Nate Ela

Headshot of Nate Ela

Nate Ela

Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law, College of Law | School of Public and International Affairs

534 College of Law Building



Nate Ela is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law, and a faculty affiliate in the Department of Sociology. He teaches on topics including land use, law and political economy, urban inequality, and judicial politics. Prior to joining the UC faculty he was a visiting scholar at the American Bar Foundation and taught at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Lasell College, and Harvard Law School.

Professor Ela writes on land use, inequality, and democracy in American cities. He is completing his first book, Fix the City, which explains why urban social reformers have repeatedly sought to address poverty and unemployment by letting people in need use but not own idle property. He also writes on past and present efforts to make voting a duty in municipal elections. In research for his second book, Ela is tracing links between the science of cities and policy projects to bolster urban resilience. His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in the Fordham Urban Law JournalHoward Law Journal, Law & Social InquirySocial Problems, Social Science History, and the Washington University Law Review. Ela's research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Social Science Research Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the UC Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Advancement Program.

Ela’s practice experience includes work on state and local legislation, as well as international human rights. He was part of a team that founded an online library of model laws for U.S. states and cities, which helped lay the groundwork for the State Innovation Exchange and ProGov21. As a fellow at Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic, he supervised student work on cases brought under the Alien Tort Statute. He has also worked on projects to foster a robust multi-party democracy in the United States, and to reform food and agriculture policies in the U.S. and Colombia.


BA (Political Science), Columbia University
JD, Harvard Law School
MS, PhD (Sociology), University of Wisconsin-Madison

Areas of Interest

  • Land Use
  • Property
  • Local Government
  • Election Law
  • Law and Society

Courses Taught

  • Land Use Law and Development (College of Law and DAAP)
  • Seminar on Law and Capitalism in the United States (College of Law and SPIA)
  • Law and Inequality in the City (SPIA)
  • Law, Markets, and Politics in America (SPIA)
  • American Courts and Judicial Process (SPIA)


Property and the Problem of Disuse100 Washington University Law Review __ (forthcoming 2023)

The Duty to Vote in an American City66 Howard Law Journal __ (forthcoming 2022)

The Promise of Property: Legal Optimism and Collective Efficacy in Chicago’s Urban Agriculture District,  __ Social Problems __ (2020)

Use-Based Welfare: Property Experiments in Chicago, 1895-1935, 43 Social Science History 319 (2019)

Litigation Dilemmas: Lessons from the Marcos Human Rights Class Action, 42 Law & Social Inquiry 479 (2017)

Urban Commons as Property Experiment: Mapping Chicago’s Farms and Gardens, 43 Fordham Urban Law Journal 247 (2016)

Book Chapter

Land Tenure for Urban Farming: Toward a Scalable Model In Good Food, Strong Communities: Promoting Social Justice Through Local and Regional Food Systems (Steve Ventura and Martin Bailkey, eds., University of Iowa Press 2017) (with Greg Rosenberg)

Works in Progress

Fix the City: The Land Struggle to Put Land to Use (Book manuscript)

Urban Slack

The Conservative Politics of Compulsory Voting in America