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Sara Zewde

Emerson Collective Fellowship

Building enduring places where people belong.

Headshot of Sara Zewde

When Hurricane Katrina barreled toward her stretch of the Gulf Coast between Louisiana and Texas, Sara Zewde had not yet decided what she wanted to do professionally. The aftermath of the storm inspired her to work across ecology, infrastructure, and culture as a landscape architect. Today, as the founder of Studio Zewde, a landscape-architecture, urban-design, and public-art practice based in Harlem, in New York City, she collaborates with communities to tackle the biggest issues of society—urbanization, gentrification, climate change—through the use and shaping of space. Among her firm’s recent and ongoing projects are the Mander Recreation Center Campus in Philadelphia, the Midtown Activation Project in Seattle, and Graffiti Pier in Philadelphia. Zewde is also an assistant professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

The Claiborne Corridor in New Orleans had once been the longest stretch of oak trees in the United States. It had been home to 200 Black-owned businesses, and to hundreds of years of Black community. But almost overnight, it became the underside of a concrete road, when a two-mile elevated viaduct was constructed as part of the Interstate Highway System. The new road ripped through many historically Black neighborhoods, and ceded transportation infrastructure to cars. 

As an Emerson Collective Fellow, Zewde will imagine new possibilities for the Claiborne Corridor, in collaboration with the communities there. Zewde aims to create a space that counters displacement, and incubates Black businesses. “I want to work directly with community activists, so they develop their own vision for this 38 acres of land in the heart of Black New Orleans,” she says. With that more-inclusive, more-resilient space, Zewde hopes to set a model for design that will be culturally and ecologically relevant.