2016 has been big for the Los Angeles River’s ongoing restoration process, as several of the multi-agency, intragovernmental urban water infrastructure projects surrounding its redevelopment have begun implementation.
The 51-mile-long concrete channel currently known as the L.A. River was created in 1938 as a flood control measure, and has been the site of steadily growing public interest for decades. Activist groups started gathering around the idea of river as a social justice cause for the city back in the 1980s, exploring its hidden potential for creating an urban oasis. River-focused landscape architects like Mia Lehrer and organizations like Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), founded in 1986 by poet, filmmaker, and writer Lewis MacAdams, have been at the forefront of river advocacy for years and are responsible for keeping the river in the public eye. But suddenly, the project has gained international notoriety both as the poster child for the post-World War II era’s ham-handed approach to urban hydrology, and, crucially, as an urban project the success of which could rewrite the future of America’s second-largest city.
In 2004, the City of Los Angeles founded a nonprofit group, L.A. River Revitalization Corporation, to wrangle the ever-growing constellation of river-related programs, and ultimately hired Frank Gehry and Associates, landscape firm OLIN, and Geosyntec Consultants to create a master plan. The team is currently in the midst of working through the initial study phases and has held a handful of community meetings across the region to discuss on-the-ground concerns and to gather ideas, in the process creating the L.A. River Index, an online resource for sharing information with the public. A preview of the L.A. River VR Experience, an initiative by media producers Camilla Andersson and Anders Hjemdahl at Pacific Virtual Reality and FoLAR, was released on October 8, timed with the organization’s 30th anniversary. The project is currently in the final stages of production and features a VR tour along the entire LA River.
Additionally, Gruen Associates, Mia Lehrer Associates, and Oyler Wu Collaborative were recently selected to design bike paths across the river’s length in the San Fernando Valley. Their project will link to the existing, popular path along the river running through the Frogtown neighborhood just north of Downtown Los Angeles. That particular area has been the site of highly partisan anti-gentrification battles, as the development community quickly began to take note of an impending windfall if the river becomes a desirable location. Housing projects have begun to sprout up around this neck of the river, which is surrounded by a mix of sleepy residential and industrial areas. A forthcoming project by Rios Clementi Hale Studios aims to bring 419 apartments, 39,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space, and 18 acres of open space to a river-adjacent site.
In Downtown Los Angeles, Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA) is working toward beginning construction on their new vision for the Sixth Street Viaduct. The project will replace a structurally compromised bridge from 1932 currently under demolition. MMA aims to work in parallel with the bridge’s demolition, starting construction at the recently demolished eastern banks of the river and moving in the path of the old bridge. That project, a partnership with the City’s Bureau of Engineering, is being designed explicitly to facilitate community access to the river along both banks, and is due to be completed in 2019.
Whether it’s online, in virtual reality, or
along the newly permeable banks of a beautified L.A. River, one thing is sure:
L.A.’s River is changing very, very quickly.