Going green at ULI’s VerdeXchange: The L.A. River, development, and the future of Los Angeles

Development Landscape Architecture Sustainability Urbanism West

If words were water, the Los Angeles River would be overflowing its banks. If pronouncements were viable projects, a very green sustainable Southern California is in the offing. There certainly were a lot of words and pronouncements at the industry heralded “FutureBuild” convocation in L.A. this week, staged over two days by the venerable VerdeXchange conference with the Urban Land Institute.

Attending were an estimated 700 people described by the sponsors as “public and private sector market-makers who buy, manufacture, sell, finance, endorse, and legislate green technologies, products, innovations, infrastructure, and sustainable services.” It was very much a design and development crowd.

Of major interest was a keynote session entitled “A River Runs Through It: Reimagining L.A.’s Water Way,” with opening remarks by the city’s personable Mayor Eric Garcetti, to be followed by a widely promoted panel prominently featuring celebrity architect Frank Gehry.

ericgarcettiverde

Mayor Garcetti speaks to 700 urbanists. (@greenowlstudio/ Instagram)

Garcetti was his smooth self, reviewing the rise and fall of the river’s prominence through the city’s history, touting its present planned revitalization by a concerted community effort, and its critical importance to the future of the city. It was a variation on a speech the mayor has been delivering for several years.

However, it did not assuage the announcement that Gehry had bowed out of the event at the last moment. His appearance had been anticipated as an opportunity for him to reply to the skepticism surrounding his appointment by the mayor’s L.A. River Revitalization Corp. to master plan the 51-mile waterway.

Instead of being viewed as a second coming, the selection roiled river advocates who had been involved in various long term and long suffering efforts, marked by team planning and transparency. They charged that Gehry, with little landscape experience, has come late to the party, attracted by the publicity it is generating and a $1.4 billion price tag.

Gehry has been sharply dismissive of any criticism, while his fans, including the mayor and his minions, have been hinting at the architect generating concepts that will catapult the city to prominence and also enhance its bid for the 2024 Olympics.

They will have to wait a little longer, according to Tensho Takemori, Gehry’s surrogate, who said the office was still gathering information while working on a 3D model of the river. “We are not holding our breaths,” commented architect Gerhard Mayer.

Indeed, in addition to the one on the L.A. River, the sessions covering every shade of the rising “green” consciousness, from energy to infrastructure, were mostly standing room only. Said an architect trading candor for anonymity, “We’re here not for Frank, nor really for the presentations, but for the networking.” Green is hot.

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