Dream Cities

Wade Graham HarperCollins, 323 pages, $29.99

The architects and planners profiled in Wade Graham's "Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World" come in two categories. There are those few, like Jane Jacobs, whose approach is the organic interconnectedness of society with humility and deference. A vast majority emerge as incorrigible believers in the power of rational thought, right angles and good intentions to perfect society. In this category fall Daniel Burnham, Robert Moses, Le Corbusier and all those who marched in the cause of urban renewal.

In his ambitious study of the forms and ideas of the contemporary city, Graham argues that the basic physical structures that these professionals have created, from the shopping mall to the picturesque suburb, have grown mundane through constant repetition, to the point that they barely register on the eye. A "remarkable, global urban monotony" has set in everywhere from Singapore and Ulaanbaatar to Buenos Aires and Boston.

A garden designer and historian, Graham wants us to see these urban and architectural forms afresh, not as the drab commonplaces they have become but as the work of visionaries "whose dreamed-of cities became the blueprints for the world we actually live in." The book is a "field guide" to seven of those visions, each given a one-word title such as "monuments," "malls," "castles" (his term for romantic suburbs) or "homesteads" (contemporary urban sprawl). It is a daunting task, and there are signs of haste.