Master plan will affect community ties


Last week, President Obama included USC on the President’s Higher Education Community Service honor roll, along with 700 other universities.

This honor validates the unique quality of USC that President Sample envisioned in his 1991 inaugural address: USC is a university where boundaries between student life and the local community life are blurred.

The university prides itself on this community bond, and its the reason we haven’t taken advantage of the numerous opportunities USC has had to move its campus elsewhere. We constantly interact with community members on our campus, at the University Village and along the Figueroa Corridor at local businesses.

Unfortunately, the Master Plan will naturally displace community members and organizations by harming local businesses and raising land prices, thus potentially hindering our strong community bond.

As of the 1999 census, the average West Adams neighborhood household income was $17,923 — approximately 15 percent greater than 1989 numbers. Since the 2009 numbers have yet to be counted, a generous growth of 15 percent from 1999 would give an estimated average household income of $20,611, making it one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. With this sort of income, households around campus are ripe for displacement if we do not invest in the economic development of the area.

The plan has goals to improve the “character” of the university and community by enhancing its park-like feel, acting as a catalyst to community investment and augmenting neighborhood safety for students, children and families.

A primary concern of USC’s at the moment is to provide housing for students to prevent the further displacement of local residents as student housing demands rise. We leave university housing in our second or third years and move into houses and apartments that would otherwise house locals. We can often pay more for the rent, thus prices go up and locals leave.

To help reduce the number of locals who are priced out by students seeking housing, USC pushed for the development of the luxurious, self-sustaining University Gateway Apartments. But student housing developments, like University Gateway, prevent students from interacting with the community. In a building where students can do their shopping, eating, studying and even entertaining on the premises, the only incentive to leave would be to attend class.

Betsy Avila | Daily Trojan

If USC wants all of its students out of local housing and in housing designed for students, this would greatly harm the bonds the student body has developed with the community from living in close proximity.

The Master Plan also intends to knock down the UV to provide even more housing and better shopping and eating options. The discussions have included a potential grocery store like Trader Joe’s for middle-class students. Possible prices in the new UV might be higher and unattainable for residents, creating an unwelcoming environment for locals and again hindering the bond between USC and its neighborhood.

Though USC does a great job encouraging surrounding businesses to hire local residents, the UV development would not be as inviting as the food court or Superior Grocers, which provide many jobs and retail options for locals.

As USC enhances the “character” of campus and surrounding areas with more green, park-like facilities, beautiful architecture, greater shopping alternatives and environmentally conscious buildings, land value will increase. Landowners will then either sell their properties to match the higher market prices.

A rent increase will hurt locals that do not own land, forcing them to move. Those that own land will have a greater incentive to sell it and move. These area “improvements” result in the displacement of our community members.

The Master Plan has great intentions for the community and will have many benefits for students. But considering the natural, unintended result of displacement, we ought to step back and consider the big picture implications of the plan.

One of the greatest characteristics of USC is that students leave their respective bubbles and enter an environment reflective of much of the rest of the world. This area builds our character and increases our concern or kindness toward people in general. Another Westwood bubble right here would be disgusting.

Many of USC’s presidents have chosen not to pack up our campus and leave, but instead to benefit the community and build the character of students. Unfortunately, it seems instead we might keep our campus here and pack up the surrounding area, telling it to leave.

For our sake, and for our neighbors’ sakes, we should want to preserve our tight-knit relationship with our community. In this plan, USC should focus on keeping the student-local bond. It should invest in local businesses and economic development, increasing the local average household income. We have a great “good neighbors” policy, investing in people and children. But let’s raise the standard of living for our resident neighbors.

Jensen Carlsen is a senior majoring in economics and mathematics.  His column “The Bridge” runs Wednesdays.

  • Taylor

    Great article. How unfortunate that most of the comments here don’t go beyond vulgar chauvinism, slandering of the community, and barely concealed racist contempt.

  • Tom

    Jensen- I believe you make many of your points in this article because you think they are the “right things to say”. While well written, if you truly look into the details, your argument has many flaws, and you also fail to provide a viable alternative to the proposed changes.

    First and foremost, USC should have a strong bond with the surrounding community as it is mutually beneficial to each party. This can be (and has been) accomplished a number of ways, but USC should NOT make the surrounding community’s household income and shopping options it’s number one priority with respect to how the Master Plan is laid out.

    The school can NOT be held responsible for the community members’ skills and training and their ability to earn a living- imagining as such is completely idealistic. Remember, while USC is a philanthropic university, its role is not to be a source of charity to the community. The school and community can live together and help one another, but neglecting the students’ needs and leaving everything the same avoids change- the one thing that we all know is inevitable and beneficial to the community.

    Leaving the UV the way it is would NOT benefit the community. The jobs currently in place there will be replaced by other jobs with the businesses that replace the current businesses. Theoretically, the salaries could actually improve, but they most certainly will not decrease. As another poster noted, if there is demand for less expensive shopping options from the community, someone will take advantage of that demand and open other stores that cater to those demands. This is simple capatalist economics and it is the way that our country works, for better and for worse.

    Additionally, you make contradicting arguments about housing. You suggest that our students push up the price of housing in the community, and push community members out, by paying higher rent for the available housing. Presumably a solution for this would be to provide a greater supply of housing for students. A giant student housing facility (University Gateway) has been built on a former car lot (not displacing any housing) and you complain about the type of housing because it supplies many conveniences for the students. To me, it seems as though this is a step in the right direction- the private developer provided more student housing and will include conveniences that students asked for.

