The coronavirus ripped away the ubiquitous luxuries of cafes, restaurants and movie theaters. Instead, parks became the new normal. High school football fields became the backdrop for college students playing ultimate frisbee. Lakes were the accompaniment to idyllic picnics and barbecues in the late summer. Playgrounds became the escape for toddlers to frolic in, and parents to tire in. In the South Central community, parks even became safe havens from crime and violence.
In fact, three in four Americans live within walking distance of a park. For USC students, this would be our very own Exposition Park. A 160-hectare urban park, Expo Park has all the potential to be the South Central escape. However, 6.3 violent crimes occur every week. To those who have visited, Expo Park is a sad backdrop to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Now, it needs to be brought to the forefront.
Unknown to most people, parks are vital to our own prosperity. USC needs to invest in Exposition Park because it will be a huge source of economic, social and environmental benefits.
The more parks are used, the more personal economic benefits are gained. It’s a simple feedback loop: As more people go to the parks, demand for services will increase, so more firms will come to the area, who will then invest in local initiatives that make the park nicer, which will eventually incentivize more visitors to come to the park. Local parks have generated more than $166 billion in economic activity and supported more than 1.1 million jobs since 2017. Surprisingly, parks are more than a force of nature; they are a force of profit.
Socially, the revival of parks could even be a tool to achieve equity. Community engagement initiatives may help foster a sense of community, bridging the wealth differences between neighborhoods. A USC-Expo Park partnership would nurture the South Central area, making it a safer location for residents and students alike.
In the late 1950s, the University of Chicago undertook the first park renewal initiative. Through joint projects with the City of Chicago, the University physically reshaped the low-income, very dangerous Hyde Park region. It removed derelict buildings, replacing them with the green new wave. Hyde Park experienced an economic boom, bringing a stability and safety that has turned it into one of the most sought-after urban residential areas. This is promising for the South Central neighborhood and USC.
Furthermore, parks are environmental miracle workers. Over a 50 year lifetime, one tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion. For us, the air is breathable, the ground walkable and the trees pleasurable. Both the aesthetic and environmental benefits of parks make it an unmissable opportunity for our future and that of the planet.
Before USC invests in Expo Park, it needs to ensure it is contributing to green gentrification. South Central is a historically underserved area, and without proper foresight, Expo Park may fall victim to the same fate as USC Village. It must make sure it does not drive up housing prices and push out the local residents. USC should thus integrate community involvement into their investment.
USC should partner with L.A. County to revamp Expo Park. The danger of the South Central area is often touted as the main downside of USC; revamping the local area by way of investing in parks can only be beneficial. It is time the parks become our ubiquitous luxuries, and it is time USC begins to take a role in making its community happier, healthier and safer.