A few years ago, back when I was still attending the meat market as a candidate, I went to a reception hosted by a law school I had interviewed with. At this time, I was already starting to write about suburban sprawl and related issues. One of the older faculty said something like: “We don’t see what this sprawl stuff has to do with the law anyhow.”
I think that the interviewer’s question revealed a common misconception: that “law” is really what courts do. He believed that sprawl was just another policy issue that had nothing to do with real “law”.
Why do I say “misconception”? Because law is of course what legislatures do: not just Congress, but also city councils and state legislatures (as well as administrative agencies acting pursuant to state-created authority). And as it happens, sprawl is (as I explain in my scholarship) at least partially a result of these legislative decisions. Zoning codes and other municipal regulations often favor sprawl (which, in this particular context, means development that is designed solely with the interests of drivers in mind, and tends to turn pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users into second-class citizens). Thus, sprawl is about law, and when I teach my seminar on sprawl and the law, I focus heavily on such laws, as well as court decisions upholding these regulations and policy analysis critiquing them.
In addition, some states have created laws and regulations designed to limit suburban development in various ways. These regulations, too, are law and equally deserving of study.