    You also complain about the price of land appreciating. Aside from this being another basic law of supply and demand that you can’t fight even if you wanted to, you neglect to take notice of the community members who DO own property in the area and will most certainly benefit from the real estate prices appreciating. While this may be a small number of community residents, it should not be overlooked.

    Finally, you also need to keep in mind that the school has been in this location since 1880. The neighborhood has made many transitions over the past 130 years. West Adams used to be one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Los Angeles, but that has changed. While USC most certainly needs to continue to be a good neighbor, like any university should, it also has to keep its priorities in line and encourage improvement and change to the neighborhood that is good for its students. Creating more retail options in the surrounding neighborhood of USC will only help the school, and since the school is the anchor of the community, then what is good for the school will most certainly benefit the community on the whole.

  • BD

    Why is the “community” always defined as lower class, poor people? I have lived next to USC,
    during my time at USC and now that I have graduated, I have chosen to stick around around the area. Aren’t
    I a community member as well? I feel that the Master Plan is an awesome push in the right direction, because it will benefit students in the long run. It is a ridiculous notion to not move forward and progress because some people may be indirectly affected by it. If and when I get priced out of the area surrounding USC, I will simply move. It’s called capitalism and more importantly real life. I would rather see some people benefit, (namely students) by the master plan, then to do nothing, and have nobody benefit at all.

  • Chris

    There are several things about this article that I wold like to address:

    “But student housing developments, like University Gateway, prevent students from interacting with the community.”

    I have lived in community housing for the past two years and feel that I have no more community involvement than when I lived in school housing besides skateboarding home at night and feeling scared. JEP however offered a real opportunity to interact with and support the community. You should consider encouraging community involvement programs like JEP that have direct and measurable benefits for the community rather than simply living in the community if community involvement is your main concern?

    “In this plan, USC should focus on keeping the student-local bond. It should invest in local businesses and economic development, increasing the local average household income.”

    This statement seems to contradict the idea of a new UV, what sort of economic development do you propose besides adding business that appeal to students and therefore have a higher earning potential? And how do you propose that USC goes about increasing the local average income besides adding businesses that can afford to pay their employees better? Maybe replacing Superior with Trader Joe’s would reduce the shopping opportunities for locals, but I don’t know that it would reduce the number of jobs available for local residents. Trader Joe’s could offer the same number of jobs to local employees and would likely offer better pay, as would the rest of the business establishments that replaced the UV. Would that not increase the average local income?

    Maybe an “economic bubble” would draw a firmer line between USC and it’s students but a corresponding increase in community outreach initiatives, for instance one semester of mandatory JEP for all students, and new businesses that offer higher pay would certainly offer a lot to the community, preserving our strong community ties. In addition, I am not saying that “economic bubble” would necessarily be a good thing, but economic disparity, especially one so drastic as that between the local community and the average USC student, is highly correlated with crime. It is possible that such a bubble would significantly reduce the amount of crime that occurs around USC, which is essentially my only complaint about my time at USC, that I do not feel safe off campus because of the high incidence of crimes committed against students.

    In conclusion, I agree that less community involvement would be a step in the wrong direction for USC, but I don’t think living within the community is a way to solve it. I think USC, it’s students and the community would benefit more from community service and outreach programs than from living within the community. I also believe that development of the north university park area would both stimulate the local economy by offering better paying jobs and please students by offering more places around campus to shop, eat, and find entertainment, something that most student drive far off campus to obtain at present.

  • Apostle

    I can somewhat emphatize with Justin and Xavier, and it’s because of the DPS statistics of how some denizens of 90007 target USC students as robbery opportunities, and sometimes violence. I also agree with Marc that the social outreach with the surrounding neighborhood saved us from destruction during the 1992 riots. Pepperdine was badly damaged during the Watts Riots decades ago; and perhaps it’s because that school was aloof towards the denizens of the surrounding community. USC decided not to white-flight it out 90007 after the ’92 riots, despite some alumni imploring President Sample to move to former Marine Corps base El Toro, CA.

    You see people, there are hypocrites (I’m not acting sarcastic) across town at Westwood, who preach tolerance, understanding, egalitarian ideals, anti-racism, etc. yet they’re the same ones who jeer at USC for being in the “ghetto.” The difference is, we ACT on what we stand for, and others feign it.

    …now can we at least get an In ‘n Out built over here? that’s one thing I envy about Westwood!

  • Marc

    Gee, I truly hope the two ignorant and narrow minded comments above didn’t come from USC students. I thought perspectives had broadened considerably since I graduated in 1984. First thing to understand, Justin and Xavier, is the University’s status is indirectly enhanced by it’s relationship with the neighboring community. What’s more, less you forget, it was the community’s general well regard for the campus that saved it from destruction during the 1992 riots.

  • Xavier

    The primary concerns of the University should be to educate the students and to provide STUDENTS with a nice safe place to live. Talk of revitalizing the area and providing alternate housing for poor members of the community should not be a concern of the University.

    Too much concern over who gets offended because we build a Trader Joe’s, or because we build a 500 unit student housing building will only hinder our progress.

    The growth of USC is simple capitalism and market competition. Hindering it only hurts the University in the long run.

  • Justin

    Since when is it the University’s goal to put community members ahead of its own students in regards to campus? If USC wants to attract better and brighter students, it must provide certain comparable amenities. Currently, USC has very little to offer outside its own walls. Its time to expand. While that means community members could be displaced, it also leaves open a door for the community to open its own grocery store. If there is a void, a business will come in and fill it.

    USC doesn’t exist to furnish the surrounding community, it exists to educate its students and in doing so it exists to provide for it’s students needs.