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Presidential medal for James Rouse


AT AGE 81, James W. Rouse still has a glint in his eye. Defying age as he has convention throughout his long career as a developer, his most indomitable trait has always been a youthful, overwhelming optimism.

Time and again, this man of enormous energy and intellect has proven that people can be successful and do good at the same time. Mr. Rouse embraces more than anything his ability to create things, and make it work in a way that enriches his own and countless other lives.

It seems appropriate that the man who restored aging cities and inspired model communities would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. President Clinton made the announcement last week of the award to a dozen people; the presentation will come later this month at a White House ceremony. One can imagine that Mr. Rouse is already thinking of ways to turn this honor into more than an acknowledgment of his accomplishments and parlay it into something that furthers one of his causes or promotes a special project.

He never denied that he liked to make money, but money was never an end unto itself. From the 1970s-style furniture that decorates his office to his relatively modest home in Columbia, Mr. Rouse has an abiding disinterest in material things. And yet he is responsible for the nation's first enclosed shopping mall, created the urban mall, turned Baltimore's harbor into a tourist magnet and fashioned a successful, planned community on philosophies that have been widely emulated.

Columbia, like most of what Mr. Rouse has done, is more than a money-maker. It is a solution to a problem -- suburban sprawl. Harborplace and his "festival" marketplaces, meanwhile, aim to resuscitate declining cities.

Now in retirement, Mr. Rouse has turned his attention to creating housing and job opportunities for the poor through his non-profit Enterprise Foundation. In this case, companies established to make a profit support the foundation, which in turn revitalizes neighborhoods. As with his other endeavors, his reward comes from making it work for people. He is absolutely deserving of this high honor.

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