The Well-Tempered City


Jonathan F.P. Rose, Harper Wave, 463 pages, $29.99. In his book, subtitled “What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life,” developer Jonathan F.P. Rose considers how cities must evolve in an interconnected and troubling world. Rose, a longtime developer of affordable, mixed-income and green projects, explores income inequality, racial unrest, the hardship of growing up in poverty. As a result, Rose has written a book that is largely about uncertainty: how cities will thrive in a “VUCA future,” using a military acronym for the simultaneous condition of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. “Every wicked problem is a symptom of another problem,” he writes. “And every intervention changes the problem and its context.” Investments in poor neighborhoods invite gentrification. Rising property values (good for homeowners) mean unaffordable housing (bad for renters). Aggressive policing tactics that may make cities safer can alienate the minority communities that bear the brunt of them. Add the issues of population growth, climate change, refugee crises and terrorism. Rose’s answer is a “well-tempered city,” a place where every solution targets multiple problems at once (building weatherization creates jobs and cuts energy use). In getting there, Rose tries to cover too much ground, with too many overlapping analogies drawn from military jargon to musical theory to ecology. Still, with cities around the world succeeding in one category or another, it’s nice to imagine one in which all the problems are solved.