USC’s much-scrutinized Master Plan is nothing short of ambitious.
The proposal, set to take place over 30 years, hopes to transform Jefferson Boulevard into a safe, pedestrian-friendly walkway and provide a proposed 5,200 new beds for student housing.
The plan was launched in 2006 with the expressed goals of “[creating] a safe, attractive, sustainable, residential campus and neighboring urban community,” and “[acting] as a catalyst for public and private non-university investment in the surrounding communities,” according to the plan’s website.
However ambitious and impractical it might sound, the implementation of the Master Plan is absolutely crucial to improving safety for the Trojan Family and continuing a positive legacy for the university.
It’s not news to USC students that the surrounding urban area is dangerous, even deadly.
The tragic deaths less than a mile from campus this April of USC graduate students Ming Qu and Ying Wu serve as painful reminders of the inherent dangers of the neighboring community. The tragedy received extensive local and international media attention, as the need for safe student housing became agonizingly clear.
The university even faces a lawsuit from the victims’ parents who claim USC officials had misled them about the severity of the dangers near campus. Students were left to explain to their parents, prospective students, alumni and themselves why USC had allowed such an inconceivable horror to occur.
USC’s Master Plan aims to alleviate some of these safety concerns by substantially increasing student housing and pouring millions of dollars into renovating the surrounding community.
The plan has certainly met its share of criticism. Many point to USC’s admittedly rocky relations with residents of the surrounding area. The proposal has been described as insensitive to the needs of local inhabitants, many of whom might be forced to relocate as a result of the changes.
Plans to incorporate major brand names into the retail space of the University Village, known around campus as the UV, have been derided as a callous method of eliminating jobs for lower income individuals, ensuring rent inflation for the neighborhood. Any changes might also threaten the urban culture of the UV, which is currently dominated by small businesses.
These criticisms are valid, at least to a degree. It’s naive to assume that members of the surrounding community will be unaffected by transformations to major residential and retail areas.
Cohabitation is a difficult and complex problem, especially when it involves the accommodation of two vastly different communities in a single space.
Yet the Master Plan sets out to reach an effective compromise. In an effort to appeal to both communities, local staples such as Superior Grocers will reportedly stand alongside retail brands such as Trader Joe’s in the renovated UV.
A shopping center will generate an increase in tax revenue for the area and although rent will likely rise, the increased economic activity should act as compensation. The shopping center will add more opportunities for long-term employment, as new retailers are much more able to hire new employees than long-standing small businesses.
Protection of the surrounding area should be a major aspect of the Master Plan and should go hand in hand with USC’s primary concern: its students. Unprecedented growth in student enrollment in the past few years necessitates the need for safer student housing near campus, and the growth will only continue.
The university needs to expand to accommodate this growth. Change will happen, and as evidenced by recent events, perhaps it needs to happen. In its quest for successful change, USC should look to similar cases at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University as examples of positive urban redevelopment.
The Master Plan is ambitious, but so is USC. The university has seen massive changes recently and has “fought on” against hardship, attaining excellence in many different fields.
USC’s maxim, “Building on Excellence,” enables students, faculty and alumni to feel pride in being part of the Trojan Family.
It’s time USC uses that same indomitable spirit to transform its surrounding area.
Payal Mukerji is a sophomore majoring in business administration.