To most USC students, the idea of bulldozing the University Village and replacing it with a shopping mall, movie theater, public square and student housing sounds like a dream come true.
Students discussing the Master Plan at a forum last Thursday, however, raised some very valid concerns about the plan’s potential negative implications on both the student body and the community at large.
The motivation behind the plan makes sense: to provide students a nearby off-campus academic and retail space where they can feel comfortable, and to transform a commercial center badly in need of renovation.
The very nature of these aims necessitates a great deal of cooperation among the university, students, local business-owners and local residents.
Unfortunately, it seems that in the planning of the reconstruction, the concerns of only some of these parties have been taken into consideration. Most significantly marginalized are the current business owners in the University Village.
The Master Plan does not include measures that ensure their establishments will be allowed back. The university owns the land and is free to do what it wants with it, but it is under a certain ethical obligation to be a compassionate landlord.
The Master Plan hurts community members on the customer side of the spectrum as well. The plan states that the new space will have shopping, dining and entertainment options attractive to both students and community members but does not acknowledge that these two interests are not the same thing.
There is a huge disparity between the people inside the gates of this campus and the people outside. One group tends to have a greater ability to spend money on leisure; the other clearly has nothing close to those kinds of financial resources.
If too many pricey stores geared toward USC students are put into the new U.V., local residents will be forced to do their shopping elsewhere. Students who might have more diverse tastes or tighter budgets would find themselves in the same boat.
Though the Master Plan will create jobs for local residents, the vast majority will be temporary construction jobs.
On the student survey about the Master Plan that was emailed out last month, H&M and Forever 21 were two named examples of stores USC might include in the new space. Those living in the neighborhood around USC, some of whom have a limited English vocabulary, do not comprise H&M’s ideal hiring pool — it will most likely want to hire people from outside the neighborhood, who have experience in higher-end retail or who come from a demographic background that frequents their establishments.
Another worry expressed at the forum was housing costs. USC has made no specific commitment to keeping housing costs down, and when I think of the housing going up as part of the Master Plan, I cannot help but picture another Gateway apartments. Gateway is gorgeous, spacious, convenient — and rents for more than many USC students can afford. If the promised 5,200 new beds can boast quality and amenities, they too could end up costing $1,200 or more a month.
People living in other places in the neighborhood risk having their rents go up too, not merely because of the construction of more expensive housing nearby, but also with the infiltration of more expensive businesses in the area. Five more years down the road and home builders might be developing luxury condo complexes across the street from the mall. This will make rent more expensive for everyone, students and local residents alike.
Finally, what will this development do to the character of this neighborhood? Though it might not be the safest area of Los Angeles, I was initially attracted to the community around USC because of its cultural diversity and urban feel. I don’t just dislike the idea of The Grove in miniature going up across the street because I find it impractical and unfair, but because I find it out of place.
If USC were really paying attention to its neighbors, as it claims it has been, then the Master Plan would call for a development that renovates the U.V., certainly, but embraces the intrinsic character of the businesses and customers there.
I would love to see an abundance of ethnic eating establishments (not chain ones), garment stores and small grocery stores owned by locals, thrift shops and farmers markets like the one currently open on Tuesdays and Thursdays on University Avenue.
Ultimately, I hope to see a space constructed where students and community members come to interact with and appreciate each other more.
If the present vision of the Master Plan persists, however, I see just one more way USC will withdraw from its neighborhood. The university will boast a brand- new venue where students can live, study, shop and pretend that the locals don’t exist.
Francesca Bessey is a freshman majoring in narrative studies.