Amy Laura Cahn is a Visiting Professor and Acting Director of the Environmental Justice Clinic. Through movement lawyering practice and scholarship, Amy Laura collaborates with organizers and communities to confront the cumulative effects of racial segregation, neighborhood disinvestment, and environmental and climate risk and support self-determination.
Prior to joining VLS, Amy Laura served as Senior Attorney and Interim Director of the Healthy Communities & Environmental Justice Program at the Conservation Law Foundation, launching CLF’s community lawyering efforts. Amy Laura joined CLF from the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia, where she was a Skadden Fellow and Director of the Garden Justice Legal Initiative—the nation’s first urban agriculture law clinic. For five years, Amy Laura served as legal counsel to residents in the frontline floodplain community of Eastwick in addressing the legacy injustices of this country's largest urban renewal project. Amy Laura has clerked for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. Amy Laura is also a lecturer at Tufts University, teaching Climate Policy and Climate Justice.
Amy Laura sits on the Penn Law Alumni Advisory Board for Inclusion & Engagement and the Legal Advisory Board for Alternatives for Community and Environment. She is a longtime community organizer and co-founder of Lower Manhattan's Bluestockings Bookstore. She has a B.A., summa cum laude, from Hunter College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
(with Paula Z. Segal), You Can’t Common What You Can’t See, 1 FORDHAM URB. L. J. 43 (2016).
(with Paula Z. Segal), There Are 596 Acres Of Vacant Public Land In Brooklyn Alone and Other Strategies For Making the Potential Commons Visible and Actionable, presented at the International Association for the Study of the Commons Conference, Bologna, Italy, November 6, 2015.
Supporting Our Land Stewards: Building a Constituency to Change Policy and Preserve Philadelphia’s Gardens, 8 CITIES & THE ENVIRONMENT (2015).
On Retiring Blight as Policy and Making Eastwick Whole, 49 HARV. C.R.-C.L. L. REV. 450 (2014).
(with Mahbubur R. Meenar, Jeffrey P. Featherstone, Ph.D., and Julia McCabe) Urban Agriculture in Post-Industrial Landscape: A Case for Community-Generated Urban Design, presented at the International Society of City and Regional Planners Congress (2012).
Our “Rights Are Not Cast In Stone:” Post-Katrina Environmental Red-Lining and the Need for a Broad-Based Human Right Lawyering Movement, 12 U. PA. J. L. & SOC. CHANGE 42 (2009).
Pennhurst: The Road to Civil Rights for People with Intellectual Disabilities, (2009) (video documentary).
(with Gabriel Thompson) The Politics of Poison: Why One Out of Three Bedford-Stuyvesant Children are Growing Up in Housing that Impair Their Cognitive Development, Pratt Area Community Council (2003).
What Eastwick Wants? in Megan Haberle and Heidi Kurniawan, ed. Strategies for Health Justice: Lessons from the Field, Poverty & Race Research Action Council (2018) https://rosefdn.org/wpcontent/uploads/2018/12/health_justice_rpt1.pdf.
Panel Moderator, "Incorporating Major Business Entities into Clean Energy," Vermont Law Review Symposium: Balancing Corporate & Activist Interests: Clean Energy, Wildlife Protection, and Land Use Reform (November 5, 2021).
Invited Lecturer, "Environmental Justice and Title VI: Opportunities for Civil Rights Enforcement," Sierra Club Environmental Law Program (October 14, 2021).
Invited Lecturer, "Food Justice: Current Planning and Policy Tools," Tufts University (October 12, 2021).
Invited Panelist, "Introduction to Environmental Justice – Theory, Practice, and Real-World Consequences," Massachusetts Environmental Business Council (October 5, 2021).
Paper Presentation, "Blight is Out: New Tools for Redistribution," 7th Annual International and Comparative Urban Law Conference (July 16, 2021).
Invited Presenter, Vermont Climate Council (June 28, 2021).
Invited Panelist, "Combating Environmental Racism: Lessons Learned and Strategies for Change," Thurgood Marshall Institute, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (June 24, 2021).
Invited Panelist, "Responding to Calls for Greater Environmental Justice Accountability," D.C. Bar Communities (June 3, 2021).
Invited Lecturer, "What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Justice?’: Environmental and Climate Decision-making at a Crossroads," Hoch Cunningham Environmental Lectures, Tufts Environmental Studies Program (April 22, 2021).
Climate Change Planning, Policy, and Action, Spring 2021
Tufts University, Departments of Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning and Environmental Studies
Guest Lecturer on urban agriculture and food justice for Food Justice Seminar, Professor Julian Agyeman, Tufts University, October 6, 2020.
