University Village Faces Changes, Challenges
Although well out of its prime, there is something to be said about the UV’s practicality. You can grocery shop, get a haircut, fix your bike, watch a movie, pick up your photos and take your pick from a variety of different international meals all in one stop. In a city universally known for its urban sprawl and endless driving, that’s quite the feat.
Big changes are in store for the marketplace, however. In fact, by early 2013, it will most likely no longer exist. The construction process should start then and soon a new structure will stand in its place. The project, a product of the University’s Master Plan, will be structurally similar to Glendale’s Americana with a ground floor of retail and instructional facilities and upper levels of student housing. The goal of the undertaking is to provide students with a cheaper alternative to housing, minimize the displacement of community members, and give access to close shopping and entertainment.
Stores such as Trader Joes, Forever 21, H&M and others will be added to the Village, filling a void within the USC community.
For most students this is a dream come true, but the project isn’t without its challenges. The Master Plan Committee faces an interesting issue. Due to the diversity in economic classes within the USC and surrounding populations, it isn’t easy to create a space that everyone can fully utilize.
Brian League, a member of the USC Master Plan Advisory Committee, recognizes these challenges. In order to appeal to both sides, USC is turning to schools in similar predicaments across the country. League said they are emulating what the University of Pennsylvania has done.
“Penn invested in the surrounding area, built a hotel and a lot of retail, and it stabilized the community”, which is exactly what USC hopes to do.
Currently, UV addresses the local population’s needs more so than the student population. In order to keep that market of consumers and maintain a level of fairness for longstanding vendors, the committee is welcoming back current shopkeepers. Although their rent may be escalated, the expected increase in consumer activity within the Village should more than compensate.
There is speculation that both Trader Joes and Superior Market will be located in the new Village. This is a prime example at how the committee is trying to appease both sides of the community.
James Steele, a professor at the USC School of Architecture and 15-year resident of the area, says this will “address a certain community overlap with student and local populations. Superior Market serves the local population. It’s not expensive but not necessarily what the student population would like. It’s very much geared to the locals, but you have to cater to both sides.”
In addition to commercial factors, the additional housing is another big aspect of the project. Since its gradual slide from a commuter to a residential school, USC has been slowly displacing residents within the area. Many of the locals cannot compete with students for the rising rent prices.
The new structure will have the capacity for 2,600 beds providing affordable housing for both undergrad and graduate students. League said they are hoping this addition will help set the market point for student housing and drive down the current prices, which would be advantageous for students and locals alike.
The project has received a lot of support from the surrounding community, but not all are pleased. League said, “others are saying we’re not doing enough and we need to provide low income housing for all the displacement our students have caused.
“It’s hard when we get criticized by the community for being portrayed as a large evil entity for displacing the community. I don’t think we’re denying our students have displaced people.”
Steele agreed the displacement isn’t malicious or intentional. “Slow gentrification is going on in this area anyways. There’s been change in the past 15 years with the student population taking over. It’s inevitable as the university grows.”
Steele thinks the project will be beneficial. “The University needs to expand, it’s a good thing for the city…. The taxes it’s going to generate will help the city of LA a lot.”
In addition to tax money, the new Village will provide a lot of jobs locally.
Despite it’s benefits and drawbacks, it’s hard to see the issue as cut and dry.
The new shopping center needs to appease both populations. In evidence to the committee’s effort, Steele noted the importance of keeping Superior Market.
“It’s a symbolic issue about the commitment to the community and the integration of the local community and the campus. It says a lot about being accommodating. “
He then added, “Cohabitation is a fact and you can’t really judge it morally. How do you put judgment on certain things and not others? You have to be objective about it.”
While there are many issues currently surrounding the community, it is the hope of both the USC and local populations that the new center will be a step in the right direction in making cohabitation easier for everyone.
Reach Shannon Snyder here.