Jonathan Rose, Developer of a New Urban World

03/07/2017 10:46 pm ET

Jonathan Rose, the green developer, is a poster child for Citi Progress Makers, success stories the bank has funded Citi Progress Makers. His book: Well-Tempered Cities,

Well-Tempered City is a surprising expression of love for what is possible in the universe made real in the design of cities. Over 400 pages of ancient to modern history are filled with lessons humanity needs now. It awakens a deep understanding of how cities thrived in the past, how they failed and how they thrive again now and will in the future. He elaborates on the beauty and harmony of their architecture, their transportation, energy and food systems, their layout and relationship with Nature. But one intangible essence stands out that seems to be missing most right now: it is what was called Meh by the Eridu…the god’s gift to humans: the spiritual “key to organizing a society (p53).”

This intangible Meh is what Rose boldly attempts to bring down to earth as he sets forth a pragmatic guide to a healthy future for cities. The green community should harvest this book for its virtual whole earth catalog of lessons learned, backed up by carefully researched data on what works and doesn't. But more importantly, policy-makers and planners, businessmen and investors need to have this global and historical perspective. Civilizations have failed before. Nature is not kind to thoughtless development.

Encouraging the expansiveness of the reader's mind, Rose bases his vision on Johann Sebastian Bach's breakthrough work: The Well-Tempered Clavier, which opened up a new world of possibility for musical composition by systematically bringing all musical scales into one wholeness reflecting the Universe. This musical theme plays into all the erudite wisdom of this breakthrough book and brings it to life. It is a challenge on many levels, but it is also a wonderful key for the kind of complex world of diversity that cities need to learn to accommodate.

You can ponder Bach’s breakthrough and how it might inspire a man like Rose. Starting with Middle C find the pattern at the start of each scale: two whole steps, a half step and another whole step, bringing you to a beautiful 5th: C-G. Then starting at G find the next 5th: G-D and so forth until every note on the piano starts another key, leaving none out. The last magically completes the cycle: F-C! It is a profound experience to listen to this diverse and harmonious whole united by the principle of 5th’s discovered by Bach, tying together all the keys through his famous fugues that are all inclusive and fit perfectly together…just the way a well-tempered city might be.

The book is designed with five overarching principles that are required for the well-tempered harmony of today’s and tomorrow’s cities: Coherence, Circularity, Resilience, Community and Compassion. Rose recognizes and elaborates on multiple considerations under each of these headings, breaking it down and telling one story after another of tragedy or success. But it is not formulaic; it is principled. It is iterative rather than definitive. It is about creating a culture, but not once and for all. Cultures develop tradition, evolve, then sometimes die. Culture, in fact, is one of the nine fundamental characteristics at work in the forming of cities. All need to be considered as part of the Coherence of a city. They are: cognition, cooperation, culture, calories (food/energy), connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.

We need this guidance right now, particularly with its loving introspection and intelligent awareness for possibilities, as the world tilts back toward divisiveness, and greed and fear-based policy. The desire to spend a fortune for Elon Musk to take you to the moon makes sense now: it is that view of the blue jewel of our solar system, that glorious perspective, that needs to be reawakened before we destroy all that is human and natural.

Jonathan is much more than a green builder, a scholar, or philosopher. He is a Mensch, a representative of what is best in humanity: the ability to be self-aware, to see what is, what is possible, to care about the difference, to act based on conscience and to teach and empower others in a scientific, replicable way.

His vision has earned him business across this continent and attention across the globe. In full disclosure, our real asset fund was an early investor and we are still invested today. His participation in the retrofitting of the Empire State Building has received much attention for its simple off the shelf approach to saving energy and generating profits. This project is emblematic of the bridge needed from the old ways to the new.

The story Rose tells of the collapse of the Mayan civilization is sobering because of the similarities to our current situation: There was a global climate change then that brought chronic drought to Mexico and Belize. This was exacerbated by diseases brought from Europe; but most pointedly, the ballooning inequities between the rich and poor kindled chaos and doom. All in places of power would do well to read and find instruction.

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