Meet Jonathan F.P. Rose, president of Jonathan Rose Cos., a development, urban planning, and investment firm founded in 1989. He’s one of the nation’s leading thinkers on connecting economic, environmental, and social solutions to combat today’s urban issues.
His new book, “The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life,” delves into the issues our cities face and the solutions to overcome 21st century challenges.
Rose will discuss the themes of his new book, how to develop communities of opportunity, and the importance of affordable housing as a stable base for families to build their lives during his keynote presentation at AHF Live: The Affordable Housing Developers Summit, Nov. 15-17, at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.
What inspired you to write a Well-Tempered City?
I have been thinking about these issues for a long time. My mission as a company is to build communities of opportunity, but, to put that in a bigger frame, it’s to make the world a better place. I think that’s really common in the entire affordable housing industry. What I see coming ahead is enormous volatility. I see the issues of climate change; rising income inequality; and the new geography of jobs where we have places like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin, which feel like they are going to be huge job generators for awhile, and other parts of the country in which job growth is going to be very difficult. Throughout history there are patterns in which cities have successfully confronted these issues and some have not. I really wanted to see if I could figure out what the lessons learned were and how to communicate those.
What do you want readers to take away from the book?
I want readers to take away a sense of hope and a sense of responsibility. First of all, many of the issues of the 21st century are going to hit cities, but also cities are the places where the solutions are. There’s a phrase that I use in the book—“cities are cauldrons of opportunity.” They are places where for a millennium people have come seeking a better life. They are doing that today all over the world. Cities are both cauldrons of opportunity for people who have individual better lives, but they are also energy-efficient places where we can help solve climate change and the places where the most job generation happens where we can help solve income inequality. Clearly the solutions are there in the cities. I’ve seen cities that have been fantastic at solving problems and ones that have been crummy at solving problems. The goal is to try to identify what some of the best solutions are and figure out how to spread those.
How can the affordable housing industry help address cities’ challenges?
Every aspect of individual and family advancement starts with affordable housing. Like Ron Terwilliger says, it’s very hard to do well in school if you’re living under a bridge. If you care about education, it has to start with affordable housing. If you care about the environment, we know that buildings in cities consume 80% of the energy and the greening of buildings have huge effects on the environmental and health sides. We know there’s an increasing understanding of how health and housing are deeply interrelated. I view the affordable housing industry as being at the key leverage point for creating healthy communities.
Recent a-ha moment?
We are dramatically growing our affordable housing acquisition and renovation work. The a-ha was that I realized that as much as we can develop, and we certainly hope to develop a lot, that where most lower- and working-class Americans live is in existing affordable housing. America builds about 100,000 new affordable housing units a year, that’s not much. There are 20 million American families that are currently spending more than 50% of their income on housing. The a-ha has been to focus much more on acquisitions and understand that we can have, in some ways, more impact just on numbers of people through our renovations of existing projects. Our ability to improve people’s lives is going to come by weaving families together with opportunity in existing projects.
What else would you like to achieve in your career?
We just applied for an request for proposal that I don’t know if we’re going to win or not in New York City to develop an entire block. In that block not only will there be a lot of affordable housing, but our proposal is to have all the different elements of community—health, well-being, education, beautiful parks and gardens, a lot of social services—all woven together. It would be really great to create a highly integrated, holistic model of community transformation.