March 19, 2012
Flowing some 51 miles through Los Angeles city sprawl, the course of the Los Angeles River cut an ever changing path from the San Fernando Valley to its mouth in Long Beach. In early years, the natural flow of the river played an important role in the settling of the Los Angeles area. The river provided water and nutrient rich soils to a growing farming community, and people began to develop the floodplain area. However, devastating and deadly flooding in 1914 and the 1930s prompted the channelization of the river; the United States Army Corps of Engineers soon encased the river in concrete; altering the natural flow, and functions of the river (FOLAR 1). Since then, the concrete river has often been referred to as a “stain” and an “eye-sore” to the city of Los Angeles.
Recently, after years of neglect, focus has turned to revitalizing the river and its surrounding environment. Various nonprofit organizations, and environmental groups, emerged to advocate for the river’s restoration, and in 2007, the city approved the “Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan”. The plan specifically targets a 32-mile stretch of the river, and outlines the removal of concrete where feasible, along with the creation of open-space, parks, residential, and business areas along revitalized riverbanks (Hymon 1).
Although restoring the river to its true natural state is impossible due to developments in areas of the rivers natural flow, the loss of natural vegetation, and the loss of native wildlife, the revitalization plan brings new hope to the area. The plan will significantly increase the aesthetic appeal of the area, and the economic benefit from a restored river is expected to be great. The city believes a renewed river has vast potential for recreation, open space, and greener communities. Lush riverbanks are envisioned to attract residents and business centers to the area. Numerous bike paths, pedestrian bridges, and waterways will connect a network of public parks along the river; promoting all sorts of recreational activities.
In addition to improved aesthetics, and the associated opportunities, revitalization brings environmental benefits as well. Removing concrete will improve nutrient recycling, create habitats for wildlife and vegetation, and recharge aquifers. Returning the river to a more natural state will hopefully create a healthy and thriving ecosystem; all the while retaining flood control. The plan outlines flood prevention as a priority and considers the use of detention areas, channel expansion, and watershed prevention practices as possible ways to ensure retention of the flood control benefit from channelization.
Many people are expected to benefit from this revitalization. Over one million people live near the river, along with over 35,000 businesses, and 80 plus schools that are in close proximity to the river (City of Los Angeles 1). Revitalizing the river means revitalization for many neighboring areas and communities. The goals are to create a more aesthetically appealing environment, try to “green” the community, and improve the overall quality of life of Los Angeles residents.
The LA River plan also targets many region wide problems, such as trash and contaminated runoff, and is designed to work in conjunction with other projects meant to improve the quality of the LA river watershed.
Those in opposition of the plan argue the plan is too ambitious, costly, and that money would be better spent elsewhere (Hymon 1). However, ambition has helped to spark public interest and the recreational, economic, aesthetic, and environmental benefits justify the costs. Revitalization means turning the once “stain” of LA to a beautiful and thriving river that someday everyone will be able to enjoy.
“City of Los Angeles :: Los Angeles River Revitalization.” City of Los Angeles River
Revitalization. City of Los Angeles. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://lariver.org/index.htm>.
Hymon, Steve. “L.A. Will Take Its River to a New Level.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles
Times, 02 Feb. 2007. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/2007/feb/02/local/me-riverplan2>.
“Los Angeles River | LAMountains.com.” LAMountains.com. Santa Monica Mountains
Conservancy. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://www.lamountains.com/involved_river.asp>.
“River History.” Friends of the Los Angeles River. FOLAR. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
Katie Peters and Casey Frost are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.