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Gentrification

In: Social Issues

Submitted By crcordon
Words 2099
Pages 9
Christopher Cordon
Sociology 142
Friday 4- 4:50 P.M.
04-12-16

USC Village: What’s the Cost?

Jack hammers, dump trucks, construction cranes and safety cones; all in a days work at USC’s new university village. We’ve all been somewhat affected by the recent demolition and construction in and around USC. Along with all the construction going on, traffic jams, detours as well as some of the noise going on, students such as myself aren’t the only ones affected. As beautiful and appealing as these renovations might seem, the price of a new beautiful new village does come at a cost to the residents, businesses and employees of the surrounding community. I was a member of this community as a young kid. I went to Vermont Ave. elementary just down the street form USC, and growing up, I did see a few changes here and there. Back in the early 90’s, the neighborhood had a completely different feel to it. There were gangs, drugs, and violence; typical for a South Los Angeles neighborhood. Over the years, USC’s presence started to change a few things. As students began to trickle over to the northwest neighborhoods, the tone of the neighborhood slowly changed. I was in elementary, so I didn’t really make much of it, only that a few of my friends from my block began moving away. As an 8 year old, you don’t really put two and two together until I started noticing the same thing in my new neighborhood in East Hollywood. Since it wasn’t a college neighborhood, there wasn’t a diverse group of kids moving in; they were mostly white. I remember the first time a friend and his family were displaced, and I asked “why are you guys moving out?” “The building has new owners, so everyone has to move out.” Over the next five years, I noticed this happening more and more; apartment buildings were either being vacated and renovated, or completely demolished and replaced with new complexes. Along with new complexes came an influx of white people, espresso bars, co-ops and expensive cupcake shops.
As my neighborhood was changing, again, and there was very little non-homeowners could do about it; owning property as my parents did gave us a huge advantage and security. The power and control came from capital and property; without either one, you’re at the mercy of those who have it. USC just happens to have an incredible amount of capital, and with that, comes many more advantages than just being able to purchase property. Is USC a big business amongst the Nation’s power elite, having a substantial amount of power and influence, or are they just another pluralist group expanding their agenda. An argument can be made that USC’s position in the acquisition and development of land; are they a big business or are they just an interest group sharing in the power amongst the other groups. What’s the reason behind the acquisitions of more and more land for development? Who’s at the forefront of all the decisions being made, who’s allowing it, and why are they all white? In the following, I will be discussing USC’s new Village, the contrasting power models, what they are and how they are applied to the events taking place, as well as the effects and disregards it has on the minority groups of the surrounding community.
Looking at two probable and prominent models will help us better understand what is the driving force behind the events taking place with USC’s new University Village. The first model is that which is called the “Power Elite,” founded by sociologist C. Wright Mills. According to Mills, says William Kornhauser, the “power elite,” as well as its contrasting model-the “pluralist model”, is a form of structure that identifies many components, mainly five; structure of power, changes in the structure of power; operations of the structure of power, the bases of the structure of power as well as the consequences of the structure of power . Mills defines the structure into three distinct levels. At the very top of the structure is “the power elite,” which is a power of unified sources consisting of top government politicians, major military leaders and top corporate executives. These few individuals , according to Mills, hold all the power as well as the capital to enforce their power and are indeed the ruling class. The second level would consist of a diverse number of interests groups who would mostly been seen in their efforts in Congress halls, which held to power of influence. The last level would consist of the mass society; basically group of everyone with no organization, influence and powerless with characters above them controlling and deciding their fate.
Sociologist David Riesman had a different perspective on where the power laid. Riesman’s power structure, the “pluralist model,” differed slightly in its form and structure from that of Mills’; what differed was mainly the distribution of the power. The pluralist model was of two structures of power, not of three, like Mills’. The top level of the pluralist model was comprised of “veto groups”, which were mainly a balance of multiple interests groups such as the NRA, PETA, Mother Against Drunk Drivers, big tobacco lobbyist, to name a few. This balance would be attained through each of them making efforts to control and protect their interests and jurisdictions by blocking off those who opposed theirs . Since there is no primary source of power, if would constantly shift from group to group. The next group below the veto groups would be the mass public, which unlike in the Mills’ power elite model, had some sort of power due to the fact that they were seemed as an ally to the veto groups in order to further the agenda of the interest groups.
