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.
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.