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Chapter 6 James Rouse and American City Planning During his life and since his death in 1996 at the age of eightyone , James Rouse has attracted attention and, for the most part, praise for his multiple roles as entrepreneur, developer, civic activist, and philanthropist .1 Propelled to the cover of Time in 1981 following the opening of Baltimore ’s tremendously successful Harborplace retail complex, his image has been indelibly linked with the magazine’s headline, ‘‘Cities Are Fun!’’2 In an era when urban areas have struggled with debilitating decentralization and rising social costs associated with heightened racial and class conflict, Rouse’s affirmative vision for revitalized cities boosted spirits and generated a host of imitators. Hardly one to be denied a place in the story of modern urbanism, can the creator of the festival marketplace also be rightfully described , in Time’s terms, as a ‘‘master planner’’? Credited variously, if not always accurately, with coining the term ‘‘urban renewal’’ and contributing to its translation into law, and with building one of the first enclosed regional malls and pursuing their adaptation downtown, he can scarcely be excluded from the history of urban and regional planning. Although his role as a businessman placed him outside the ranks of professional planners , his distinctive leadership in urban development repeatedly put him in the sphere of planning. Both as participant and as relative outsider to the profession, Rouse’s life work is instructive. The activities that took Rouse from a suburban shopping center developer , to the builder of the new town of Columbia, Maryland, to the creator of a foundation dedicated to rehabilitating the nation’s most troubled urban neighborhoods are not as eclectic as they might seem. True, Rouse’s religious beliefs affected his concept of turning profits into dividends for the economically disadvantaged. But he was no Benjamin Franklin, who, having made his fortune, decided to retire so that he might better give his PAGE 95 ................. 17669$ $CH6 02-23-10 13:53:56 PS 96 Chapter 6 talents back to his community. Rather, throughout his career, Rouse exhibited a consistent belief, closely associated with a faith that could be traced back to the Progressive Era, that intervention directed into the physical environment holds the key to social regeneration. Rouse’s belief in the power of changing the physical environment came to him in his early years in Baltimore. Orphaned in 1930 at the age of sixteen, Rouse survived hard times during the Depression to make his way through night law school at the University of Maryland while working in the Baltimore office of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). In 1939 he took up selling the new and controversial FHA mortgages by forming his own mortgage company with Hunter Moss.3 He later recalled that if you’re in real estate finance or development, you’re automatically drawn into a much deeper, wider spectrum of urban life than a manufacturer or a banker or a merchant, unless he reaches out. That’s because what you’re doing is financing, or developing, the pieces of a city, and, therefore, the city is your playing field.4 Like so many other Baltimore civic leaders, including William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and Maryland governor, and Robert Embry, the former assistant secretary for community planning and development of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rouse received his initiation in urban problem solving as an active member of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA). This organization traced its origin to the Housing Council of Baltimore, founded in 1940 following publication by the Health and Welfare Council of a dramatic study of Baltimore’s slum conditions. Written by Frances Morton, a native of the city and a recent graduate of the New York School of Social Work, the study stressed the close relationship between bad housing and bad health. It attracted the attention of the Baltimore Evening Sun and, building on the drive to secure the National Housing Act of 1937, projected social reform to the forefront of civic consciousness.5 Imbued with a strong religious as well as social conscience , Morton broke new ground by getting blacks and whites working together to promote neighborhood revitalization. Seeking greater public use of police powers to clear up blighted areas, she helped secure a new ‘‘Hygiene of Housing’’ ordinance in 1941. It provided the commissioner of health with broad powers to outlaw unsanitary and unhealthful slum conditions through a new housing office in his department.6 In...


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