Where the Sidewalk Starts: USC Village’s planning fails to include South LA community

Josie Stocks/Daily Trojan

USC Village is an eyesore. On its own, it is a formidable work of Collegiate Gothic architecture, the red bricks generating a false sense of rich history. But when it was built in the sprawl of South Los Angeles, it interrupted years of cultural history and injected its own architectural pretense without input from its neighbors. What’s more, its planning also isolates the USC community from that of South L.A., with very few even noticing.

USC’s architecture and design fail to integrate the University into its surrounding community. South L.A. residents may have few reasons to enter the University Park Campus, but USC should not use this assumption as justification for the gaps in its planning efforts.

And there are plenty of examples of this poor planning. Think beyond the high level of after-hours security — consider why a black fence runs all along Exposition Boulevard. Why is there a dearth of open park space, greenery along the edges of campus for public use and a logical mirror to Exposition Park Rose Garden? Why is there insufficient public parking, despite numerous museums and landmarks surrounding USC?

The whole University is a large project to tackle, so let’s start with USC Village, a microcosm of city life. At USC Village’s grand opening, former USC president C. L. Max Nikias said a, “We built this village to show our enduring commitment to our exceptional students and our beloved neighbors.” He espoused the value of community, insisting that USC Village would strengthen ties between the students and the community.

Don’t get me wrong, some of USC Village’s design is good. Within its gates, inner community-oriented design abounds. Its construction opened the intersections of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street and Jefferson Boulevard and McClintock Avenue to more pedestrian access. This correlates to the thumb rule of urban planning: Create with purpose, create for use. USC Village capitalizes on use of open space well — students gather under umbrellas at the rows of tables and sit around the fountain, a strategic noise design to avoid a vacuum of silence at the heart of USC Village.

But its design fails to welcome outside community members and discourages students from venturing beyond the confines of the black fence. USC Village’s primary access points are both on the south side, connecting back to UPC. There are no directional signs pointing toward the very near Metro stop or LADOT Downtown Dash to encourage use of public transit to places other than USC. The buildings are also arranged in a tightly bound enclosure — they stand tall, blocking the outside from the center, rather than creating open, communal space at the edges or a looser circle of buildings.

These observations do not even touch on the shops that comprise USC Village’s retail spaces. Quite frankly, USC Village is the embodiment of gentrification. Local residents were evicted to create more student residences. Pricier retail shops dissuade community members from shopping at USC Village. And everything students could want is there — they no longer have a reason to venture to Target at the FIGat7th, less than three miles away, or walk down Vermont Avenue to grab a plate of tacos.

Longtime resident-owned businesses like Lil Bill’s Bike Shop would have loved the opportunity to stay within the USC vicinity, but were not offered spaces. The only store USC retained from the previous shopping center that occupied its space is the Village Cobbler.

While the University claims it values community, its planning only considers the community within its walls; USC’s layout and construction have created barriers between students and locals.

As former Los Angeles Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne put it, “The Village is part of an explicit effort by USC to reach out to and engage with the city itself, not build an oasis from it. The contradiction between that effort and the architecture of the complex is basic and striking.” For all its outreach and employment programs for local residents, USC’s planning reflects its minimal effort to include and promote community with its neighbors. USC Village is an outreach effort that failed to fully deliver. If the University plans to expand any more, it needs to consider planning for inclusivity of South L.A. residents and promoting community not only among its student body, but to the surrounding area as well.

Breanna de Vera is a sophomore writing about urban planning. She is also the opinion editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Where the Sidewalk Starts,” runs Mondays.