NEW YORK CITY—Founder of the Jonathan Rose Cos. and among the country’s most prolific developers of green and affordable housing, Jonathan Rose is recognized as one of the leading thinkers on the integration of environmental, social and economic solutions to urban development issues. As of this past week, he is also an author with a newly published book, The Well-Tempered City, issued by Harper Collins.
The book explores cities throughout history, tracing the conditions that gave rise to urban life. It makes the case that the conditions that were necessary for cities to emerge centuries ago are also necessary for cities to thrive today, and details five characteristics that can help them prepare for the megatrends of the 21st century. Rose is in the midst of a tour that will find him discussing The Well-Tempered City in venues ranging from the Philip Glass Center in Carmel, CA this coming Friday to the Urban Land Institute’s fall convention in Dallas on Oct. 27. GlobeSt.com spoke with him during a breather in the tour schedule.
GlobeSt.com: I’d like to discuss the genesis of The Well-Tempered City. It appears to draw on both what you have made your mission as a developer and a longstanding historical context. Would it be fair to say that there are lessons that modern cities have forgotten from their counterparts centuries ago?
Jonathan Rose: I live in cities, I work in cities and I think a lot about cities, and have done so for a long time. So the genesis of this book was a way for me to integrate all that I was learning from history, science and current observations about cities over the decades. This was a fantastic way for me to do so.
I’m a real estate developer and planner, but as a developer, I want to make sure that every idea I have can actually be realized. The goal is to have very high aspirations and at the same time make sure they’re all practical and achievable. To do that, I looked at great cities from the past, because we’re human beings and although our technology has changed and our social systems have evolved somewhat, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from what succeeded or failed in the past.
GlobeSt.com: At the same time, you make it clear that there are a number of considerations that are unique to present-day cities, and that we have to think outside the box to address those.
Rose: First, the world’s population is growing. We’ll hit 10 billion people by 2050, demographers say. We are increasingly urbanizing—by the end of the 21st century, we’ll have 80% of the world’s people living in cities. People are moving to cities because they see them as places of opportunity. We’re going to have increasing climate volatility, a lot more financial volatility, rising income inequality and we’re going to have a lot more people, so we’re going to have resource depletion, stress on the earth’s resources. All of these things are hitting simultaneously.
This is not the first time they have hit. Interestingly, in the past when you have had a rising population that has income inequality and has over-consumed its resources, systems have collapsed, like the Mayan civilization. Number one, that’s a warning for us, and number two, we have so much better planning tools today and most importantly, we have the ability to measure where we are. In the past, we used to do a city plan every 20 years. Now, we can dynamically plan continuously toward whatever our goals are for our cities to achieve the best outcomes in terms of health, the economy, jobs, affordable housing. You can actually put numbers on those things, measure continuously to see how we’re doing and continuously adjust the tools of city management and planning to get there.
GlobeSt.com: Beyond individual cities, the book also makes it clear that not only a regional approach but also a global one will be necessary to address issues that will affect most corners of the earth, especially as the population increases.
Rose: Yes, urbanization is happening globally, it’s affecting cities around the world. And one of the reasons that cities are growing so rapidly is that people are finding fewer and fewer opportunities in rural areas. People are moving to cities seeking opportunities, and the big challenge will be: can cities provide enough opportunity for all of the people who are flowing in? We’re beginning to learn that there are several levers that are essential for opportunity to exist, globally and in American cities. People need access to education, healthcare, affordable means of transportation, parks and urban spaces—there are several factors that will determine whether this rising urbanization will succeed or fail.
GlobeSt.com: The Well-Tempered City was written for a broad-based constituency. Who would you say are the ones who would benefit the most from absorbing the book’s lessons?
Rose: I hope everybody. The book was written for a broad audience. It was written for people caring about their communities. I have quite an extensive tour all around the country, and in some places I’ve been asked to speak to mayors and city councils, while in others I’ve been asked by community organizations that are working on regional planning or city planning. I’m talking to the Urban Land Institute, which is really a group of developers that are implementing change in cities. Then there are also university planning departments. So I think there’s a broad range of people who are interested in the issues of cities and are interested in this book.
GlobeSt.com: As you’re conducting this tour, certainly the settings are different. Are you presenting essentially the same message to each of these groups or do you feel a need to tailor it somewhat?
Rose: I’m actually trying to say at least something different to every group. It makes it more interesting to me, but also I’m really trying to address each group’s issue. A lot of the cities I’m going to, I know about, but where I don’t I’m studying the issues of those cities. Planning is very place-based: every city has its own economy, its own political issues, its own ecological issues, and although they can learn lessons from all the cities around the world, they need to implement them in their own way. I want to make sure I’m talking in a way that is useful to that specific community.
Image: Shanghai neon-lit Overpasses (www.flickr.com)
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.