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Penn Deputy Provost Peter Conn spoke along with his son, an Ohio State professor. To prove his point that American suburbs have failed to provide meaningful existences for their residents, Steven Conn pointed to this year's hit film American Beauty. The Academy Award-nominated movie, Conn said, perfectly illustrates the "crushing banality of existence in the suburbs." Joined by his father Peter, Penn's deputy provost and an English professor, Ohio State University History Professor Steven Conn last night addressed a crowd of about 50 students and professors on the advantages that cities today possess over suburbs. The talk, which was held in the Quadrangle's McClelland Hall, was entitled "City and Community." The lecture was sponsored by Community College House, where the elder Conn serves as faculty master. "The idea is that the speaker talks briefly, introduces the subject and sees where it goes -- induces dialogue," Peter Conn said about the "10 Minute Talks" series, of which this lecture was a part. Starting off the lecture, Peter Conn asked the students, "Do we need cities?" Differing from the pastoral debate of the past -- which pitted the city against the countryside -- the new debate, Peter Conn said, is of the suburbs' encroachment upon the city. "We have become suburban," Steven Conn maintained. "More of us live in suburbs -- cities cease to be where most of the population live." Peter Conn, following on his son's message, then cautioned the audience on the dangers of the trend of suburbanization. He argued that artistic creativity and spontaneity is more often stilted than stirred in the suburbs. "No epic poem, no symphony, no ballet, not one of the objects that we treasure comes from a suburb," he said. "There will never be a great work of art coming from Paramus, New Jersey," Steven Conn added. An additional disadvantage of the prototypical suburb, Steven Conn continued, is the fragmentation among different races and societal classes. "If we have any aspirations for culture -- they need to happen in the friction -- the bumping together of people," the younger Conn said, explaining the benefits of the city. In the suburbs, he explained, "We create a rigid class structure -- we don't see people of different classes, different ages." A person would have a much better chance of meeting "different people" by walking down Philadelphia's Walnut Street or through New York City's Central Park than by exploring suburbia, Steven Conn said. "I would argue that the Great American experiment has failed," he added. Not every audience member agreed with that logic, however. "I don't buy that," said College junior Erin Millender, a Community House resident advisor. "You might say it's not racially heterogeneous now, but it will be," she added. Past speakers in the series include English Professor Lorene Carey, who founded the Art Sanctuary in Philadelphia, and Political Science Professor John DiIulio. University President Judith Rodin will be the next featured speaker.

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