Big money, small operators, disparate tastes, and rising standards: the complexities of housing have never been so thoroughly demonstrated and documented as in Martin Mayer's latest research coup. One needn't read it all to benefit. Mayer the libertarian conservative impugns zoning as ""transparently exclusionist,"" conducive to corruption, devitalizing (""dead downtowns and dead residential sections""), and--most critical--protective of the environment at the expense of social and economic mobility. (But, he notes, construction of Central Park entailed the relocation of people.) Mayer the statistically-minded historian is devastating on land values--""Urban crowding yielded too great a return to land""--and the decade-bydecade decline of city neighborhoods; but he is sufficiently the pragmatist to face the consequences: ""If city densities are to be lower . . . there will be housing abandonment."" Hence the pained cry for urban renewal to shore up land values--and one after another disastrous government program. Is rehabilitation, then, the answer? Mayer, a connoisseur of neighborhoods, visits Balitmore's North-of-the Park where the termination of fire insurance triggered local action and led--with Ford Foundation aid--to a comprehensive rehabilitation program. Localities figure, too, in the assessment of public housing (read about Winston-Salem's well-tended, closely-watched dwellings) and commercial building (meet Fox & Jacobs, ""housing manufacturers"" to the Dallas market). He'll also introduce you to the faulty new technologies and the sound old ones; the real estate brokers (""'There is no art in selling . . . it's a science'""); and, at great length, the working of the vital money market--""virtually a compendium of the ways that government actions have inflated housing costs."" The last Mayer sees as inadvertently thematic--but this is far less a tract than a bill-of-particulars for the whole housing constituency.