Campus & Community

Kayden named Frank Backus Williams Professor

4 min read

GSD professor is expert in land use law

Jerold Kayden is an internationally recognized expert in land use law who holds degrees in both law and urban planning. (Staff photo Rose Lincoln/Harvard News Office)

Jerold Kayden, a faculty member of the Graduate School of Design (GSD), has been appointed the Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design.

“I am enormously excited about the opportunity to make a long-term intellectual investment in the GSD, in the University, and in my own field of scholarship. This wonderful assurance allows me to do just that,” Kayden said.

An internationally recognized expert in land use law, who holds degrees in both law and urban planning, Kayden has written books and articles on zoning, historic preservation, and property rights, including the highly acclaimed “Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience” (John Wiley and Sons, 2000).

The book, which has received numerous awards, examines New York’s 503 privately owned public spaces (plazas, arcades, walkways, and parks) to determine whether they are being provided in accordance with legal agreements originally made between the city and their owners and whether they are usable spaces for the public.

Kayden spent three and a half years scrutinizing thousands of legal documents – plan blueprints, special permits, and other instruments – scattered over several city agencies. He also visited each space, taking photographs, sketching plans, and interviewing users. Kayden found that more than 40 percent of the spaces were of poor quality, and almost half of all buildings with public space were out of compliance with applicable laws.

Aimed principally at scholars and professionals in design, urban planning, and law, the book has also proven to be a powerful weapon in the hands of city officials, who have initiated dozens of administrative actions and several lawsuits, levying more than $100,000 in fines.

Kayden has since founded Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS), a private institution in the city whose purpose is to oversee these public spaces and encourage their upgrading through physical improvements and programming initiatives. The group, which Kayden co-chairs, has entered a formal agreement with New York’s department of city planning to cooperate in this effort.

“It’s very satisfying to be able to take research and scholarly findings and convert them into action,” Kayden said. “The creation of special nongovernmental oversight institutions may provide a model for other cities that rely on the private sector to provide public space.”

Kayden, who has been associate professor of urban planning at the GSD since 1995, is currently working on a new book, “The Tyranny of Context: Law’s Obsession with Design Conformity.” The book argues that laws enacted over the past three decades responsible for creating local design reviews and similar regulatory bodies have often had a stifling effect on the evolution of design. These laws, which expressly address the appearance rather than the functional aspects of new construction, have frequently allowed a narrow, superficial notion of context to govern the newly built environment, leading to such things as the prevalence of “faux adobe” in Santa Fe or “hegemonic brick” in New England, Kayden said.

“There is a middle ground between buildings that are designed as if context were irrelevant and buildings that slavishly follow context. There are ways of allowing context to evolve rather than let it ossify a city by tying it too tightly to the past.”

Kayden has authored amicus briefs in some of the best-known land use and environmental takings cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and he has represented numerous city governments, environmental and public interest groups, and private developers in and out of court.

In addition, he has advised emerging governments in Ukraine, Russia, and Armenia, among others, in developing environmental, real estate, and land use laws. Kayden served as law clerk to Judge James L. Oakes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan. He co-edited “Zoning and the American Dream: Promises Still To Keep” (Planners Press, 1989) and co-wrote “Landmark Justice: The Influence of William J. Brennan on America’s Communities (Preservation Press, 1989), among other publications. His academic honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship.

At the GSD, Kayden teaches courses in planning and environmental law, public and private development, and design, law and policy. Students honored him in 1996 by choosing him as the recipient of their annual award for teaching excellence.

Kayden earned an A.B. degree from Harvard College in 1975. In 1979 he earned a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the GSD, and the juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School.