Towards Reciprocal City Development: heterogeneous communities and disproportionate power
Author:David De La Torre
Mentor:Eileen Ford, Assistant Professor, California State University Los Angeles
The idea of consciously re-designing the structures of living spaces has been a recurring yet dynamic practice in the United States. Beginning with the invasive efforts of 19th century social workers and reformers, the application of Urban Redevelopment has been overall deficient at addressing the needs of local areas with respect to heterogeneity. The purpose of my research is to address an aspect of this deficiency by examining the University of Southern California’s 2012 Specific Plan for the University Village community within the context of the greater community of South-Central Los Angeles. Is it possible to have a reciprocal neighboring relationship-- characterized by collaborative dialogue and decision making--- with the existence of heterogeneous groups with unequal power? Despite the recent shift in demographic composition from primarily African-American to Latino, the area surrounding USC is without deviation in households with income significantly below three quarters of the city’s median household income. To answer our question we reviewed extensive literature, planning documents, generated a multi-faceted geographic display, and conducted oral interviews. Based on our preliminary observations, the following three groups had a set of different concerns and needs that were not equally represented within the development outcome. The University was most concerned with the desirability of its campus which included measures to protect campus exclusivity. The City was most concerned about economic prosperity, while the working community surrounding USC was concerned with co-existing. The needs of the latter group were insufficiently met within the Development Agreement. Such evidence questions whether reciprocal neighboring relationships can exist with disproportionate power realities. Further research into the USC Specific Plan is significant because of the growing relevance of university-city relationships along with USC’s leadership as a global institution. The University’s approach in promoting global prominence and desirability sets precedence for future private university urban development projects.