Forty-eight hours. No, not Eddie Murphy’s grossly underrated eighties classic. That’s how much time teams had to research, strategize, and assemble presentations for USC’s Local Government Case Challenge. The evening of Wednesday, February 13th, in a nondescript, windowless auditorium in the basement of Leavey Library, GPAC representatives briefed us on the case. Without divulging the nitty gritty, it went something like this:
(Interstate-5 expansion project + California’s Public Safety Realignment + state and county land use proposals) = opportunity for the City of Norwalk
Despite GPAC (superbly) managing the challenge, this was a planning exercise at its core. Land use and transportation issues, environmental mitigation, stakeholder concerns, political maneuvering, site planning—all the things keeping planners up at night.
I took a drive to Norwalk on Thursday to walk the site—the 30-plus acre parcel formerly known as the California Youth Authority. “Deferred maintenance” would be one way to describe it, although “post-apocalyptic” better captures its essence. Rusting appliances strewn about a landscape of overgrown prairie grass, defunct security cameras trained at abandoned cinderblock structures, the token pickup truck and barking dog menacingly assuring me that I wasn’t alone. Juxtapose this against a quaint, mid-to-low income Pleasantville of sorts, complete with a park, school, and hospital. This was our canvas.
Our group assembled Friday afternoon and promptly set out on an all-night bender of Post-It notes, PowerPoint slides, and strong coffee. GPAC had fortuitously paired me with a second-year MPL (Jacqueline Berman) and first-year MPA (Jason Manviller), both of whom I’m indebted to for their brilliant, cross-sectoral insights. Nine-o-clock a.m. found us groggily spreading cream cheese on catered bagels, while GPAC talked schedule and introduced the judges—an all-star cast of local city managers, consultants, faculty, and Norwalk staff.
In bracket fashion, we partook in two rounds of presentations followed by the judges’ questions and (well-delivered, albeit embarrassingly humbling) critiques. The instant feedback was invaluable—here were some of the most experienced, knowledgeable minds in Southern California offering advice on our proposals. After elimination round one, GPAC provided the surviving teams supplemental information on the case. One hour of frantic revisions later, we were in front of Norwalk’s top officials (re)pitching our plans.
While our team took home the gold, it wasn’t for lack of talented competitors. All teams, drawn from a combination of Price School disciplines, presented compelling, innovative visions for the site. Most significantly, we all left receiving a valuable crash course on project development. This was a real project with real implications. It’s not an exaggeration to say I learned more in those 48 hours than I have in entire classes.
– Nick Busalacchi, MPL Candidate Class of 2014, Concentration: Economic Development