What Is Urban Law Today? an Introductory Essay in Honor of the Fortieth Anniversary of the Fordham Urban Law Journal

Article excerpt

Introduction  I. The Symposium and its Perspectives  II. What Is Urban Law Today? Conclusion 

INTRODUCTION

In the spring of 2013, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of its founding, the Fordham Urban Law Journal convened a diverse group of leading scholars for a Symposium to reflect on four decades of urban legal scholarship. The Journal published its first issue in the fall of 1972 with a lead Article by then-New York State Attorney General Louis J. Lefkowitz on environmental concerns facing New York's Jamaica Bay. (1) Reflecting the urban ferment of the era, other articles that first year of the Journal examined tenant rights and exclusionary zoning, (2) consumer protection, (3) and criminal justice. (4) The animating idea of the Anniversary Symposium was to use these early themes as a platform to assess the state of urban law today--how has the field progressed and what is its future?

The Symposium, however, sparked a more fundamental, conceptual question: what, exactly, is urban law today? Four decades ago, the field was sufficiently well-recognized to merit the founding of the Journal and, at the time, a number of law schools offered programs and classes in urban law. (5) Today, however, the field is less prominent, with legal academics not often identifying themselves as scholars of urban law, despite researching and teaching subjects that are clearly related to any understanding of the boundaries of the discipline. (6) This shift is a lost opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue with the vibrant discourse that urban specialists are generating in a variety of cognate fields, such as urban economics, urban sociology, urban history, and urban studies. The current state of the field of urban law is also unfortunate--for legal scholars and society--because cities and their metropolitan regions are increasingly at the forefront of many of the most important challenges that define the contemporary policy landscape and urban law is an important lens through which to engage with that reality.

The time is thus ripe for a renewed appreciation of urban law as a distinctive enterprise. This Essay sets out to trace some aspects of what that renewal might entail. To illustrate the creativity and insights of work that spans the breadth of urban law, the Essay first provides an overview of contributions to the Anniversary Symposium. It then argues for the necessity of urban law as a discipline within the legal academy, even while recognizing that this raises difficult questions of definitional boundaries. The mission of the Journal has always been to promote excellence in urban legal scholarship and that mission is more critical now than at any time since its founding. The Anniversary Symposium was an important step in recognizing a revival of interest in urban law, and the next four decades of the Journals future will hopefully be even more fruitful.

I. THE SYMPOSIUM AND ITS PERSPECTIVES

One way to understand the field of urban law today is to reflect on the breadth of contributions to the Journals Anniversary Symposium. In organizing the Symposium, the editors of the Journal reviewed the articles that appeared in the Journals first year to identify themes that marked urban law in 1972. The editors settled on the categories of housing and exclusionary zoning, urban environmental challenges, and local government as a source of consumer protection. (7) They then asked scholars to reflect on how those themes had evolved in the intervening decades. The results illustrate the vibrancy of an approach to urban law that crosses individual legal topic areas to illuminate the intersection of law and urban life from a holistic perspective.

On the theme of exclusionary zoning and housing in urban planning, Professor J. Peter Byrne's Essay, The Rebirth of the Neighborhood, begins the Anniversary Symposium contributions on an optimistic note, addressing the current revival of cities across the country. …