It shouldn’t come as a surprise that as a Los Angeles native and a USC applicant I was initially apprehensive about the ‘tired’ landscape that surrounds the campus. It wasn’t about safety concerns or about being too close to Mom and Dad, but the idea that in a metropolitan city, I’d still have to drive 10 miles to buy a shower caddy. Hopefully, though, concerns like those will soon become a thing of the past for applicants, students and faculty alike.
The university has recently released plans for a $900-million upgrade to University Village. The plan includes a six-screen cinema, shopping center, 2,000-car garage, faculty office building and housing facilities that will accommodate 5,000 students, 250 faculty apartments and a 150-room hotel. Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks described the plan as the most ambitious commercial development in South Los Angeles in a generation. Of course ambition seems like it could only benefit the area, but local residents are concerned that this lofty development will prove detrimental to non-university-owned real estate, traffic and small businesses.
I was drawn to USC for its superior academic programs, inspiring faculty accolades and the spirit and creativity that seem to literally spill out onto Trousdale Parkway. But it was an inevitable truth that on a practical level, USC was missing something. Other schools of similar size and stature boast massive theaters, pedestrian shopping areas and hoards of cafés where students and faculty can gather. Take Northwestern’s Evanston, Ill., Michigan’s Ann Arbor or, dare I say it, Westwood. When USC officials were drawing up plans for University Village with architects at Elkus Manfredi, a firm that long ago established its name in L.A. with construction projects like The Grove and the Americana at Brand, they were particularly inspired by the changes that have taken place around the University of Pennsylvania. Crime rates have decreased around UPenn, and shops and housing stimulated the lagging economy of the area.
Local residents who aren’t connected to the university are concerned that the University Village will depreciate real estate values in the area, which currently caters predominantly to the student population. Houses currently occupied by students, however, may open up for low-income families that are perhaps displaced by the student demand and the new shops and eateries may bring more jobs into the community.
Increasing the housing options will decrease the costs, making off-campus living available at more reasonable prices for both students and locals. Still, Emiliano Rios, a senior majoring in communication, pointed out that developers will have to navigate a fine line between benefiting the community and usurping it.
“This kind of gentrification can be abrupt for families, and you can see it happening in other parts of Downtown L.A. with trendy restaurants and galleries moving in, and luxury lofts taking the place of family apartments,” Rios said. “I hope they manage it with class.”
This project is certainly in line with the revival that is gradually making its way Downtown. L.A. Live is a step in the right direction, but the thought of having an upgraded cinema and shopping area, topped with student and faculty housing all just across the street makes me want to give up my parking spot.
The most redeeming aspect of this proposal is its potential to further solidify USC as a residential campus. Students will have the opportunity to live in adjacent off-campus housing that doesn’t hinder their ability to participate in campus life. Faculty housing gives more professors the opportunity to stay close to campus, which will improve their accessibility to students and involvement in the USC community.
If the possibility of increased traffic is what’s troubling you, remember that this is Los Angeles and that impending annoyance is about as ubiquitous as the smog we breathe. Narrowing Jefferson Boulevard for the 35-acre development will actually drive the freeway traffic elsewhere and make the area surrounding campus more pedestrian friendly.
Giving South Los Angeles a more lively hub will not only satiate the USC students looking for entertainment and relaxation closer to their home away from home, but perhaps encourage people from other parts of the city to venture out to USC. Something tells me Trojans won’t mind taking some foot traffic out of Westwood.
Allegra Tepper is a freshman majoring in print journalism and digital media.