Contemporary architecture, says Mr. von Eckardt at the start of this leisurely investigation of the quality of America's urban life today, ""is in a state of crisis."" Architects and city planners have failed to respond to the needs of our time and have thus contributed, ""to a larger extent than is generally realized, to the urban mess."" Deploring this destruction of the sense of place in our cities and suburbs is only part of the author's task; he then proceeds to review for the general reader the noble ideals of the early Moderns, and what happened to them. The final sections take up the more recent humanistic approach to community architecture, and how this approach might build better looking, much more livable cities in the future. But this is not ""a visionary book."" While technology has changed, man's basic needs have not, and it is to these that most of Mr. von Eckardt's attention is directed. An epilogue set in the year 2003, with a descendant of Alexis de Tocqueville visiting a clean, slumless, quiet, yet bustling Washington, D.C., demonstrates the ways in which these needs could be served.