James W. Rouse; Developer, Pioneer of Shopping Mall


James W. Rouse, a master urban developer who coined the terms “urban renewal” and “shopping mall” in the 1950s, invented the “festival marketplace” to renovate decaying downtowns, and then turned his attention to providing low-income housing for poor people, has died. He was 81.

Rouse died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at his home in Columbia, Md., a planned suburban community that was another of his innovations in the 1960s. The city of 76,000 remains a model of racial and economic diversity, with one-fourth of its acreage devoted to recreation.

He conceived and built Faneuil Hall in Boston, Harborplace in Baltimore, South Street Seaport in New York and the Underground in Atlanta--centers that renovate historic urban settings with specialty shops, restaurants, entertainment spaces and inviting tree-lined walkways.


After retiring as chief executive officer of the Rouse Co., which he founded in 1939, Rouse created the Enterprise Foundation in 1982. His goal was to give every poor person in America the opportunity to have clean, affordable housing.

Incorporating tax incentives, public and private grants, donated building materials and volunteers, he built thousands of homes in at least 90 cities and set up regional headquarters in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Denver, Newark, N.J., New York, Portland, Ore., San Antonio and Santa Fe, N.M.

“We would say to Los Angeles,” Rouse urged in an opinion piece in The Times in 1986, “as we would to other cities: You ought to get at it, and form an entity focusing on housing for poor people. And you can change the life of your city--not in a day or a year. But out there, 10 or 15 years from now, you would see a marvelously different city. And it will never happen unless you start.”

Rouse received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. President Clinton praised him in a White House ceremony for helping to “heal the torn out heart” of America’s cities.

A native of Easton, Md., Rouse was orphaned as a teenager. He went to college and law school during the Great Depression and began his career working with the Federal Housing Administration.

Rouse coined the term “urban renewal” while working on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Task Force on Housing in the 1950s. He also coined the term “shopping mall” in the 1950s when he developed the nation’s first enclosed shopping center, the Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, and pioneered the multilevel shopping and food courts that are ubiquitous today.


Rouse also served on President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives in 1982 and chaired the National Housing Task Force in 1987. He was chosen for the National Assn. of Homebuilders’ Hall of Fame.