Lower Manhattan is a long way from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but Sara Galvan has immersed herself in both places, attempting to understand the many ways – good and bad – that laws shape urban environments.
Raised in Houston, Ms. Galvan is a fifth-generation Texan. Long fascinated with the intersection of architecture, public policy, and law, she wrote her undergraduate thesis at the University of Texas on colonias, the unincorporated, under-served Mexican and Mexican-American communities along the Texas-Mexico border. She became more familiar with these areas while working as a legislative aide to Texas Senator Eduardo Lucio, Jr., who has been a strong advocate for improving the colonia’s problems of poverty, substandard housing, and inaccessibility.
After graduating with degrees in architecture and liberal arts, she earned a master’s degree in economic and social history on a Rhodes scholarship from the University of Oxford. She took time out from her studies to found the Oxonian Review of Books and serve as an officer in Bacchus, the Oxford Wine Society. She also traveled. She returned to Bosnia where, during college, she had worked on a project in Mostar, a thriving cosmopolitan city that had been almost completely destroyed during the recent war. In that project, she teamed with other architects to document damaged historic sites and to propose practical ideas on reuniting the now-divided city.
While the destruction that took place on September 11, 2001, was of a different sort than Ms. Galvan had encountered, she took the opportunity, prior to the start of law school, to intern at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), which coordinates efforts to rebuild the World Trade Center site.
“This is the most important urban design project in recent American history,” she says. “Working at the LMDC opened my eyes even further to the ways politics and the law affect the structures we build.” Among her duties was to help coordinate a widely viewed exhibit of the first concept plans under consideration and to answer questions at a 5,000-person Town Hall meeting that showcased those plans. “That meeting and others illustrated the importance of public participation in the planning process,” she says.
Ms. Galvan plans to pursue her interests in housing, preservation, and sustainable development at law school. Columbia was her top choice both because of its reputation and location – the best place, she argues, to study the urban condition.
“In architecture school, we learn to be sensitive to how people want their communities to be built,” she says. “The law – from planning codes to historic preservation ordinances to zoning restrictions – should be used to create and preserve good places.” She hopes, at some point in her career, to return to Texas and use her skills to do just that.