Living: He Digs Downtown

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For Master Planner James Rouse, urban life is a festival

The people are the city. —Shakespeare, Coriolanus

They come in every size, costume, complexion, class and age, an ever renewing multitude, lured to ocean's edge as inexorably as water sprites. From early morning until well past midnight, natives and tourists by the thousands turn Baltimore's Inner Harbor into a continuous celebration: milling on the promenades, perching on the bulkheads, dangling feet in the drink, flirting on the benches, lounging in the outdoor cafés, ogling, jogging, strolling, munching, sipping, savoring the sounds and sweet airs. In their midst, jugglers hurl batons, mimes mime, clowns pratfall and dancers soar. At one time or another, the sounds of jazz, Mozart, marching bands, rock, Rodgers, Bach, bagpipes and bouzouki fill the air. The air is filled, too, with the fragrances of fresh-baked bread, cheeses, chocolate, roasting coffee beans, crepes, French fries, fruit, sausage, seafood, soul food, souvlaki, spices and herbs.

All this wafts like a siren song from the twin glass and green-roofed shopping pavilions that form the year-old Harborplace: two-story, block-long, translucent pleasure domes where visitors can be seen from outside swarming in rhythmic schools like the angelfish at the nearby National Aquarium in Baltimore, a dazzling, $21.3 million piscine habitat that was formally opened Aug. 8 (see box).

Fifteen years ago, the 3.2-acre site of Harborplace was part of a 250-acre wasteland of rotting wharves, markets, warehouses and railroad yards, the worst of Baltimore's then decrepit downtown. Its transformation into the commercial and social centerpiece of the Inner Harbor and the energizing jolt it has sent through the entire city are the result of $20 million worth of construction, plus the ideas and energy of an affable Marylander named James Wilson Rouse.

Rouse, 67, considers himself a developer, but is best described as an urban visionary. Over the past five years, in such innovative ventures as Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Philadelphia's Gallery at Market Street East and Santa Monica

Place, a covered shopping mall in the heart of the California coastal city, he has shown a unique and uncanny ability to blend commerce and showmanship into a magnetizing force in the inner city. In the process, he has also sought to reshape current-day thinking about the functions and rewards of city life. The Rouse philosophy revolves not so much around real estate as around meeting the needs and desires of people—which, to say the least, seemed bizarre to most mortgage bankers when he was starting out. He has more than proved his point, and nowhere more spectacularly than in Baltimore.

Harborplace, in its first year of operation ending last month, attracted more visitors (18 million) than Disney World, earned $42 million, created 2,300 jobs and returned to the city more than $1.1 million in taxes. More important, it has lived up to Master Planner Rouse's criterion of the inner city as "a warm and human place, with diversity of choice, full of festival and delight." Like Faneuil Hall Marketplace, it has helped restore a sense of community and vitality to a divided, decaying, once apathetic older city.

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