With a Close Vote, the Society Denies that the Suburbs are Good for America

The Society convened on February 23 for the seventh debate of the semester to examine the question Resolved: The suburbs are good for America.

Ms. Emma Green spoke on the affirmation.  Chancellor Nicholas Iacono spoke on the negation.

Ms. Green began by defining the suburbs as largely residential areas characterized by the presence of green space and small local businesses, typically located outside of, but still near, a city. “Good for America” was to encompass all aspects of American society, from America as a community to America as an economy, focusing on the citizens. After providing a brief history of the suburbs Ms. Green argued that they are good for structural and policy-related reasons in addition to being good for the environment. “The suburbs are the defense of the middle class,” she asserted. She followed this by pointing out that they actually lead to an increasingly pluralistic society as everyone comes together untied under the common goal of the good life–The American Dream. Ultimately, she rejected the notion that the suburbs are the epitome of the mediocrity, arguing that they embody humility and that greatness is possible. Chancellor Iacono reminded the Society that this is not a question of city vs. suburbs, but rather over the question of whether the suburbs are good for America. He agreed that the suburbs are American, but asserted that they actually offer only a tragic lie. First he argued that in addition to the banality of life and the vast environmental destruction they cause, the suburbs also lead to the stratification and segregation of society based on class lines, maintaining a de facto segregation and resisting social change. This in turn leads the wealthiest to concentrate their political power, which allows them to resist change. He also negated the idea that the suburbs are good for the middle class because one of the biggest problems of the class is over trying to find affordable housing. Additionally, living in the suburbs without a car is impossible and a car is a massive expense. He concluded that people immigrated to the United States for a promise of an affordable house to call their own, but the suburbs undermine this very dream.

Mr. Taft began the floor speeches by arguing that there is something that differentiates owning a simple cross-section of an apartment complex in the city from the dream of owning real land, of owning land of the suburbs. President Marsh then presented a picture of the suburbs he has known, recognizing the complete isolation each household had from its homogenous neighbors. This type of isolation takes away everything we love and is certainly not good for America. On the affirmation Mr. Arber argued that the suburbs offer us a choice and the ability to do what we want, arguing that people do bond with their neighbors if they put in work for these ends, and that is inherently good for America. Mr. Rinaldi countered, “Let’s stop living in this dreamland.” Using the example of the stark contrast between the neighboring towns of Moorestown and Camden, NJ, he asserted that there is not actually this freedom of choice; the idea that one could work hard enough to move from Camden to Moorestown is a myth. On the affirmation Mr. Donovan asserted that we’re blaming the suburbs for these problems when there are many other culprits since these problems are not intrinsic to the suburbs or even to America. Mr. Manchester blamed suburbs for the death of social capital, quoting, “We are bowling alone.” He argued that the suburbs are the most blatant form of escapism and isolationism what with the occupants building their own backyard pools, putting up fences, and having eight bedrooms “for when no one comes.” Ultimately, we are losing touch with the people we live near but are social creatures and thus the suburbs are not good for America. Mr. Medina countered that man finds dignity in owning a home in the suburbs whereas in a city, “man is nothing.” On the other hand, Mr. Dulik argued that while as a white Republican who shops at Whole Foods and J. Crew, he loves the suburbs; the debate is not over what is good for Sam Dulik and what is good for him is not what is good for America. He argued that what is good for America is what makes us uncomfortable so we need to meet people who are different than us and the suburbs simply do not provide this.

Chancellor Iacono reminded the Society, “This is not a choice between Little House on the Prairie and Gotham City.” He argued that the suburbs with their concentrated political power are the force being used to vote down reforms for the cities, which is why there are problems there. Additionally, he argued that suburbs present a great threat to James Madison’s guarantee of pluralism preventing factions argued in the “Federalist Papers.” Ultimately, he argued that cities build communities while the suburbs prevent children from becoming independent, force parents, especially mothers, to give up careers to take care of their families, and hurt the elderly once they lose their licenses. The cities offer the real American Dream of independence and fulfillment while the suburbs embody our fears and are a place to which we escape. Ms. Green then countered that what was presented on the negation was not a fair and accurate picture of the suburbs, making it an us vs. them debate rather than what makes America good. She argued that people do in fact care and support one another and the suburbs allow people to participate in their civic duties, united under the desire for a better life and a better life for their children. The suburbs cause us to encounter our neighbors in a new way while keeping people engaged and invested. This, she argued, is the life Tocqueville imagined for us. Ultimately, the suburbs are a dream, a dream that there is a better life.

The Society voted 27-28 to negate the resolution.

The following outstanding speakers were awarded Merrick points:

  • Chancellor Iacono – 5
  • Mr. Manchester – 4
  • Mr. Medina – 3
  • Ms. Green – 2
  • Mr. Henderson – 1

This brings the Merrick totals to:

  • Chancellor Iacono – 16
  • Ms. Green – 16
  • Mr. Henderson – 15
  • Mr. Medina – 12
  • Mr. Manchester – 11
  • Mr. Dulik – 5
  • Mr. Petallides – 3
  • Mr. Askonas – 2
  • Mr. Taft – 1


Emily R. Coccia

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