How a university uses campus development to strengthen the local community

The University of Southern California (USC) is developing a few blocks near campus in an effort to contribute to the local economy, Lauren Herstik writes for the New York Times.

The area of South Los Angeles has high rates of poverty, high school dropouts, and poor infrastructure, according to Curren Price, a city councilman who represents South Los Angeles. In stark contrast, much of the student population at USC hails from prestigious area schools such as Beverly Hills High School or Harvard-Westlake School and come from families that are "markedly wealthier" than those in the surrounding community, Herstik writes.

C. L. Max Nikias, president of USC, wanted to do something to help develop the neighborhood. USC decided to enter a $6 billion public-private partnership to build a campus extension in South Los Angeles called USC Village, Herstik reports. She writes that the move is somewhat unusual because partnerships of this type are more commonly backed by private developers than colleges.

USC Village broke ground in September 2014 and opens this fall to 2,700 students. Many of the open spaces will also be open to the public, Herstik reports.

The 15-acre project will expand the university's student housing and academic space, Herstik reports. In addition, it will include retail, such as a Target and Trader Joe's, and green space, including over 250 trees. It will also include almost 500 underground parking spaces and 1,500 bike racks, she reports.

USC also made several commitments to the community, including a pledge to build a new fire station on university-owned property at no cost to the city. The university also pledged a gift to the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help reduce concerns about how the development would affect housing costs in the area.

Finally, USC officials hired 38% of the 4,000 construction workers who helped build the development from within a five-mile radius. The development is expected to create around 8,000 new jobs, which will also emphasize local hiring.

The project has been so successful that USC plans another public-private partnership to build a biotech-focused campus in East Los Angeles. University officials are partnering with social service agencies in that area to understand the best ways to approach that development (Herstik, New York Times, 8/15). 

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