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Monday, March 4, 2013

What would Jim Rouse do?

      A little while ago a blog post by Tom Coale in Hoco Rising reminded me how often Jim Rouse's name is used in any proposed change in Columbia.  As Tom points out no one can be sure of what Rouse would say about the proposed development of downtown or the Inner Arbor plan. Rouse seems to be most often quoted when someone is opposing a new development in Columbia. It is similar to someone proving a point by quoting the Bible.  You can usually find justification for just about any point of view in some passage of the Bible.
     Most people quoting Rouse probably never met him or had an opportunity to talk first hand with him.  Fortunately he has left us with a great deal of correspondence and minutes of the meetings that framed the development of Columbia.  A visit to the Columbia Archives is a great way to spend some free time to explore the 1960's time capsule of Columbia's development.  Reading some of his writing gives you a sense of how he blended idealism with a practical business sense.
    I have put a link for everyone who would like to hear a good video prepared by the Archives talking with folks who knew Jim Rouse and talk about his qualities. The video is worth listening to.
    So what qualities would Jim Rouse bring to our plans for Columbia in 2013?  What qualities would still be relevant in 2013 as in 1963?  Here is a short list of those qualities:
 1) Diversity- Any early discussion of Columbia had a strong theme of Columbia being an inclusive community.  In early Columbia the diversity discussed was racial.  Today it might be more about inclusiveness of foreign born populations.
2) Fun- A great deal of time was spent on how Columbia would be a "fun" community.  This is shown most directly by the discussion of how a Columbia version of Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens could be created.   Fun was also a strong component of Harbor Place and the other "festival themed" urban retail centers that the Rouse Company developed.
 3) Creating a sense of community- We see many of the signs of how people in Columbia are connected in ways that don't exist everywhere.  Our communal mailboxes, Interfaith Centers, Columbia Association and Columbia Medical Plan were designed to connect Columbia's residents. He even considered how a live cable show with Columbia residents calling in to participate could be a way he could connect with the residents.
4) Future looking- Rouse was never looking to follow what was currently popular but was always looking for the "next big thing."  His vision for the future was what made him such a successful developer.   If nothing else we can say about Jim Rouse if he was alive today he would be looking to the future to identify the "next big thing" and how to translate that into a viable business venture to enhance our community.

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