After making the decision to stay in Los Angeles, unlike Pepperdine University, USC began its first of many expansions back in 1919 . During these expansions, the surrounding neighborhood near you USC was largely middle-middle class whites with a few wealthy residents. After around WWII, many of the wealthy residents began to move to Beverly Hills, and many middle-class residents began to move into more suburbanized neighborhoods. They were able to move out using the federal government housing loan program that were available to them which also restricted African Americans ; it appears to have been the work of the power elite. During the 1960’s, many African Americans began to move into the area, and by 1970 they were the majority group. After 1948, African Americans moved to South Los Angeles for two reasons: one was the war-related labor demand; this was also one of few places they were allowed to live. One USC’s major projects, the Hoover Redevelopment Plan, was the first major urban renewal projects that targeted racial minorities and the poor working class of that community. Urban renewal started with the Housing Act in 1949; its goal was simple: eliminate substandard housing, revitalize the economy, construct good housing and reduce segregation . Now urban renewal did do what it was intended to do, but the negative effects went towards those it was designed to help. It raised the cost of living, by attracting more affluent people, mainly whites. With less than favorable living options, people were forced to relocate into worse neighborhoods in the search for affordable housing. This is what’s been happening around USC in recent years, and with the new university village construction underway, it has been a huge cause for concern for residents and well as businesses of the community. In the early 1900’s, the district known as West Adams was the place to be for upper-middle class and wealthy whites. It was a place where the rich and famous lived. The homes were huge, consisting of California Craftsman, Victorian, and Colonial renewal style homes. Homes with anywhere from four to eight bedrooms. The area was inhabited only by whites due to legal restrictions known as “restrictive covenants,” which forbade anyone from selling their homes to anyone who wasn’t white . Non-whites were also forbidden to live there except for those who consisted of maids and servants. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Barrows v. Jackson that the practice of “restrictive covenants” was unconstitutional as it violated the Fourteenth amendment . It turns out, segregating a group of individuals based on race, sex, religion, and sexual orientation is indeed illegal; so why is it so apparent in today’s society? This is the product of something called “gentrification.” According to geographer James H. Johnson, gentrification is the process where predominately white, middle-class individuals move into older, urban neighborhoods in an attempt to reverse the deterioration process. Indeed, gentrification does have many positive virtues. Crime rates would steadily drop. A major impact it has on a community is that it increased property values, and with increasing property values come the interest of new business as well as development . Aside from all the positive effects and virtues that gentrification brings to a community, it also comes with repercussions. USC has had and impact in and around its neighboring community, either directly with its expansion of the University Park Campus, or indirectly with the influx of students moving into the neighborhood. USC’s most recent project, its new University Village, has stirred up a lot of controversy among local residents as well as small businesses. Local residents are concerned that USC’s new village will bring will attract new business and development which in turn would raise the property value of the area; with rising property values come rising rent. It isn’t the new businesses or the new development that contributes, it’s the people that these new attractions would attract; middle-class whites. No matter where or how bad a neighborhood is, when white people start moving in, the property value goes up, but if you’re not a homeowner, you rent goes up too. This is the ultimate concern that local residents of lower-income minority neighborhoods, such as USC, face when development takes place. With rent going up, people are displaced from their homes due to lack of affordability. It literally tears communities apart and for what? So someone with the means to choose where they want to live wants your neighborhood because it’s the it place to live at the current moment, not taking into consideration that for some, their home is all they have to be proud of; it destroys people more than one thinks . With USC’s history, local residents and small businesses have every right to be concerned with the new development, seeing as how much of the development that has taken in and around USC has affected the neighborhood; Businesses have been forced to move or close, as well as residents. Activist groups such as Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE) and United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD) along side with local residents, workers, and business owners, took the matter to City Hall to ensure that the effects of new development would not favor one group, and completely disadvantage the other. Using the L.A. Lives’ Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with developer AEG as the gold standard in CBAs, SAJE and UNIDAD were able to strike a CBA with the developers of the new University Village. This CBA would ensure provisions for local hiring, job training, affordable housing as well as living wages (saito). USC proposed $2 million towards affordable housing; seeing as how the project was estimated at $1.1 billion, the coalitions felt that $2 million was absurd. City Council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks agreed with the community organizations that the proposed amount for affordable housing was too small and ordered that USC donate $20 million.
As both groups, USC and community organizations, came to a compromise to each get its fair share in the development to come, it appears that what is currently at work in USC’s new village would fall into the category of David Riesman’s pluralist model. Now of course, USC has the major resources and funds to be the dominant factor in the project, yet the community organizations, when united, actually show to have some power and say in establishing their wants and interests so as to not being completely powerless. At the beginning of the project, USC appeared to hold all the power, resources and subsides on their side, but in order to fully accomplish their goals, they had to come to a compromise with other interest groups; the pluralist model seems to be at work here.

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