USC Price School of Public Policy

Dissertation Turned Into PBS Documentary

Knowledge in Action:

SPPD Dissertation Turns Into PBS Documentary

By Cristy Lytal

Dissertation project becomes PBS documentary Doctoral student Imran Farooq’s dissertation project will be made into the PBS documentary SOS: Sustaining Our Society
Photo courtesy of Decoupage Film & Video

Not many dissertations become PBS documentaries, but that hasn’t stopped doctoral candidate Imran Farooq from the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

The media component of Farooq’s dissertation has been made into SOS: Sustaining Our Society, a documentary to be broadcast on the PBS affiliate KVCR in April.

For the program, Farooq uses private investment to acquire and rehabilitate an abandoned property, making it energy efficient before selling it to owner-occupied buyers. He then coordinates existing public funds to “green” the surrounding neighborhood block in San Bernardino’s 62nd Assembly District, an area hard hit by the housing crisis.

“One of the things I want to do on the show is a pre-appraisal of the block and then a post-appraisal,” said Farooq, who received an executive master of leadership degree from SPPD in 2008, “and people will see in dollars and cents that, synergistically, when you do it in a block, it has a multiplier effect on property value.”

Imran Farooq DPPD student Imran Farooq
Photo courtesy of Decoupage Film & Video

For the purposes of the documentary, the abandoned property will be sold at a fixed-market price to an owner who intends to occupy the property.

“What we’re going to do is have potential buyers submit information about their community involvement, what their values are, what they would like to see done in this neighborhood block,” Farooq said. “We’ll strip away their names and actually have the neighborhood block review all of their potential households and choose the family they want.”

Community building and giving back are important to Farooq, who was born in San Bernardino County and still calls the region home. As a real estate broker and principal at Omni International, a consulting firm dealing with public-private partnerships, Farooq saw the collapse of the housing market in the Inland Empire as more than an unmitigated tragedy.

“When I saw what had been happening with the recession, I just felt like it was an opportunity to make things even better than they were before the crisis,” he said. “Places of great need are also places of great opportunity.”

In 2009, California State Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, whose district represents the communities of San Bernardino, Fontana, Rialto, Colton, Bloomington and Muscoy, appointed Farooq as chairman of her Economic and Workforce Advisory Council.

According to Farooq, it was Carter’s vision of making the district more sustainable that led to the plan for his project.

Farooq’s strategy for addressing the crisis morphed into a documentary through his collaboration with filmmaker Shapour Daneshmand, whom he met while working at a nonprofit.

“Being so young and not coming from a very wealthy family, working so hard and now doing his doctorate show Farooq’s tenacity and his perseverance,” said Daneshmand, director and co-executive producer of the program. “It’s just amazing work he’s trying to achieve, and I believe in what he’s doing.”

KVCR station manager Kenn Couch agreed to televise the documentary even before Daneshmand called “action.”

“The initiative that is being implemented to stabilize communities in the 62nd Assembly District deserves to get more attention, and I think this show is a great platform for that,” Couch said.

Farooq, who raised the documentary budget through sponsorships from organizations such as the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, sees the show as a model for other neighborhood blocks.

“I believe that if we apply this regionally, it can be done in very concentrated areas like in Detroit and Stockton,” he said. “So in the key concentrated areas, I think there can be a significant impact made.”

To encourage others to follow the model, Farooq is identifying neighborhood block leaders through civic organizations. He’s teamed up with Telenoo, a technology company which is customizing a dynamic Web platform that will allow other households to interact with one another and connect to resources for transforming their own communities. He also launched the website SustainingOurSociety.com.

“He’s starting with one house in one block in one city, but the bigger vision is to really make this a viable option for other communities and other places, and I don’t see why not,” said Peter Robertson, SPPD professor and head of Farooq’s dissertation committee. “The TV show should be able to publicize the approach and get other people to see those possibilities, and hopefully that will motivate them and their own communities to do the same thing.”