Co-Lecturer Green New Deal Superstudio, Fall 2020
University of Pennsylvania, Urban Studies Department
Guest Lecturer on environmental and climate justice for Land Use Law and Policy, Provost Wendell Pritchett, University of Pennsylvania Law School, April 3, 2020.
Invited Panelist, Imagining the Just Transition to a Fossil-Free Future, A Tipping Point: Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties 55th Anniversary Conference, March 7, 2020.
Guest Lecturer on urban agriculture and food justice for Food Justice Seminar, Professor Julian Agyeman, Tufts University, October 1, 2019.
Invited Panelist, Civil Rights and the Environment, Suffolk University Law School, October 1, 2019.
Invited Speaker, What would a Massachusetts Green New Deal Look Like, March 13, 2019.
Guest Lecturer on just transition lawyering for Law and Social Movements: Race, Place, and Climate Change, Professor Abigail Reyes, UCI School of Law, April 3, 2019.
Invited Panelist, Municipal Organizing for Environmental Justice, Rebellious Lawyering, Yale Law School, February 16, 2019.
Panelist, Democratizing Research for Environmental Justice and Health, Frontiers of Democracy, Tufts University, June 20, 2019.
Invited Panelist, In a Just City Closing the Gaps: Addressing Racial and Economic Inequalities in Greater Boston-Transportation Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, Northeastern University, October 19, 2018.
Guest Lecturer on urban agriculture and food justice for Food Justice Seminar, Professor Julian Agyeman, Tufts University, October 2, 2018.
Paper Presentation, You Can’t Common What You Can’t See, 4th Annual International & Comparative Urban Law Conference, Cape Town, South Africa, July 17, 2017.
Invited Presenter, Pennsylvania Local Food Issues, Agricultural Law Forum, Pennsylvania Bar Institute, November 4, 2016.
Guest Lecturer on movement building, urban agriculture, and environmental justice for Community and Economic Development Practice, Professor Domenic Vitiello, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania, March 29, 2016.
Invited Panelist, Food Justice Panel, Youth Action Assembly, Urban Creators, July 27, 2016.
Invited Panelist, Pop Ups, Preservation and Permanence: The New Frontier for Gardens and Open Space in Philadelphia, Design Advocacy Group, Philadelphia Center for Architecture, August 4, 2016.
Invited Panelist, Food Justice Panel, International Federation of Library Associations Conference Food Justice, Philadelphia Free Library, August 11, 2016.
Invited Plenary Speaker, Community Lawyering in Philadelphia: Exploring the Role of Lawyers in Building Stronger Movements for Social Change, Public Interest Law Day CLE Program, Philadelphia Bar Association, December 8, 2016.
Guest Lecturer on urban agriculture and data for Geography and the Environment, Professor Peleg Kremer, Villanova University Law School, March 29, 2016.
Presenter and Facilitator, Building Solidarity for Food and Land Sovereignty, Facing Race Conference, November 11, 2016.
Invited Panelist and Facilitator, Strengthening Design Through Community, American Institute of Architects National Convention, May 18, 2016.
Invited Presenter discussing Philadelphia Mayor’s Food Policy Advisory Council, Urban Sustainability Directors Network Webinar, July 27, 2016.
Invited Panelist, Innovative Lawyering Strategies, Skadden Fellows Symposium, May 20, 2016.
Invited Panelist, Land Conservation Opportunities, Homes Within Reach Conference, November 17, 2015.
Invited Panelist, Empowering, Not Dominating: Organizing, Training, and Partnering with Low Income Communities on Food Access, Just Food? Forum on Justice in the Food System, Harvard University Law School, March 28, 2015.
Guest Lecturer on environmental justice for Fundamentals of Environmental Health, Professor Pouné Saberi, Jefferson University College of Population Health, May 12, 2015.
Facilitator, Law and Policy Tools to Access Law & Grow Food in the City, Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Farming for the Future Conference, Pennsylvania State University, February 4, 2015.
Invited Speaker, Seed Sovereignty; Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Farming for the Future Conference, Pennsylvania State University, February 4, 2015.
Paper Presentation, “There Are 596 Acres of Vacant Public Land In Brooklyn Alone,” And Other Strategies For Making The Potential Commons Visible And Actionable, International Association for the Study of the Commons Conference, Bologna, Italy, November 6, 2015.
Keynote, West Virginia Farm and Food Coalition Conference, September 18, 2015.
Invited Speaker, Advancing the Solidarity Economy Movement: Connecting Cities and Regions for Economic Justice, United States Social Forum, June 27, 2015.
