Jess Zimbabwe

Architect. Planner. Urbanist.

About Jess

Jess Zimbabwe is Director of Urban Development at the National League of Cities (NLC) and Executive Director of the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership—a partnership of NLC and the Urban Land Institute. Previously, Jess was the Director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, helping mayors understand their role in shaping their communities, and Community Design Director at Urban Ecology, providing community planning and design assistance to low-income neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a licensed architect, a LEED-Accredited professional, past board chair of Next City, and a member of the urban planning faculty at Georgetown University.

Design | Planning | Policy | Photography | Teaching | Art | Writing | Speaking | Service


Trained in both architecture and urban design, Jess brings a deep understanding of design and its role in creating more sustainable, vibrant, and just places.



Jess has worked on planning efforts on a range of issues, including equitable development, historic preservation, housing affordability, transit-oriented development, neighborhood-serving retail, cultural districts, and regional planning. 


Through her day job and volunteer service on several boards and commissions, Jess works with elected and appointed leaders, as well as with community organizers and other stakeholders in support of progressive urban and development policies.


Jess is a prolific amateur photographer, and her photographs have appeared widely. 


Jess is a member of the urban planning faculty at Georgetown University and has served as a guest lecturer, instructor, and critic at many other institutions.


Jess focuses her creative efforts on textile art and interpretive mapping. She recently completed a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. 


Jess contributes sporadically to several publications including Cities Speak, Urban Land, Next City, and Planetizen.


Each year, Jess speaks at cities, nonprofits, companies, universities, nonprofits, professional associations, and conferences across the country.


Jess serves on a number of mission-driven boards, committees, and task forces, and volunteers her time for community and advocacy efforts.