The study of zoning law may sound about as thrilling as watching grass grow, but the city of Pittsburgh credits law students from Duquesne University's Urban Development Clinic -- students who took on the work of poring over ordinances and land titles -- with playing a key role in the city's move toward a greener skyline.
Students from the clinic wrote code language creating the city's sustainability commission and legislation that codified the city's sustainability coordinator. Another piece of legislation that the students wrote required energy audits of city-owned buildings, while a resolution they crafted pushed the city to establish sustainable purchasing guidelines.
"That's an area where we need a lot of help," said Bill Peduto, city councilman and Democratic candidate for mayor.
Under the 2009 ordinance written by the Duquesne students, the sustainability coordinator "ensures the implementation of the Pittsburgh Climate Action plan," and coordinates efforts between city departments to implement climate action recommendations and other sustainability initiatives. The current sustainability coordinator is Aftyn Giles, who was appointed to the position by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in 2011.
That ordinance, in turn, led to the city's cool roofs program, a partnership between the Department of Public Works and the Office of Sustainability and Energy Efficiency. Buildings with the cool roofs treatment are expected to see a 15 percent reduction in energy costs.
The ongoing arrangement with the law school "allows the city to have expert assistance for free, and at the same time allow these law students to see how their talents can be applied," said Mr. Peduto.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, directing attorney at the Urban Development Center, said students working on zoning issues for the city are learning what will be the basic building blocks of their legal careers. The center is part of the law school's Clinical Legal Studies program, which gives students experience working with community groups, and on other pro bono cases.
"They're not the most exciting endeavors at first blush, but they are absolutely essential first steps to the biggest projects we see in the urban landscape," Mr. Mistick said. The students learn the fundamentals of rewriting city ordinances. "They worked on projects with an eye toward making them green."
He said the work allows the students to have a hand in preserving and restoring residential structures in their communities.
"They feel a sense of pride working in a distressed community, but they get to see some immediate results of their work," he said. "They get to work on these things that have future benefits, but they also get the thrill of seeing their work become law."
In addition to helping the city with some free labor, he said students are learning some "antiquated" skills that can make them attractive job candidates. One of those skills in particular -- learning to search for land titles the old-fashioned way instead of online -- is especially valuable in a job market that's tough for freshly minted lawyers.
"That's a skill that makes them really marketable for the gas industry, being able to search for land titles," Mr. Mistick said. "They're really getting the preparation they need for larger, career positions."
Kim Lyons: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimLy First Published October 13, 2013 8:00 PM