Guest Lecturer on urban planning, policy, and agriculture for Food Systems Planning, Professor Mahbubur R. Meenar, Department of Community and Regional Planning, Temple University, October 19, 2015.
Invited Panelist, Land in the City: Access and Development, Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference, March 28, 2015.
Invited Presenter, Community Gardens & Market Farms: Dismantling Barriers Through Organizing, Education, Policy, and Partnership, Pennsylvania Land Conservation Conference, May 7, 2015.
Invited Speaker, Cumulative Effects of Exposure, Environmental Health and Environmental Justice in Pennsylvania: Where Do We Go From Here? University of Pennsylvania, September 30, 2014.
Facilitator, Food for the People: Tactics to Claim Land and Increase Food Sovereignty, Growing Power Conference, November 8, 2014.
Presenter and Facilitator, Community-Based Urban Agriculture Law & Policy, Urban Agriculture Law Conference, University of Maryland Law School, September 19, 2014.
Invited Panelist, Mapping the Sustainable City, Temple University Office of Sustainability, October 23, 2014.
Conference Organizer and Moderator, Developing Models for Predictable Land Tenure, Turning Vacant Acres Into Community Resources, The New School, April 23, 2014.
Invited Panelist, How Technology Influences Local Food Practices, Philly Tech Week, April 11, 2014.
Guest Lecturer on community lawyering and urban agriculture, Social Justice Lawyering Clinical Seminar, Professor Jennifer Lee, Temple Law School, November 10, 2014.
Invited Moderator, Secure Land for Urban Agriculture Symposium, Equity Trust, December 12, 2014.
Invited Tour Leader, Community Gardens And Urban Agriculture, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Conference, October 31, 2014.
Invited Panelist, #Change: The Role of Online Activism in Social and Political Movements, Law 2.0: Progress and Challenges for Justice in the Digital Age, Edward V. Sparer Symposium, University of Pennsylvania Law School, November 14, 2014.
Guest Lecturer on urban agriculture and movement building, Social Justice Institute, Professor Andrew Lamas, University of Pennsylvania, July 12, 2013.
Panelist, Transformative Tactics to Increase Land Tenure Equity, Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society, Michigan State University, June 18, 2013.
Invited Presenter, Taking Back Our Place by Greening Our Space, United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 Beyond Translation Initiative, May 16, 2013.
Workshop Facilitator, Food for the People: Tactics to Claim Land and Increase Food Sovereignty, Just Food Conference, March 30, 2013.
Invited Panelist, Tierra y Libertad, Land and Liberty, Allied Media Conference, Wayne State University, June 19, 2013.
Invited Presenter, Civic Hacks of 2013 Demo Night, Technical.ly Philly, December 6, 2013.
Invited Speaker, Urban Agriculture in Ecological Cities: Form, Landscape, Community, and Zoning, Sustainability Lecture Series, Temple University, March 15, 2012.
Presenter, Building Land Tenure for Philadelphia Gardeners and Farmers, Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development Annual Conference, St. Joseph’s University, February 24, 2012.
Guest Lecturer on urban agriculture policy, Environmental Law and Justice, Professor Heather L. Demirjian, Rutgers-Camden Urban Studies Department, April 19, 2012.
Invited Panelist, Food: Sustainability & Access, New Directions in Environmental Law Conference, Yale Law School, February 25, 2012.
Panelist, Transformative Tactics for Land Tenure: Promoting Food Sovereignty through Connecting Communities to Vacant Land, Toronto Urban Agriculture Summit, 2012
Conference Organizer, Redefining Aggregate Welfare: Revitalizing a City in Pursuit of Economic Justice, 27th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium, University of Pennsylvania Law School, March 21, 2008.
Awards & Accomplishments
Awards, Honors or Grants
Recognized with a Citation from Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson for “love, time, and talents directed to the growth and wholeness of others and the betterment of the Eastwick community” (2018)
Honored by the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition in recognition of service, leadership, and commitment to humanity and community activism in Eastwick (2018)
Recognized with the passage of a Resolution by the Philadelphia City Council for substantial contributions to the city of Philadelphia, as well as dedication to the empowerment of communities through community control of land, sustainable and equitable urban gardening and farming, and the pursuit of environmental justice (2017)
One of Grid Magazine’s 10 Philadelphians Making Change by Empowering Others (2015)
Young Alumni Award, University of Pennsylvania Law School Law Alumni Society (2015)
Environmental Justice Trailblazer Award, Bread and Roses Community Fund (2015)
Community Partner Award, HIAS Pennsylvania (2014)