James W. Rouse

December 31, 1993

He retired as CEO of the company that bears his name in 1979, and as a director in 1984. He retired in October as CEO of the foundation he founded in 1981. He survived a quintuple heart bypass operation last May. He will turn 80 next April. You would think James W. Rouse might slow down. Not a chance. Too much to do.

The mission statement of his Enterprise Foundation says: "To see that all poor people in this country have the opportunity for decent, affordable housing within a generation and to work up and out of poverty into the mainstream of American life." His reach always did exceed his grasp. The world is a better place for his trying.

After building or rehabilitating 28,000 housing units around the country, the Enterprise Foundation of Columbia this year took a large profile in its spiritual home of Baltimore. It is, along with neighborhood people, City Hall, BUILD and such groups as Habitat for Humanity, a founder and chief planner of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood transformation program, to elevate the lives of 10,500 mostly poor people in 5,000 dwellings in 72 square blocks of West Baltimore.

A partnership that put up 227 units in 1993 for moderate income people now embraces community activism, health delivery, community schools, career development, neighborhood policing and more than 50 projects. It is hard to define James W. Rouse's continuing personal role, as founder-chairman of the Enterprise Foundation, except to say that he makes people believe. He lends his credibility and contacts and ideas. For lack of a better label, he is called a visionary.

Salesmanship is part of his gift, along with a foundation in mortgage banking, a vast accumulation of trial and error and triumph, a contempt for obstacles and a lifelong commitment to do good while doing well. He is a breezy, approachable guy in loafers and sports jacket who inspires. Some people in Sandtown-Winchester want to slow it down. Mr. Rouse wouldn't know how.

He is also working to create nationwide financing for affordable housing, such as underpins market-rate housing. He advises the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. The Enterprise Foundation joined a consortium to purchase $500 million worth of low-income rental housing mortgages from lenders. A subsidiary the foundation joined NationsBank in a $100 million investment in low-income housing.

James Rouse grew up on the Eastern Shore and, after his father's death, managed to get through college and law school during the Great Depression, worked for the Federal Housing Administration, headed a bank mortgage department and went into business in 1939 as a mortgage banker.

After World War II service, Mr. Rouse financed mortgages for returning veterans and went into local commercial projects, such as the Waverly retail district and Broadway redevelopment. By the late 1950s, his company was the developer of such regional shopping centers as Mondawmin in Baltimore City and Harundale in Anne Arundel County. He is an inventor of the enclosed mall, the multi-story mall and the food court, a coiner of the phrase "shopping mall."

Simultaneously, Mr. Rouse rode pro bono into combat against blight in Baltimore City, as housing adviser to City Hall, trying to make code enforcement work. He was one of a small group of business people who promoted a committee of movers and shakers to rebuild the central business district. The Greater Baltimore Committee was born, and Charles Center was built.

By then Mr. Rouse was a national figure, with company offices in several cities. As housing adviser to President Eisenhower he coined the phrase "urban renewal," which found its way into the Housing Act of 1954. In 1959, he said that Baltimore City had the tools to make itself slumless and blightless in 15 years.

Mr. Rouse's business interests moved on. He persuaded City Hall to redo the decrepit Inner Harbor. He bought a golf course on Falls Road and built the residential community of Cross Keys. It was a trial run for something big on the 15,000 acres of Howard County farmland he was quietly buying up. The planned city of Columbia was born, the idea being to get it right from the ground up. It is now a mature city of 70,000 with the racial ratio (about one-fourth black) it had at the start, which is also the statewide ratio. Mr. Rouse lives there.

But in the 1970s, the Rouse Co. was back in the cities again, providing Harborplace for Baltimore, the Gallery in Philadelphia, Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, the South Street Seaport in New York. Mr. Rouse had invented the festival marketplace. "Master Planner James Rouse" made the cover of Time magazine in 1981 along with the legend, "Cities Are Fun." The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., devoted an exhibition to his work.

So what we are about to announce may not be the greatest honor ever paid him. But it could have been said in many of the past 40 years, and must be said now: James W. Rouse is The Baltimore Sun's Marylander of the Year.

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