Profile with Sara Bronin

Sara C. Bronin (Texas & Magdalen 2001) is a Professor of Law and the Faculty Program Director of the energy law center at the University of Connecticut, as well as principal of Voladizo LLC, a consulting firm. In both her academic work and her consulting practice, she focuses on renewable energy, historic preservation, sustainable design, and urban development. She holds a JD from Yale Law School, a master's in Economic and Social History from the University of Oxford, and a BA and BArch from the University of Texas.

Rhodes Project: Where did you grow up?

Sara Bronin: Houston, Texas—and eight years in a small town outside of Houston, called Crosby.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you read?

Sara Bronin: I just finished Robert Caro’s latest book, The Passage of Power. It is about L.B.J. and his ascent to the presidency. It’s a really fascinating book. Caro captures L.B.J.’s inner life, public life and family life in such an amazing way.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in your area of work?

Sara Bronin: I was interested in building and designing things from pretty early on. As a child, my main toys were the Lego sets that I bought with the money I had earned working at my grandparents’ restaurant. The areas I now work in—property, land use, historic preservation, energy—are all related to how we use and define our built environment.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favorite past project?

Sara Bronin: The project I am most proud of is a building project which pushed both real estate development conventions and legal boundaries. I worked for three and a half years to help an architect-developer named Bruce Becker build a project called 360 State Street in New Haven. It has five hundred apartment units (10% affordable), a community-owned food cooperative that we created, a bike shop, and a parking garage, all in downtown New Haven. I was the developers’ lead attorney  and also a key development strategist. Working on a small team meant that I had a hand in a wide range of issues, from groundbreaking to lease-up. I learned a lot about creativity and persistence from Bruce.

Tying the project back to my academic work, I ended up writing an article about the challenges that the developer faced in to trying to make 360 State Street the first multi-use building in the country to use a fuel cell, which is a class 1 renewable energy source (at least in Connecticut). The article describes how building-related renewable energy—renewable energy that is tied to specific buildings—is still very challenging to do in this country. So 360 State Street is a good example of my consulting and academic worlds intersecting.

Rhodes Project: What is the best part of your work now?

Sara Bronin: I have tried to shape my work arrangements to provide maximum flexibility with respect to the projects I take on, the people I work with, and the ability to manage my time. These goals have been made somewhat easier to achieve since my primary occupation is as a law professor. Many law professors take on cases, advocate for clients, or help government bodies with different projects – and all of this strengthens their teaching and research. In my case, through my consulting practice, I have the ability to choose the clients and projects that both complement my academic work and promise to have a net societal benefit. Our clients have included cities, state agencies, private entities, and nonprofits—all hoping to improve some aspect of American urban life. So I guess for both of my current areas of work, it’s the flexibility that I value most. 

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of your work?

Sara Bronin: The most challenging part of work is actually not the work part. I love the projects I work on, and nothing I do that brings in income really feels like work. It’s balancing work with raising my two young children, having fun with my also-busy husband, and contributing to our community, which I try to do through several nonprofit and local boards. But probably every woman you interview says that.

Rhodes Project: What would readers on our site be surprised to learn about you?

Sara Bronin: I guess that despite being a loyal Texan, I've really enjoyed becoming a part of the community in Hartford, Connecticut. So somewhere between Oxford and now, my Yankee husband [Luke Bronin, Connecticut & Balliol 2001] has had an influence.

Rhodes Project: What do you like to do in your free time?

Sara Bronin:  Last year, we purchased a dilapidated 1865 brownstone house in downtown Hartford. We rehabilitated it from top to bottom—with me as architect of record, which was great! So for the last nine months, at least, that’s consumed most of my free time. The transformation has been exciting. Hartford has a lot of beautiful old buildings and it’s hard to convince people to invest in rehabilitating them because Hartford has relatively low property values compared to the newer suburbs that surround it. To me, our house project demonstrates what you can do in cities that you really can’t do in the suburbs. We now have a historic home a block away from the State Capitol, directly behind the Bushnell Theater, and right on beautiful Bushnell Park, with a carousel in the front yard for the kids. How could you beat that?

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