“Wisconsin has been a wonderful place to
start my career precisely because
of its law-in-action tradition.”
Professor Lisa Alexander studies how the law influences who are the winners and losers in modern urban revitalization efforts. She is particularly interested in how the law can be used both to empower traditionally marginalized groups and to create more equitable outcomes. And she teaches the complicated legal issues involved in community economic development through what is known as a service-learning approach.
Professor Alexander’s scholarship focuses on how the law can be used to ensure that the original residents in revitalized neighborhoods become the primary beneficiaries of redevelopment efforts. Alexander studies which legal structures and processes revitalize low-income communities and mitigate the displacement of original residents.
Alexander’s initial scholarship focused on public housing reform in Chicago. Her current study, looking at the processes of gentrification in the former birthplaces of hip-hop, highlights changing conceptions of urbanity and their implications for affordable housing law and policy. Alexander seeks in her scholarship to devise legal strategies that can empower residents and lead to sustainable and equitable outcomes over the long term.
Alexander’s interest in the topics she studies and teaches grew out of several work experiences, including her work as a community development lawyer in Chicago and her experiences as a law student in Columbia Law School’s Non-profit Organizations and Small Business Clinic. Growing up in New York City and living in Harlem, she witnessed the effects of discrimination and housing policy on the quality and character of minority communities. She brings what she learned from these experiences to her scholarship and to her teaching.
Alexander uses a service-learning approach in teaching about community economic development law. While service is championed in many UW Law School programs, Professor Alexander and some of her colleagues are using service methods to teach law in more traditional seminar classes as well. She structures her Community Economic Development course so that students learn by doing, working with Madison based non-profits or government agencies on economic development and housing issues. This approach brings students together with practicing lawyers to develop innovative, yet feasible, solutions to real-life public problems. It also gives students an opportunity to understand what makes Alexander passionate about her scholarship and about serving communities.