Real-estate developer and urban planner, born in Easton, Maryland, USA. He lost both parents to illness in 1930 and attended night classes at the University of Maryland and its law school while holding such jobs as an auditor for a parking garage company. He worked briefly for the Federal Housing Administration before borrowing money to help found Rouse Co (1939), a mortgage brokerage firm. During World War 2 he served with the US Navy, then returned to Maryland and got into building when he erected an early shopping mall in Baltimore in the 1950s. In 1958 he made his name with the first completely enclosed shopping mall, and in the 1960s gained a wider reputation by building Columbia, MD, a totally planned city between Baltimore and Washington, DC, designed eventually to have 100,000 residents.
In the 1970s he became still more widely known for his work on restoring run-down focal locales in cities, the first being the Faneuil Hall–Quincy Market in Boston, MA (done in collaboration with the architect and planner Benjamin Thompson), which opened in 1976. He went on to do other such ‘festival marketplaces’ (some in collaboration with Thompson) as Harborplace in Baltimore and South Street Seaport and Fulton Street Market in New York City. Having built the Rouse Co into the largest publicly held development corporation in the USA, he retired in 1979, but in 1982 he founded the Enterprise Foundation, using some of his fortune to seek innovative ways to provide housing for the poor.
Labelled an ‘icon and visionary’ (he is credited with coining the term urban renewal), he is better understood as the self-made man, devout churchgoer, and liberal Democrat who brought a no-nonsense approach to all he undertook. In 1995 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States highest civilian honour, in recognition of his humanitarian service.