In response to a pair of deadly floods in the late 1930’s, the US Army Corps of Engineers were called in to control the Los Angeles River. In doing so, most of the river was encased in concrete – it wasn’t until roughly 50 years later that action was taken to revitalize the river. Presently, there are a number of different groups working to revitalize the river (ie. Friends of the Los Angeles River, Heal the Bay, Urban Semillas, LA River Revitalization Corporation). Lewis MacAdams, a long-time activist and co-founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) is one of the river’s earliest proponents. More than two decades ago, MacAdams, along with two others, cut open a fence separating the river from the city declaring the public’s right to the river. More recently, a $1B plan to revitalize the river was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, creating momentum to change the way that we view the Los Angeles River.
In pursuit of placemaking, it is important to realize that natural resources like the LA River have had a long history of value to many groups of people. The Tongva were the earliest ones, using the river as a source of sustenance for hundreds of years. Even after colonization, the river remained an important aspect of life in the city; as recreation, as sustenance, as place. As we move into the future, it is important to remember the words of journalist Isaac Simpson, who said, “Los Angeles suffers not because it lacks in natural landscapes, but because it’s too rich in them.” Some landscapes have long been forgotten, some inaccessible, some paved over, but with the right tools and intentions, they can once again become part of our experiences.
For anyone who has seen or heard of the Los Angeles River, any mention of it will most likely bring images of a dry, barely trickling stream, surrounded by slanted concrete walls. Hollywood has most of us convinced from films like Transformer and Terminator that the LA River is a place where streetcars race at night. For most of us, the LA River is the forgotten backdrop to our city, neither beckoning us to enjoy it or fully pushing us away.
For some of us, the LA River means so much more. For some of us, fishing in the LA River is a regular hobby, sometimes even a cultural activity. Some of us like to walk along the river. Some are even daring enough to kayak – all of these are plausible and often practiced options! The LA River has so much potential to be an active community space, encouraging positive interactions between people, urban space, and nature.
How can natural landscapes be integrated into placemaking? And what memories of natural landscapes should we choose to carry into the future? How has you city revitalized natural areas or provided access? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Victor Tran. Data linked to sources.