Nov. 29 2016

Coming Together Around Cities

Live from the Mailman School, green developer Jonathan F.P. Rose opened up about urban opportunities with host Randy Cohen for the "Person Place Thing" podcast

Randy Cohen, Emmy Award-winning writer and former New York Times columnist, returned to the Mailman School last month for another live taping of his popular podcast “Person Place Thing,” this time with green developer Jonathan F.P. Rose. Rose, who recently published a new book, The Well-Tempered City, is also no stranger to the Mailman School: he was a featured speaker at the Dean’s Grand Rounds last February. Fitting with the format of the show, he brought with him a person, place, and thing to spark a lively discussion.

For his person, Rose chose his hero, James Rouse—a visionary developer whose work, as Cohen pointed out, is something of a contradiction. The inventor of the idea of the “shopping center,” which fueled population migration from cities to the suburbs starting in the 1950s, Rouse dedicated the second half of his career to supporting community organizations that build affordable housing and drive people back to urban areas. Rouse was also inspiration for Rose’s “Place” selection: Columbia, Maryland—the “utopian city” the developer attempted to build from scratch in the 1960s. The conversation touched on Rouse’s motivations, his vision, and if the city lives up to that vision.

Rose’s “Thing” was a piece of music: the second book of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, the first piece of music where all 24 major and minor keys are expressed. To achieve this feat, Rose explained, Bach utilized a new tuning system known as temperament, brought from China by the Silk Road.

“The Temperament was a new, integrated operating system,” said Rose. As he describes in his new book, the concept of temperament can serve as a model for building healthy and vibrant cities. “[To create cities with] all the things we think are key to great places, we need integrated operating systems. Right now, [they] all exist in silos: political silos, funding silos.”

Conversation during the Q&A section turned local, prompted by a series of questions from audience members, including Sociomedical Sciences Professor Diana Hernandez. Rose and Cohen discussed ongoing urban renewal efforts in Hernandez’s native South Bronx.

“There are amazing opportunities for development in the South Bronx, but gentrification is already happening there,” said Rose, as he outlined reasons for both hope and caution. “How can we help make sure that long-time residents are not priced out of the ‘better times’ to come? We know we’ll have plenty of opportunities to try and get this right because neighborhoods are constantly changing—no place is ever done.”

Rose expressed hope that today’s urban planners can learn from the example of Central Park, which was built to meet multiple needs. Advocates wanted to secure green space to improve public health, wealthy families wanted to secure property values, and politicians hoped to curry favor.

Building better cities for everyone calls for breaking down silos between sectors in academia, companies, government, non-profits, and civil society, according to Rose, and it starts with communities of thinkers like those in schools of public health. “What we’re seeing in the work of the Mailman School and so many schools related to urban issues…we are all recognizing [sectors] have to work together, to become one magnificent tapestry.”

Listen to the podcast here.