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Profile: Tony Arnold

Thinking – and Stepping – Outside the Box

Arnold Ohio River Cropped


Tony Arnold does not like boxes.  More to the point, he thinks that people and ideas are complex, dynamic, and multi-faceted, transcending traditionally narrow classifications.  With a mission to develop knowledge that transcends traditional disciplines and solutions to public policy problems that defy narrow framing, Arnold has transformed the University of Louisville’s dormant Center for Environmental Law into an interdisciplinary Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility that supports academic research, applied research, programs, and public service at the intersection of land use and the human and natural environments.


As the Boehl Chair in Property and Land Use and a professor in both the Law School and the School of Urban and Public Affairs, Arnold is an ideal leader for initiatives that cross the boundaries between disciplines and between the academic and the non-academic worlds.  He himself does not easily fit traditional categories or stereotypes.


For example, Arnold typically wears cowboy boots and drives a pick-up truck.  He served as the city attorney of the town of Hondo, Texas, and worked on rural poverty issues in Kansas, where he grew up.  Yet, he has taught urban planning and urban law for many years, worked as a land use intern for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, served as a planning commissioner in Southern California, and regularly rides the bus.  Arnold’s teaching stints have included Stanford University, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Wyoming.  He is an extrovert who enjoys conversing with others, but also enjoys the quiet of hiking, gardening, and reading.  His strongest commitments are his faith, his family, environmental conservation values, concern for the poor and those in need, and mentoring of students.  He does not see these as separate commitments but instead as part of an integrated whole.


In his academic work, just as in his personal life, Arnold does not fit neatly into expected boxes.  Indeed, he views himself as “an integrator” or “a builder of bridges across boundaries and divisions.”  Arnold’s work crosses three different kinds of boundaries: 1) aspects of the environment; 2) academic disciplines; 3) study and action.


First, Arnold is a nationally recognized expert on the relationships among – and integration of – laws and public policies concerning land use, water quality and use, environmental conservation, and private property.  Moreover, he explores the relationships among human and natural environments and various social processes and institutions, such public participation and discretionary decision making about land uses.  His peers have selected two of his articles as among the best published in land use and environmental law in the United States.


Second, Arnold’s scholarship draws on insights and methodologies from many different disciplines.  For example, his study of the famous Mono Lake conservation effort in California highlighted the role and limits of the law to achieve environmental conservation and identified several other necessary elements, including the ecology and psychology of special places, public education and engagement, political activity, and collaborative problem-solving processes.  Likewise, Arnold has used interdisciplinary work to illuminate the complexities and nuances of the structure of the U.S. land use regulatory system and the relationships between watersheds and land use management.


Arnold argues that the great universities and scholars of the future will develop transdisciplinary knowledge and methods, not merely multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary scholarship: “The complexity and seriousness of our world’s problems require that we develop new ideas, understandings, and research methods that truly integrate and transcend traditional disciplines.”


Third, Arnold seeks to use his research for the betterment of society, transcending the divide between the “ivory tower” and the “real world.”  Many of his writings on property theory, water rights, environmental justice, and land use planning have been used by organizations like the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Association of City and County Health Officials, the American Planning Association, land and water policy groups in the U.S., Africa, and elsewhere in the world, industry and business groups, and many different city officials and community groups.  His interdisciplinary Land Use and Planning Law course engages students in real-world land use planning and regulatory issues through service learning projects for government agencies and community groups and a simulation of a permit hearing based on an actual case study.


Moreover, Arnold is directly involved in public service.  He has served on public commissions and task forces and in the leadership of nonprofit organizations with such diverse missions as microenterprise development, affordable housing, land conservation, and environmental justice.  In his service, he builds bridges across often divided groups.  For example, as an attorney with a large San Antonio, Texas law firm, Arnold represented government entities, nonprofit organizations, and businesses.  As Chairman of the Anaheim Planning Commission, he earned the respect and appreciation of developers, community groups, and planners alike for his problem-solving approach that was both principled and pragmatic.  In both roles, he helped groups in conflict to find common ground and practical, innovative solutions to their problems.


Arnold sees the Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility as a facilitator of many different research and policy initiatives in land use and environmental sustainability that are developing across the University of Louisville.  He is particularly interested in improving our ideas and understanding of what the term “environmental responsibility” means and how our land use practices might be more environmentally responsible.  As he seeks environmentally responsible land use practices, Arnold is thinking and stepping – in his cowboy boots – outside the box.

Arnold urban Louisville Arnold horseback riding

Above: Tony Arnold's diverse interests in both urban and rural communities reflect his tendency to think and act across traditional categories or boundaries.

For a link to Tony Arnold's curriculum vita (resume), click here:

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