Jonathan F.P. Rose is a leading thinker on connecting economic, environmental, and social solutions to combat today’s urban issues. He brings many of his ideas to life through his firm, Jonathan Rose Cos., which has developed award-winning affordable housing communities across the country.

Jonathan F.P. Rose
Jonathan F.P. Rose

He’s also the author of The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.

What makes a good developer?
It’s a mixture of vision and practicality. People who are developing affordable housing are doing it because they want to make the world a better place, and we’re doing it within a highly cost-constrained environment in which there are a lot of rules, regulations, and tight budgets. It’s a balancing act of trying to make the best projects we can to make the world a better place and yet meet our budgets and schedules.

What’s something that developers, even experienced ones, can do to be better?
Particularly experienced developers have a lot of lessons learned. I think we need to figure out how to put those into systems and how we train our next generation and how we give them the ability to grow and yet also benefit from the lessons we’ve had. The development world can be chaotic. I very much believe that one can systematize it more and organize it so that the chaos is channeled and managed. There are older affordable housing developers who started their own companies. We started as little companies, and we became medium-sized companies. We’ve grown from just doing the developments ourselves to leading teams to get developments done. That’s a different skill. We need to learn to grow from being the person who does it ourselves to being the person who enables an organization to do it.

What’s a valuable lesson you can pass on to other developers?
I learned this in one of my very first projects, a very complicated project that many other people had tried to develop but had failed. What I did is I took a big problem and I divided it into a series of small problems. I’ve done this in many projects, taking a very large project and dividing it into small, much-easier-to-accomplish and -finance phases. It’s a way to manage risk. It makes it much easier to get projects financed. I’ve also found that with a very, very large project, the go/no-go decision for all the public agencies and everyone involved is almost too large for them to decide. When you divide it into phases, it makes it easier to get started, and once you get started you have momentum. That momentum builds, and you can ultimately get all the pieces done.