes relative to the City Plan including the placing of new streets, revising lines and grades of existing streets, striking streets, and establishing or revising public right-of-ways. Although historically, Philadelphia had as many as 14 Districts and S&R's, presently there are only five. They offer a full range of survey services for private interests and various city departments. For example, they perform and make all types of surveys and plans for the conveyance of property, the subdivision of land, and plans for the use of architects; furnish lines for party walls, property line locations and street lines; provide lines and grades for private construction work, street reconstruction and all types of municipal and public utility improvements.

Through the expertise and controls exercised by the District Surveyors and Regulators and the Board of Surveyors, problems such as land subdivisions not mathematically surveyed and connected with the confirmed City Plan, property line disputes, street locations and land title litigation are virtually nonexistent.