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Remembering James Rouse


APRIL 10, 1996


The NewsHour remembers the life and achievements of James Rouse, revolutionary urban planner and developer. Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks with architecture critic Robert Campbell and Enterprise Foundation chairman Barton Harvey.

discussion CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: James W. Rouse, the visionary developer who died yesterday at age 81, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last Fall for his achievements in changing the way Americans live. In the 1950's, Rouse pioneered indoor shopping malls. In the 1960's, disappointed with the sterility of suburbs, he used the model of the colonial village to build the planned community of Columbia, Maryland. In the 1970's, Rouse worked to rejuvenate dying downtowns by introducing so-called festival marketplaces, Fanueil Hall in Boston, Harbor Place in Baltimore, and the South Street Sea Port in Manhattan. In the 1980's, he retired from the Rouse Company and created a foundation to focus on affordable housing for the poor. In 1985, Rouse was a guest on the NewsHour on the subject of urban decay.

discussion JAMES W. ROUSE: (1985) All over this country at the heart of our cities, we have people, citizens of this country, living in, in condition that hardly exists anywhere else in the world. We need to launch a massive campaign in this country to find fit, decent places for people to live in fit and decent neighborhoods, with adequate opportunity to get jobs. And that can be done.

JIM LEHRER: Is it the federal government's responsibility to do it?

JAMES W. ROUSE: We need to build. We need to work from the neighborhoods, from the bottom up to build new systems of, of dealing with these neighborhood community problems of the desperate poor.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: For more on James Rouse and his accomplishments, we turn to Robert Campbell, architecture critic for the "Boston Globe." Yesterday, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism for his writing on architecture. And Barton Harvey, chairman and CEO of The Enterprise Foundation, which was founded by Rouse. And, Mr. Harvey, describe for us James Rouse, the passionate man we just heard. Who was he, and how did he accomplish so much?

discussion BARTON HARVEY, The Enterprise Foundation: (Owings Mills, Maryland) Well, he was an extraordinary person and he was marked by optimism, a positive point of view, and ability to lead and attract people and most of all, by his ability to hold out for what is best and what ought to be and what ought to happen, and, and not to compromise.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We just talked about the four decades, where each decade he came up with something new, and I read today where he saw the future and made it his. How did he become a visionary?

discussion MR. HARVEY: Well, I think he--where other people saw problems, he saw opportunities. He really believed this, this creed, and these are his words, that what ought to be can be when you have the will to make it so. And he had the will to make it so.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Where did that will come from, because he was born poor and he achieved a lot and made a lot of money so he got rich at a certain point, you know, but what motivated him?

MR. HARVEY: Well, I think he had a unique blend. He had a blend of the, of the optimism and belief that he could do something, he individually could make a difference. He was a deeply religious individual, never wore it on his coat sleeves, but he took great solace in, in that, and he really put that to work in his life. His belief was his life as well, and those two combinations, along with the ability to attract people to good cause, umm, really spurred him forward and got him over obstacle after obstacle.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How did he see his work?

discussion MR. HARVEY: He, umm, he really saw his work as a blend of what he believed in and, umm, and what could be accomplished. He, he once said in setting up the Rouse Company that the purpose of business is to serve a legitimate human need and that if you did that well and helped people reach their potential in an organization, profits would result. But it went in that order.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So he was the kind of person who could--what do they say--make--do good and do well at the same time?

MR. HARVEY: He certainly did. But I think at every turn those beliefs really served him well and whatever he made, he put back and gave back and felt that obligation to put it back. He believed deeply in the free enterprise system, but he also believed that, that each of us, umm, had the responsibility to help out those that didn't have the same opportunity.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Campbell, you're sitting in Boston, where Fanueil Hall was created by James Rouse, the first of his so-called festival marketplaces. How has this kind of urban rebuilding stood the test of time?

discussion ROBERT CAMPBELL, Boston Globe: (Boston) I think it made just a tremendous difference. You have to remember Boston and other American cities, but particularly Boston was coming out of a 40-year recession. There was no belief in the investment in downtown. He came in and with others that worked with him created something I think that was kind of--of reinvigorated the idea of what was local. They moved into a building that was 150 years old, an historic structure, and tried to create a sense of the region. This was an era when Americans were buying their food wrapped in plastic and shipped from California to supermarkets, and here's a guy saying no, come on downtown, buy fish, this is Boston, and buy it from local merchants and regain a sense of the local place.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What exactly was a festival marketplace? I mean, what was festive about--

MR. CAMPBELL: As far as I know, he invented the term, and went on to do it in other cities, and I think the idea was that shopping you'd come to a place that was so much fun to come to that you didn't just come with the goal of buying something, you came because it would be such a wonderful experience to be there. And so the, the festive life of the place, the way you might visit an Italian hill town for the festive sense of the place and then buy something I think discussionwas the concept.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How would you describe Rouse's impact on Americans, the way they lived in both cities and suburbs?

MR. CAMPBELL: Well, it was an unbelievable impact. He had a belief in himself, a messianic zeal that was just amazing, and once he bought a concept, he never lost faith in it. It was very difficult to pull the Fanueil Hall Marketplace in Boston. The bankers didn't believe in it. The politicians didn't believe in it. It was a tremendous struggle. The day it opened, the wholediscussion world seemed to show up at once and want to shop there. And by the way, a funny story about Rouse is that one of his ideas was that you set small businesses in motion. That's one of the good things you do in life. So they invented the idea of push carts, and they filled the marketplace with push carts where people could generate new businesses, but they didn't have any new businesses the day they opened. Jim sat there at a push cart, himself, selling baskets the whole first day the Fanueil Hall Marketplace opened.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And how is this standing the test of time? I mean, is it having an impact today on building and--

discussion MR. CAMPBELL: I think that it's a tremendous success economically. I think that we here in Boston believe that some of his original vision has been lost, that sense of a unique place. In the original Fanueil Hall marketplace, there weren't to be any national franchise businesses. There were to be local merchants, which is what had always been there. Now we find Disney there, Warner there, all kinds of national clothing chains and things like that there, so that it's becoming more like other places, and that vision of a place that was for--that a tourist would come to because it was a local Boston place and something different from home has maybe been killed by the very touristic culture that, that came to it.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Harvey, how do you see his legacy?

discussion MR. HARVEY: I think a lot of people would say that he touched the urban landscape in a major way, not only in Fanueil Hall and Harbor Place but in the city of Columbia, that he, he helped build from scratch. But I would say that he touched the human landscape of America, that everywhere he went, he connected in very human terms with individuals and he spurred people on, and he talked about his vision of what could be for America, and it's a wonderful vision. There are millions of Jim Rouse stories that are out there. There are people that were touched and inspired and moved by him.discussion

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gentlemen, thank you so much.

MR. HARVEY: Thank you.

MR. CAMPBELL: Thank you very much.


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