Leslie Miller ’13, a joint-degree student at Brooklyn Law School and Pratt Institute, is the national winner of the prestigious American Planning Association (APA) Daniel J. Curtin Jr. Planning Law Division Fellowship. The year-long fellowship focuses on the study of land use planning and its interrelationship with the law. As part of her fellowship, she will write an article for publication, attend national educational programs, and receive a $4,000 stipend.
Miller is excited about the opportunity to broaden her understanding of community development across the nation. She will build on her studies as an Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow at BLS and as a Planning Fellow at the Pratt Center for Community Development, where she will earn a Master of Science in City and Regional Planning in addition to her J.D. degree.
The joint-degree program is rigorous, said Miller, “but I have no regrets about pursuing two degrees at once,” she said. Her current projects include developing a plan for a public marketplace to revitalize East New York, Brooklyn, preparing for a Moot Court Honor Society competition in environmental law, and leading the fast-growing Street Vendor Pro-Bono Project (SVPBP).
She founded the SVPBP after interning at the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project. Street vendors “are very much like other small business owners in the city – hardworking immigrant entrepreneurs who need a voice in the planning process,” she said. To date, 25 BLS students have been trained to represent vendors at Environmental Control Board hearings. They have also drafted legislation to make vending laws more equitable.
Miller has always been curious about what makes cities tick. “I care about what gives people a sense of pride – what makes them want to invest, open a store, live and work in a city.” After earning a B.S. degree in economics from New York University’s Stern School of Business, she was selected as a NYC Urban Fellow in the newly formed Mayor’s Office of Industrial & Manufacturing Businesses. She was part of the team that shaped, with much community input, the legal framework for Industrial Business Zones (IBZs) – areas of the city that are protected for use by small manufacturers. When the measure passed, she said, “I was awestruck by the power of the interplay between the planning process and the legal process. And I also realized that the process by which a local law is passed is just as important as the merits of the plan.” The experience made her an ardent supporter of “participatory planning” policy making.
Miller spent two more years in the Mayor’s office as director of the NYC Empire Zones program, which offered state tax incentives to encourage job creation and investment in distressed communities.
With her next job, she took the idea of participatory planning to a whole new level. As program manager at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, she organized the first festival on Governors Island to promote modernization of the neglected New York-New Jersey waterfront. It drew 10,000 people—elected officials, nonprofits, and the public—for a day of fun, food and teach-ins on Superfund designation and maritime businesses.
Among the participants were many street vendors, who are integral in waterfront economies. In forming working relationships with them, she said, “I began to appreciate a whole range of economic and social justice issues I knew nothing about.”
Miller’s desire to become a more effective advocate led her to law school, and the public interest curriculum and the joint degree program led her to BLS. “BLS has supported me and created an environment where I feel more empowered and capable of doing the type of community advocacy I came here to do. I couldn’t be happier with my choice.”
Read more about the APA Fellowship.
Read more about BLS joint-degree programs.