As the sun set Friday evening, students played frisbee, ate snacks and socialized on the USC Village Lawn. This was not a regular social gathering but, rather, an organized demonstration of the value of this green space on campus that may soon be converted into new student housing.
In response to the future usage of the USC Village Great Lawn, USC stated to Annenberg Media that, “a development agreement between the city and university in 2012 included additional student housing in the area in the northwest portion of USC Village.”
The demonstration was organized by two sophomores, Bree Vance and Julius Ball-Heldman. Vance is working on a documentary project about campus activism and discussed the rumors about the Great Lawn during her interview with Ball-Heldman. The two decided to plan this demonstration and focus Vance’s documentary project on the experience of being an activist on USC’s campus.
Not all students are in support of preserving the Great Lawn. Nathaniel Hyman, co-executive director of the Environmental Student Assembly, took to Instagram in defense of future housing plans on the Great Lawn. While Hyman supports green spaces on campus, he felt that the development of accessible housing for students is important socially and environmentally. He mentioned that housing closer to campus can help reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and help alleviate student homelessness and housing insecurity separate from the external housing market.
“As environmentalists, we do need to preserve green spaces as much as we can, however doing that should never come at the cost of the survival of our fellow students and our friends and neighbors,” Hyman said.
Vance and Ball-Heldman also understand the environmental cost of lawn maintenance and are fellow members of the ESA. But they argued that the existence of green spaces is a vital part of the conversation around environmental justice in urban areas.
Olivia Velasquez, a sophomore theatre major who attended the demonstration, felt that building over the Great Lawn is an example of the frequent depletion of green spaces in the greater Los Angeles area. “It’s just kind of ridiculous because every single green space in USC and in Southern California as well is just built on and it’s ridiculous that any green space is not allowed to be left as such,” said Velasquez.
Vance feels the loss of this space is not just for USC students, but for the surrounding community as well. “I think the main thing is that it is free to the community,” Vance said. “The [USC] Village is just not open. It’s so expensive. This is a free community space where everyone from USC can come enjoy green spaces. It’s great for mental health, great for physical activity, people who live locally and are not a part of USC will bring their dogs. That’s more where we’re coming from.”
Summer Spiegel, a freshman international relations major, almost did not attend USC because of the campus’s lack of greenery. “I was like, oh god, they don’t have enough grass for me,” said Spiegel. “I want the grass to stay. Especially this lawn because it’s nice grass.”
But USC’s decision is not finalized yet. “We value our students’ input and have been meeting together to listen to comments about the Great Lawn area and green spaces overall. We are considering all possible options before determining next steps,” stated USC.
Vance and Ball-Heldman reached out to the University and were able to discuss the matter with USC Housing and administrative officials.
“They seemed really appreciative of hearing us actually saying we care about the green space because they figured that students really cared about the green space but they weren’t hearing it,” Ball-Heldman said.
While advocating for alternate solutions for additional housing, such as building up or renovating existing housing, their demonstration was also focused on bigger picture issues beyond the specific preservation of the Great Lawn.
Vance and Ball-Heldman had a suggestion box at the demonstration where students could write issues, concerns and ideas about the future of the USC Village.
When asked about what changes she wanted to see in the USC Village, Spigel said that she wanted the prices of the food and shops to go down. “They’re very expensive and not necessary,” Spiegel said.
Vance and Ball-Heldman plan to send these suggestions to the university officials that they previously met with about this issue.
At the end of the day, the demonstration was a way for Vance and Ball-Heldman to help give students a voice on campus.
“We love the [Great Lawn]. We just want to say how much we value it and how many people value it and green space as a whole,” Vance said. “Second thing, we need transparency. We need dialogue. So it’s not just about the lawn, it’s about saying if you are planning all these future developments for the Village, you have to hear our voices.”