I attended an event hosted by the Urban Land Institute Los Angeles Chapter, where Brian League, Executive Director of Real Estate Development at USC, delivered a broad overview of the University of Southern California’s history of land use and development in downtown Los Angeles. He also discussed USC’s recent experience trying to gain approval of a $1 billion development plan that would increase the size of the campus by over 2 million square feet.
Of all the obstacles the USC Real Estate Company had to overcome during this four-year, $48 million process, Mr. League cited community relations as the most important factor in pushing the project through. Historically, USC has a poor image in the local community for their development efforts. During the 1960s, the University displaced thousands of low-income residents through the use of eminent domain to obtain thousands of acres of land in the downtown area. As the University grew, so did the need for student housing and campus buildings, creating tension between the local and University communities.
USC has come a long way in repairing its relationship with the local residents. One initiative the University developed in response has been the creation of an academic program offered to young children in the community. The program is designed to supplement a student’s education through middle and high school, offering counseling and tutoring services. Students who complete the program receive a full tuition scholarship to the university of their choice.
The event underscored the importance of one aspect of public relations – that of public affairs. Public relations/public affairs isn’t all about branding or positioning oneself as an expert, but also encompasses the dynamic of human relationships.