Before joining ULI, Jess was the Director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a 23-year old program that is run as a partnership of the American Architectural Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In that capacity she has worked with over 125 American mayors and cities to help local leaders better understand issues of urban design so that they could advocate for better built environments in their own communities. During her time at the Mayors’ Institute, she also served as Vice President for Programs at the American Architectural Foundation, overseeing that organization’s Great Schools by Design program, which brings design and planning expertise to local appointed and elected school district leaders. Jess also developed the Sustainable Cities Design Academy through its January 2009 pilot event.
Before joining the Mayors’ Institute and American Architectural Foundation in 2006, Jess served as the Community Design Director at Urban Ecology in San Francisco, California, providing pro bono community planning and design assistance to low-income neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her primary project was the design and development of a community cultural center in East Oakland. The position at Urban Ecology was made possible by the Frederick P. Rose Architectural Fellowship. Her previous work experience includes architecture, housing, and community development work in New York and Baltimore.
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. She also received the Architecture Department’s Graduate Instructor of the Year Award. Jess received a Comparative Domestic Policy Fellowship from the German Marshall Fund, and was a 2004-2005 Fellow of the Women’s Policy Institute of the Women’s Foundation of California. She has served on several non-profit boards and committees, and currently serves as President of the Association for Community Design. She is a licensed architect, certified city planner, and a LEED-Accredited professional.