Price undergrads develop Thai Town revitalization plans — which are already making a difference

June 19, 2018

By Matthew Kredell

From left: Price student Saul Ortiz; Tanee Sangrat, Consulate General of Thailand in Los Angeles; and Chanchanit Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center

Before completing their time as Trojans, two USC Price School of Public Policy seniors took time off from studying for finals to present their undergraduate class projects at a Thai Town Council meeting.

For their Bachelor of Science in Urban Studies and Planning capstone course, Saul Ortiz and Vanessa Vucinic took Adjunct Instructor Jason Neville’s studio looking at “Inclusive Neighborhood Revitalization in Thai Town.”

The 33 students in the course broke off into groups and produced eight revitalization plans for the area of Hollywood Boulevard between Western Avenue and Normandie Avenue — Southern California is home to the largest Thai population outside of Thailand. Each report included recommendations for land use/zoning, public improvements, public financing mechanisms, public space activation strategies and one catalytic real estate development project.

“I was impressed by their ability to rapidly digest the material presented in class and put together comprehensive revitalization plans for Thai Town that brought together elements of public policy, urban design, urban planning and real estate development,” Neville said of the students.

Also impressed was Chanchanit Martorell, founder and executive director of the Thai Community Development Center, who served as the client for the projects.

Engaging the community

Price student Vanessa Vucinic presents at a Thai Town Council meeting.

After hearing the group presentations, Martorell invited any students who could make it on short notice to present the plans in front of more than 50 members of the Thai Town Council. Ortiz and Vucinic answered the call to present the projects produced by their respective groups.

“The class felt like we weren’t working toward an assignment, but toward helping a community,” Vucinic said. “Being able to present to the council took me out of the classroom setting and made me feel the impact of the work we’re doing. Meeting the community – and knowing how much this means to them – made it an even more rewarding experience.”

Also in attendance was Tanee Sangrat, Consulate General of Thailand in Los Angeles, to whom Martorell provided all eight reports.

“Many of the proposals from students were elements the Thai Town Council already was considering to make the area more walkable and a cultural destination, but they took it further by researching the financing and funding sources for these projects,” Martorell said. “Knowing those current numbers really helped to know what was feasible and how much was needed to fundraise.”

Turning ideas into action

Top photo: Ortiz shares his team’s plans at a recent meeting; bottom photo: Vucinic with Martorell, Sangrat and community members

Martorell revealed that the presentations already are making a difference.

For the catalytic real estate project, Vucinic’s group proposed creating Generator Thai Town, a hotel-hostel hybrid, to go above the existing bar Harvard & Stone.

Martorell asked the group to help put her in touch with the director of investments for Generator Hostels, which is about to open its first U.S. property in Miami after achieving success throughout Europe, to schedule a future meeting in Los Angeles. “That one looks really promising and like something we could try to go for,” Martorell said.

Ortiz’s group, which put an emphasis on pedestrian amenities and overall cleanliness, proposed adding trash receptacles with Thai Town branding at a cost of $800 each. After the presentation, the Rotary Club of Thai Town immediately offered to sponsor 14 trash receptacles.

Ortiz, who indicated that the course reinforced his conviction to pursue law school to give him the tools to be a voice for disadvantaged neighborhoods, was surprised to find out about the impact of his presentation.

“I have the biggest grin right now because I can’t believe that such a thing is happening,” Oritz said. “To potentially be able to walk through Thai Town and just see as simple an addition as a trash can, knowing its potential impacts and the role I played, would truly be wonderful. As soon as it’s implemented, I plan to go see it.”