Filmed on Tuesday September 20, 02016

Jonathan Rose

The Well Tempered City

Jonathan Rose is a developer of green and affordable housing and author of The Well Tempered City-What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations and Human Behavior Teach us About the Future of Urban Life.

Cities and urban regions can make coherent sense, can metabolize efficiently, can use their very complexity to solve problems, and can become so resilient they “bounce forward” when stressed.

In this urbanizing century ever more of us live in cities (a majority now; 80% expected by 2100), and cities all over the world are learning from each other how pragmatic governance can work best. Jonathan Rose argues that the emerging best methods focus on deftly managing “cognition, cooperation, culture, calories, connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.”

Unlike most urban theorists and scholars, Rose is a player. A third-generation Manhattan real estate developer, in 1989 he founded and heads the Jonathan Rose Company, which does world-wide city planning and investment along with its real estate projects--half of the work for nonprofit clients. He is the author of the new book, THE WELL-TEMPERED CITY: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.

The Jonathan F.P. Rose book tour is being sponsored by Citi who is happy to provide a copy of his new book, The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations and Human Behavior Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life, to everyone in attendance. Citi supports the efforts of individuals like Jonathan Rose whose work aligns with their mission to enable progress in communities across the globe.

Coherent cities

What holds a city together? Rose noted that the earliest cities were built around a temple and the spirituality it embodied. As the early communities became larger and more diverse and complex, their economic activity intensified. To be effective in trade they had to specialize, monetizing their regional opportunities. One city became known for shipping, another for serving caravans. One as a source of metal, another as a source of grain.

To cope with their growing complexity the cities had to develop varying control systems for everything—irrigation, food storage, accounting, building codes. The Code of Hammurabi was written in 1754 BCE explicitly “to further the well-being of mankind.” (One of its building-code provisions declared, “If your building falls down and kills somebody, we kill you.”)

Modern cities need to create their own “circular economy,” Rose stressed, not just of services and goods, but of greener waste treatment, of water recycling, of food creation (such as“vertical gardens”,) and especially of what he called "communities of opportunity”—where low-income groups such as immigrants get a chance to create prosperity for themselves and the city.

In his own many real-estate projects, Rose focusses on increasing urban density with low-income housing in combination with improved mass transit, local parks, better schools, and the greenest of building standards. But for such innovations to be copied, he pointed out, they have to be profitable.

Cities are systems, Rose concluded: “When a system is optimized, then all of its components do well. Cities that focus on the optimization of the whole for everybody are the ones that thrive the best.”

More Seminars


SALT Summaries Book

$2.99 Also available as a paperback book

Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.

Seminar Sponsors

David and Abby Rumsey • Kim Polese • The Kaphan Foundation • Garrett Gruener • Scorpio Rising Fund • Peter Baumann • Brian Eno • Greg Stikeleather • Cameo Wood • Ping Fu • Peter Schwartz • Lawrence Wilkinson • Ken and Maddy Dychtwald • Future Ventures • Ken and Jackie Broad • AtoB • WHH Foundation • Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan • Jackson Square Partners Foundation • The Long Now Members

We would also like to recognize George Cowan (01920 - 02012) for being the first to sponsor this series.

This is the legacy site. Return to the new site.