Designer of America James W. Rouse: His vision is stamped on his city, era and country

April 10, 1996

EVERY SO OFTEN a builder so faithfully translates the hopes and lives of his contemporaries into wood or concrete that he lives forever as designer of his country, city and time. Such was the imprint of Christopher Wren on 17th century London, Frederick Law Olmsted on the pastoral hearts of 19th century American cities and James W. Rouse on the modern American community.

Mr. Rouse was not, like Wren, a mathematician turned architect, or Olmsted, a journalist turned landscape designer. He was, at the start, a mortgage banker. Building on that, he was a visionary of communities. He had the breezy eloquence to convert legions of people to his ideas, including officials who could enable, and specialists who could realize them.

Mr. Rouse died yesterday at 81. His monuments are all around, urban and suburban, ubiquitous and inescapable: The shopping mall. The enclosed shopping mall. The multi-story, festive food-court-filled, enclosed shopping mall. Planned downtown urban renewal. Carefully planned suburban "cities." The planned, self-sufficient, racially integrated city, work-place and living space combined.

His ideas about redevelopment of a decrepit waterfront helped make Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Institutions he created applied those notions in other harbors from Belfast to Sydney. His contribution to the rebuilding of downtown Baltimore in the 1960s included helping to create the Greater Baltimore Committee of movers and shakers who put Charles Center up.

If the development of Cross Keys in North Baltimore -- even now renewing its retail heart -- is his monument on a small scale, the city of Columbia in Howard County -- even now expanding its commercial base -- is his vision on a vast canvas.

Mr. Rouse was never merely master builder for the fortunate. A market in low-income rental housing mortgages is also his monument. From his early advocacy of vigorous code inspection to his final labors for the Enterprise Foundation in Sandtown-Winchester, James Rouse tried valiantly to end housing blight in Baltimore and America. Along the way he did a world of good for countless people. He could not end blight because housing is not everything -- but it surely helps.

This prophet did not go un-honored. He made the cover of Time, was the subject of an exhibition in the National Building Museum in Washington and was The Sun's Marylander of the Year for 1993. Jim Rouse's vision will live on in his concept of what can make modern American cities and suburbs livable.

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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