When Time magazine and The Princeton Review named USC “College of the Year” in 2000, they praised the university for supporting “the most ambitious social-outreach program of any university in the nation.”
A decade later, USC’s commitment to community service has changed little — but its landscape has taken leaps and bounds. As the university continues to make the transition from a commuter to a residential school, it faces a difficult maneuver: how to accommodate the needs of a burgeoning student body without stepping on the toes of the community.
Approved by the Board of Trustees in 2008, the University Park Campus Master Plan is a commendable step toward affirming USC’s dedication to the surrounding neighborhoods of South Los Angeles and USC’s community organizations while continuing to serve the evolving needs of the student body.
According to the proposal, the 20-year Master Plan set forth by former USC President Steven B. Sample seeks “to promote integration and connectivity between the University Park Campus and the surrounding urban community.” Improvements and construction will concentrate on academics, housing, open space, athletics, administrative support, transportation and parking.
The key focus for the Master Plan centers on redeveloping the the University Village into a more modernized and student-friendly hub of residential buildings and tailored retail stores. As USC’s student demographic shifts, efforts are underway to guarantee four years of university-sponsored housing for undergraduates and one for graduate students, an endeavor that requires the addition of 7,600 new beds.
Most of the renovation will occur on Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street, with more than 2.5 million square feet of academic and university space slated to be added. The new $130-million Ronald Tutor Campus Center only marks the beginning of an ambitious goal to restructure the university while maintaining respect for both the school’s history, tradition and partnership with the community.
Beginning in 2012, expect District 3, the area around the University Village, to undergo renovation that will add new housing complexes for 5,200 more student beds, a new grocery store, restaurants, a fitness center, a 2,000-seat movie theater, a bookstore and a hotel. The current University Village, Cardinal Gardens, Century and La Sorbornne apartments will also be replaced or expanded in the process.
To improve the flow of pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic, sections of McClintock Avenue will be converted to pedestrian- and bicycle-only streets with narrower walkways and more open, park-like greenery and streetscapes.
In this sense, the Master Plan adheres to the five principles of USC’s neighborhood engagement efforts: “great schools, safe streets, good jobs, home ownership and respectful partnerships.”
The Master Plan emerged partly in response to the gradual displacement of community members by students seeking housing, which has stirred some controversy. Individuals also expressed reservations about high-end retailers displacing cheaper options such as Dollar Dollar and Superior Grocers while simultaneously drawing customers away from local businesses.
But USC and the surrounding area are interdependent. The new University Village needs local patronage to survive, and USC’s entrance brings myriad social and economic benefits, especially considering the university is the largest private employer in the City of Los Angeles.
The university has already held more than 75 meetings since the initial motion, discussions to address the community’s concerns, open forums and presentations on campus to encourage student input. A Master Plan Advisory Committee with representatives from neighborhood organizations, churches and other groups guided the proposal so it reasonably satisfied everyone involved.
The resulting product will offer benefits from every perspective. Students will receive more conveniently located housing, a revitalized modern commercial complex in place of the University Village, and expanded academic buildings. The community will receive an influx of business and economic benefits that have become so vital in recent times of economic hardship.
With the Master Plan, USC seeks to cultivate the surrounding close-knit community and central park-like atmosphere and facilities of a small college town in South Los Angeles, accurately anticipating the needs of USC — and the community — for years to come.
Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health.