Founded in 2012, the Urban Law Center at Fordham Law School seeks to investigate and improve the role of the law and legal systems in contemporary urbanism. It promotes an interdisciplinary understanding of the legal, governance, and regulatory aspects of urban environments by advancing collaborative research and scholarship, organizing local and global convenings, and supporting knowledge sharing, career pathways and pedagogy in the world of urban law. In particular, the Center’s efforts focus on forces that shape urban inequality and urban innovation, targeting the most pressing issues facing our nation’s cities and their metropolitan regions.
Nestor Davidson, Faculty Director
More than 50 percent of the world’s inhabitants live in urban areas. How are municipal governments dealing with the resultant social, economic, and environmental effects of this mass movement? With ingenuity, says Professor Nestor Davidson of Fordham Law. Local leaders are part of a growing movement of cities innovating across a range of policy areas, and they’re just getting started.
“In the United States, we’ve seen gridlock on major problems at the national level, whether it’s climate change or the refugee crisis,” says Davidson, the new Albert A. Walsh Chair in Real Estate, Land Use, and Property Law. “But to paraphrase Fiorello LaGuardia, cities have to take out the garbage, they have to be pragmatic. Where is climate change felt first? Cities. Where do immigrants go? Cities. These aren’t abstract issues to them. Cities have no choice but to deal with these problems.”
The rise of municipal governments as potential movers and shakers of national policy comes as no surprise to Davidson. As a leading scholar in the relatively young field of urban law, he’s followed the legal effects of urbanism’s rise for years. “We’re rapidly increasing the urban footprint across the planet,” he says. “As of roughly a decade ago, we’re now a majority-urban world for the first time in history, so the center of gravity is shifting to cities. So much of what’s been innovative in public policy has come from the bottom up through local government.”
Davidson came to urban law by way of property and housing, an expertise he began honing as a Harvard undergraduate writing about homelessness for his thesis. Following graduation, he worked on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, which led to a job as a legislative affairs staffer in the White House in 1992. After two years in Washington, he went to Columbia Law School. Law degree in hand in 1997, he first clerked on the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court and then returned to the Clinton administration in its final year in the general counsel’s office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under then-HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. When administrations changed, Davidson moved to work in commercial real estate and affordable housing at the firm of Latham and Watkins. This immersion into property law from the government side and private practice sparked deeper questions that he felt he could answer only as a scholar. “Housing was my gateway to academia,” he says.