Master Plan will divide USC, community

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.

11 replies
  1. Jack
    Jack says:

    Who cares about the local residents? They murder USC students, as evidenced by the events of last night, and we should be doing everything we can to push them far AWAY from campus.

  2. Sophia
    Sophia says:

    Francesca, your points are right on. Anyone paying the least bit of attention to the history of USC in this area knows that community members from all backgrounds have long struggled against the university “renovating” around the neighborhood. It has almost always resulted in rent shooting up, local working-class home ownership opportunities dropping, students and community residents alike being forced into ‘more affordable’ and less liveable slumlord housing, and the same people being displaced because they can’t afford access to “new and improved” groceries, retail, living arrangements, etc.

    Furthermore, USC has made no promise that these so-called ‘new jobs’ this project will create will be SUSTAINABLE jobs – meaning that they would pay a living wage and that jobs would last more than the few years it will take to build. Because if we employ, as a previous commenter says, “hundreds, if not… thousands” of people in the short term, will they still have these jobs in the long term? Will the same folks we hire to build this extravagant project be able to even afford to shop or rent in the “new and improved” USC post-Master Plan? I doubt it, and so does anyone who has seen what happens when major research universities bully cities and communities into allowing these sorts of projects to go on. Look at New Haven, Harlem, Oakland, Princeton… I’m glad to see USC students voice their concerns, Francesca. Thank you for writing this very nuanced piece.

    • simple economics
      simple economics says:

      So is your proposal that we keep the UV exactly the same so that the few thousand or so locals can pay lower rent?

      I don’t get why people want to cling on to this outdated status quo. A renovated UV is going to be much bigger and bring more jobs. Any increase in rent is good for the community as it signals more cash flow from in the community, meaning more economic activity.

      You realize there are plenty, and I mean plenty, of other housing options available for locals, yes? But relatively almost a few dozen options for college students. Keep in mind, these are the same students who will be working high paying jobs, paying taxes and supporting the local low income workers.

      In any angle you look at this project, it’s better for the students and the locals. Any call for status quo has do far used outdated and mostly invalid arguments.

      • J
        J says:

        The call from community residents and the UNIDAD coalition is not to stop development. The call is to guarantee inclusion of local low-income residents in the development plan, rather than simply say it’s going to benefit everyone.

        Redevelopment and new investment is welcomed as long as it does not result in the worsening of ongoing displacement of local residents. The current draft plan will do just that – in effect replacing the current residents with different and wealthier residents. It is very possible for USC and the City to create a plan, without any delays, that include guarantees for local hiring, for initiatives and investments that will preserve and create affordable housing, and for the preservation and integration of existing local small businesses.

        The USC Master Plan is a tremendous opportunity for the University to demonstrate a genuine commitment to supporting the healthy growth and elevation of low-income communities. In doing so, it would become a leader among universities across the country in yet one more very important realm.

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    The new UV will do nothing but good things for the community and USC itself. I cannot stand people who hold back progress for fear of being politically correct. This is long over due as it as — the community wants it as do the students and faculty of USC. The only bad thing about the project is that it can’t be built sooner!

  4. Simple economics
    Simple economics says:

    The thinking that *not* renovating an outdated, pathetic looking shopping center is somehow helpful to the community and the students is regrettably just like the University Village: outdated and badly in need of a new perspective.

    Bulldozing the retail space as well as constructing the new one will provide the community around USC with plenty of job opportunities and income in the years to come, both as part of the construction effort as well as the new retail space that will sprout up. Sure, there will be temporary lay offs as the old space is vacated, but that temporary gap of a few years will more than make up what is yet to come.

    The idea that since H&M or Forever 21 will not hire locals, we should halt a billion dollar project, is just idiotic thinking at best. H&M and Forever 21 might at max hire 30-40 people. This billion dollar project will hire in the hundreds, if not in the thousands in both the construction industry, as well as the housing/retail space that is created later on.

  5. Jim Robinson
    Jim Robinson says:

    I’m sure the author’s comments are well-intended, but they’re also condescending and a little insulting. As one of those “marginalized” locals living outside the gates, I can tell you that many of us have been hoping for years that USC would upgrade the Village. If the current shoppers seem downscale, maybe it’s because of what’s being offered. We’ve lived within walking distance for 22 years, but we and our neighbors shop online, downtown, at The Grove or in Pasadena. Sure there are poor people in the neighborhood, but there are also many who would love an opportunity to shop locally at decent stores and go to decent restaurants. We don’t even mind if there are students there. They’re one of the reasons we live here, and while they do, they’re part of the community.

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