What Rouse wrought Columbia's maker: James Rouse shaped not just where people lived, but how they lived.

April 12, 1996

WHAT WOULD Howard County look like had James Wilson Rouse not come along precisely when he did? That one could even pose the question without fear of being accused of wanton hyperbole is a measure of his vast impact.

Long before his death this week, Mr. Rouse's revolutionary concepts and landmark projects had become widely known: the enclosed shopping mall, the downtown festival marketplace, his holistic approach to homesteading in Baltimore's impoverished Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. But nowhere was his influence felt as profoundly as in the place he called home: Columbia, in Howard County.

Had there been no Columbia, growth would have found Howard, sandwiched between Baltimore and Washington, as surely as it discovered much of Central Maryland. But without the planned city absorbing half the county's growth since the 1960s, housing likely would have oozed aimlessly across Howard, as it has other places. Mr. Rouse's insistence on quality development was felt beyond Columbia, in outlying subdivisions forced to compete in a Rouse-conceived marketplace.

Jim Rouse wasn't merely a contractor, though; he was a culture-maker. Minorities, especially upwardly mobile professionals, are drawn to Howard because Mr. Rouse expressly fashioned a community that embraced diversity. Its schools are top-notch because Mr. Rouse set an ethic for excellence and experimentation. He even had a hand in the surfeit of children kicking soccer balls, by ensuring that recreation space wouldn't be an afterthought.

Alas, if his vision could only have seeped farther through suburbia. Too many developers still regard open space as the unbuildable lots on which they couldn't have wedged another house anyway. Too many politicians put off infrastructure as a burden for their successors. Too many people refuse to acknowledge the doctrine Jim Rouse began preaching decades ago: That the state of our communities, particularly how they nurture families, shapes society for generations yet unborn.

A friend of Mr. Rouse said, "If you lived to be 181, you would be hard-pressed to accomplish a significant section of what he's done." Howard County, and Maryland, were blessed in getting a significant part of his 81 years.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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