Its sad, but true: the LA River is not the main attraction of Los Angeles. It is not what tourists consider among their star maps and beach trips, nor is it a destination for residents on a day off. For the most part lacking any resemblance of a “typical river”, its become a bit of a joke to the people of the city. However, the Los Angeles River was (and arguably still is) a huge part of the natural ecosystem of the valleys so many millions now call home, the core of what drew people to the area hundreds of years ago. Throughout history, cities have been built and thrived by rivers, and yet many could not find ours on a map. Though much of it is currently encased in concrete, and it does not serve the same function exactly as it once did, the City of Los Angeles, along with the Army Corps of Engineers and countless non-profits and NGOs, have decided we can no longer turn our backs to this wonderful resource that contains so much potential.
How could a place go from being founded next to a river, to forgetting that it exists? The LA River, due to a variety of landscape factors, was the kind of river that didn’t always follow the same path in the rainy season, varying slightly from its base bed. While it didn’t rain often in LA, when it did, the river would flood. As the city grew at the turn of the century, the built environment consumed the land around the river. While its possible to built up to the edge of some other rivers, or with better planning and zoning in place (cough, cough), in LA it caused massive flooding and many deaths in the 1930’s. Determined to keep the people of Los Angeles safe, the Army Corps of Engineers reinforced the river with concrete in the 1950’s. With 50+ years of being treated in many places over its 51 miles like a sewage drain instead of a natural body of water, we’ve got the LA River of today.
Over the last 20 years, especially with a renewed effort towards sustainability and environmental action, interest in the issue of the river has been reawakened. In 1996 the County of LA wrote a master plan concerning the future of the river, and in 2002 the City of LA formed a committee to build upon the county’s plan and tackle to subject. Now in 2012, the City of LA is about to have its 5th anniversary of a river revitalization master plan, which was spoken about at this year’s Annual LA River Master Plan Update. In addition to tables of information with volunteers and employees of the many groups working on improving the river, we heard from the Chair of City Planning for the City of LA, Carol Armstrong with the City of LA, and Josephine Axt with the Army Corps of Engineers about what has been done already, the many groups and firms working on specific chunks of waterfront designs and plans, and movement towards a river overlay district. The current administration has made sustainability and environmental awareness a priority, and has added 647 acres of green space, with more to come, especially along the river corridor. It seems like we’re going to start seeing some real, city-wide changes over the next couple of years, which is incredibly exciting.
The city already has an excellent summary of the Master Plan, as well as the guiding principles of the work going on. For any more information, check out the LA River Revitalization homepage, and one of my personal favorite non-profits associated, Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR).