James Wilson Rouse is the star-spangled ideal of the Great American Businessman. If there were more like him, free enterprise might work.

A mortgage banker, real estate developer and city planning consultant, and city planning consultant, Rouse has, as someone put it, "the zeal of a missionary, vision of a prophet and icy calculation of a coast accountant." He has just resigned at age 65 as chief executive officer of the 40-year-old Rouse Company, which gave us Columbia, the new town in Maryland; Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the resurrection miracle in Boston; the Village of Cross Keys, a friendly new downtown community in Baltimore; and hundreds of shopping malls across the country.

Rouse announced that Mathias J. De Vito has taken over as cheif executive and the he Rouse, will remain as chairman of the board and devote more time to public service.

True to the star-spangled ideal. Rouse is a religous man, an elder in the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church who, with his wife, teaches a weekly class on "Christian Community" at Columbia's first community center. He says: Irreverent questions like 'is God dead?' don't really question God, but the church. They charge the church with having boxed God in and boxed man out."

About Columbia, he told a press conference a dozen years ago, when the $50 million investment was in doubt and Columbia's Howard County was voting for George Wallace: "I am proud that the first child born in our new city has a black father and a white mother."

What, consciously or not, inspired Rouse to try the British "garden city" idea in America, was his boyhood in easton, Md., population 6,000, a star-spangled hometown par excellence. With his older brother and three sisters, he roamed the woods, played baseball on the town's green, and knew everyone, including millionaires or future millionaires, and Lizze Cooper, the matriarch of the black community.

His father was a bussiness with roller-coaster fortunes, who finally failed in the Depression. Jim parked cars to work his way through law school, and became a clerk in the Baltimore office of the Federal Housing Administration [Fha].When the war came, he joined the Navy, where he met many of his future bussiness partners.

His bussiness is, in a word, "urbiculture" -- the raising and cultivation of human settlements. Appalled bt poverty, injustice, slums and wasteful urban sprawl, Rouse believes that bussiness and government together can improve our cities and suburbs and that better cities and suburbs will not only the life, but also the behavior, of people who live in them. He is incurably optimistic.

"No Slums in Ten Years" was the title of a pamphlet Rouse published in 1954, proposing a renewal program for Washington, D. c. The slum are still very much with us. So is Rouse's optimistic enthusiasm.

It was often justified. Baltimore's inner-city Charles Center, was rebuilt in eight years, with Rouse a principal dynamo.

Columbia is growing on schedule. Twelve years after the ground breaking, there are now just under 55,000 persons living there, 20 percent of them black. About

About 8 live in subsidized housing that is scattered all over town. Some 1,000 people.

Columbia and Reston, Va, are the only successful, comprehensively planned communities in this country. The others withered due to no-so-benign neglect on the part of the Nixon administration. Reston and Columbia never participated in government's now-abandoned "new communities."

Of the two new towns, Reston is by far the more attractive. Talented architects st the tone with exceptionally charming houses and stores, at least at Lake Anne, the first village. Reston looks new and feels like a town.

Columbia, in contrast, looks like an ordinary suburb. Though well planned, the village centers, playgrounds, schools and even lakes seem to disappear in wide ribbons of macadam and well-groomed architectural mediocrity. Most buildings were designed by builders rather than architects. That was deliberate.

Rouse got burned when, many years before Columbia, he went to his former neighbor in Easton, Md., with a proposal for a small shopping center designed in the base and square, Mies van der Rohe glass-box manner. Easton angrily rejected it until the building was clothed in schlock-colonial columns and pediments.

At Columbia, Rouse was not about to risk sacrificing his social objectives on the alter of good architecture.

It was more important to him, as he put it to his stockholders some days ago, to prove "that the growth of cities can be rational, that the land can be respected and ennobled, that communities can be planned and developed to support the growth of the family and the individual human being."

For Rouse, profit "is a reward for important service well-rendered -- and not the ligitimate purpose of bussiness in its own right."

In that spirit, the Rouse Company has recently turned its attention from suburban shopping centers and new communities to the inner city.

In Boston, Rouse leadership and a brilliant architect, Benjamin Thompson, have brough new life and a festival spirit to Faneuil Hall. The bustling market has sparked hope for similar vitality at the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan and Harborplace in Baltimore.

Rouse will continue to be part of this monentum. Retirement, he told his stockholders, "opens new opportunities for life, career, ervice when health is good and energy level high -- opportunities to work in the cause of better cities with a particular hope that I can help find better ways to house the poor." CAPTION: Picture, James W. Rouse by Frank Johnston