Jess Zimbabwe
Urban Ecology
Oakland/San Francisco


"At first glance, the Rose Fellowship may seem like a luxury because it allows the fellow to devote three years towards design projects in low-income communities. In reality, the program has the capacity to make the case that good design should never be considered a luxury, but a necessity in these neighborhoods."

During her fellowship, Jess served as the Community Design Director at Urban Ecology in Oakland and San Francisco, California, providing pro bono community planning and design assistance to low-income neighborhoods in the Bay Area. Her primary project was the design and development of a community cultural center in the San Antonio district of East Oakland. Since it was founded in 1975, Urban Ecology has used urban planning and design, ecology, public participation, and policy reform to help communities plan and build neighborhoods that are ecologically healthy, socially just, and economically fair. Jess’s academic research and experience in social and cultural implications of design was a huge asset for Urban Ecology.

Following her fellowship, Jess became the Director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design. During her time at the Mayors’ Institute, she also served as VP for Programs at the American Architectural Foundation. In 2009, the Urban Land Institute named Jess founding Executive Director of the Rose Center for Public Leadership. The mission of the ULI Rose Center is to encourage and support excellence in land use decision making. By providing public officials with access to information, best practices, peer networks, and other resources, the Rose Center seeks to foster creative, efficient, practical, and sustainable land use policies. Through this center, ULI significantly expands its public sector engagement and mission to provide leadership in the responsible use of land. The yearlong Daniel Rose Fellowship program provides the mayors of four large U.S. cities with ULI assistance on a local land use development challenge, while its workshops and webinars provide discussion forums for best practices on topical land use issues to a wide array of public sector practitioners.

Jess earned a Master of Architecture and Master of City Planning from UC Berkeley and a B.A. in Architecture from Columbia University. During her graduate work, Jess was awarded Berkeley’s Branner Traveling Fellowship and visited 27 national capitals, researching public use of space in and around parliament buildings. Jess was recognized as a 2008-2009 Comparative Domestic Policy Fellowship at the German Marshall Fund and a 2004-2005 Fellow of the Women’s Policy Institute of the Women’s Foundation of California. She serves on the Board of Directors of Next City. She is a licensed architect, certified city planner and a LEED-Accredited professional. Jess also serves as a member of the Rose Fellowship Selection Committee.



jzimbabwe-eastside-cultural-center.jpgEastside Cultural Center

13,866 sq ft gross site area
Adaptive reuse
3 stories
16,330 sq ft gross project area
 16 affordable rental housing units
Community center (4,040 sq ft)
Child-care facility (562 sq ft)
2 offices

Residential Unit Profile:
Affordable units serve extremely low and moderate income households.
8 Studio, 406-406 sq ft
8 1 BR, 483-516 sq ft
13 Total

Eastside Arts Alliance had been leasing space for several years because they were committed to serving the San Antonio District. With rising property values, they realized that owning a permanent cultural center would allow them more sustainability for their mission.

Completed 2007

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