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Black Urbanism as explained by Sara Zwede

February 21, 2011


About Sara Zwede- Black Urbanist    

Sara Zewde grew up in Slidell, Louisiana. As a woman with Ethiopian roots, she has long had a keen interest in the cultural spatial production of Afro-diasporic peoples and its potential to inform design and planning. This research question has led her to study and work in Brazil, South Africa, and New Zealand, among other places, and inspired her to write her masters thesis at MIT on Black Urbanism as a design strategy on North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. Sara currently lives in New Orleans where she is involved in urban planning and development, drawing largely from the Black Urbanist framework. In her free time, she enjoys practicing Brazilian Portuguese and samba, rooting for the New Orleans Saints, and has recently taken up painting




Throughout the evolution of our understanding of ‘sustainability’, it is important that various cultures be articulated and included in the discourse. Due to the lack of literature on many marginalized communities and histories of sustainable practices, their potential to inform contemporary issues are largely absent from curricula and practice. In this way, investigating the spatial practices of various cultures has the potential to inspire new aesthetics, approaches to sustainable design, and foster inclusivity and social justice in the urban landscape.

These issues are to be taken up by Plurale Tantum, a joint project by five recent graduates of MIT and Harvard’s graduate programs in city planning. The project is taking the initial form of a blog, hosting a virtual space for ideas on urbanism and how it is conditioned – and conditioned by – the multiplicity of social identities that inhabit it and the potential of this discourse to inform planning and design. Plurale Tantum’s literal translation from Latin is “plural only.” In English, the phrase refers to nouns that only have a plural form (i.e., “clothes” or “glasses”). The phrase communicates a belief that urbanism does not have a singular narrative and should be articulated through various perspectives. Among the issues we have begun to explore are Black Urbanism, Queer Space, the spatiality of nationless borders, and beyond. From this we intend to elaborate new epistemologies and methodologies for design and planning practice, which we believe can contribute to making this urban century work for the betterment of all.

You are invited to attend the Plurale Tantum kick-off party on Friday, March 18, 2011 at the Art Voices Art Gallery at 1901 Royal Street from 6-9 PM. The lovely Gia Hamilton of Gris Gris Lab is co-coordinating the event, and we want you to contribute to the dialogue.

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