A Legend of Building Cities and Parks | Leonard Zax


Paterson Great Falls National Park

Ep. 77 - Leonard Zax is the CEO of the Hamilton Partnership, a nonprofit organization that led the effort to create the Paterson Great Falls National Park in his hometown of Paterson New Jersey. He has degrees in law and city planning from Harvard University and has worked for more than thirty years on community development projects across the country. In this episode, Leonard talks about his extensive role at HUD and his contribution to the preservation and revitalization of cities. Listen in to learn the importance of designing cities in a way that protects them from natural disasters like storms and hurricanes. You will also learn the importance of preserving new cities’ uniqueness across the country.


  • Why you shouldn’t have a strategic plan for your life and instead allow its serendipity
  • Learn what it takes to develop large complex projects that can transform a city, neighborhood, or reservations
  • Having genuine hope to continue transforming our cities uniquely for today and the future

"Cities do best when they don't simply adopt the slick summarized recommendations that consultants sometimes repackage, from one city to another and they look at things that make the city special." -Leonard A. Zax

In this episode you’ll discover:

How a pro bono project led Leonard to leave his day job and join the nonprofit world [1:10]

How he landed a job at HUD, the people he worked with, and the many projects he served in [4:28]

He explains why the development of large complex projects requires hard work and a ‘village’ [13:46]

His efforts in trying to connect younger generations with historic preservations [18:03]

How to protect cities against foreseeable natural disaster after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans [20:40]

The short-term and long-term actions taken to protect New Orleans against hurricanes [24:57]

Leonard explains the language barriers he experienced and culture shock when working abroad [30:26]

Why creating Paterson Great Falls National Park is his biggest success story [31:59]


Leonard A. Zax is a partner in the Washington office of Latham & Watkins, where he heads the real estate group.  He represents REITs, private equity funds, lenders, developers, corporations, and non-profit corporations on real estate finance and development throughout the United States.  He has also worked on cross-border real estate investment in Europe and the Middle East.


Mr. Zax is an honorary trustee of the National Building Museum.  He has served as a member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Awards for Excellence Jury, which each year presents awards for the best real estate development projects in the world.  He also has served as Co-Chair of the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Commission on Downtown Housing and as a member of the FannieMae National Advisory Committee.

Long active in the historic preservation movement, Mr. Zax has served as a trustee of the D.C. Preservation League and as a member of the ULI advisory panel that assisted the Rebuild New Orleans Commission.  He and his firm have provided pro bono legal assistance to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Mr. Zax is one of the leaders of an effort to create the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park at the site Alexander Hamilton selected to begin implementing his plan to secure America's economic independence and transform a rural agrarian society based on slavery into a modern economy based on freedom.

Mr. Zax’s articles on real estate and historic preservation have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Euromoney, National Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal, Washington Business Journal, Preservation, and Urban Land.

His professional accomplishments have been recognized in Who’s Who in America, Euromoney Guide to the World’s Leading Real Estate Lawyers, and Chambers USA Guide to America’s Leading Lawyers for Business.  Mr. Zax also served as chairman of the American Bar Association Committee on Housing and Urban Development Law.


A graduate of the University of Chicago, he received a Master in City Planning and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard University.  After serving as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he served as a Lecturer in City and Regional Planning at Harvard.  He has also served on the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

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