The suburbanization of America has brought the good life to many, but at a cost of more than just crabgrass and traffic jams. I hear it over and over as I crisscross Montgomery County. It's a wonderful life, but something is missing. With our penchant for detached houses, private automobiles, television and shopping malls, we have overlooked the importance of community.

In the Potomac area, where I grew up during the '50s and '60s, there was an economic mix of people and a sense that we were building a community together. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. The people I meet now who grew up in Cleveland, Brooklyn and in small towns in Iowa and New England report a similar commitment to community they find missing here today.

In some measure, this is just a nostalgic yearning for an earlier, simpler era with fewer worries about nuclear war and teen-age drug addiction. In fact, it is an era to which few of us really would like to return. Accustomed as we are to air conditioning and VCRs, not many of us would want to spend a steamy July or August evening on the front porch chatting with neighbors. And yet it's not all just nostalgia; we yearn for a sense of community because, for many, the demands of our jobs leave us with too little time for other things -- the family, friends, neighbors, religious and community organizations that bind us together.

The fundamental challenge of today is to recapture that spirit of community and to refashion it for our time. The forces of disintegration are formidable, and the counterpressure needs to be unrelenting. We might recapture our sense of community by increasing volunteerism and community service.

Baltimore and Alexandria have had great success in promoting a sense of identity and building a spirit of community. Happily, there is evidence that the importance of community is working its way onto the public agenda of our suburban counties as well.

In November, a Commission on Arlington's Future reported its vision for Arlington County in the year 2000: "a diverse community of dynamic, secure residential and commercial neighborhoods; a learning, caring, participating community in which each person is important." And Prince George's -- which has had a gargantuan inferiority complex equal to pre-Schaefer Baltimore's -- is on the move and feeling good about itself.

In my home county of Montgomery, there are important stirrings that indicate we are starting to pay more attention to community-building. An outstanding group of citizens is in the middle of a year-long effort to make recommendations for the county's future. Our community cable television station is developing into an important vehicle for community education. Business leaders are making valuable contributions to our schools and to the arts. Germantown soon will have a new community center.

In Bethesda, a group of developers, business people and residents has launched "Bethesda's Alive," a program of almost daily concerts and events designed to make downtown Bethesda a people place that is more than a gleaming canyon of elegant office buildings.

And in an exciting initiative, community leaders from business, religious and civic organizations are establishing the Montgomery County Community Service Partnership, an independent, nonprofit organization to promote volunteerism. The county executive and council have proclaimed Oct. 17 Community Service Day in Montgomery County. On that day, hundreds of volunteers from across the county are expected to work on neighborhood projects they select to demonstrate their commitment to making Montgomery County an even better community.

A few years ago, Lily Tomlin said: "We're all in this alone." But, of course, she was exactly wrong. We're all in this together. -- Bruce Adams is a member of the Montgomery County Council.