Nate Ela

Headshot of Nate Ela

Nate Ela

Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law, College of Law | Department of Political Science

407 College of Law Building



Nate Ela is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law. He teaches on topics including land use law and development; law and inequality in cities; and the politics of the American judiciary. 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’s research focuses on property, inequality, and social policy in urban contexts. He is completing the manuscript for his first book, Cultivating the City, which draws on ethnography and archival sources to examine how urban farming has periodically emerged as a form of redistributive social policy based on reallocating rights to use property. His writing has also appeared or is forthcoming in Law & Social Inquiry, the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Social Science History, and Social Problems. His research has received support from the National Science Foundation, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Social Science Research Council, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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 field research and legal drafting for cases brought under the Alien Tort Statute. He has also worked on food and agriculture law and policy in the United States and Colombia.


BA, Columbia University
JD, Harvard Law School
MS, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Areas of Interest

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

Courses Taught

  • Land Use Law and Development
  • Land Use Law and Advocacy-Practice One

Articles and Chapter

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

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)

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

Works in Progress

Cultivating the City: Urban Agriculture and the Promise of Property (Book manuscript)

Property and the Problem of Disuse (Law review article manuscript)