Los Angeles could finally get its river back
News broke this week that The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recommended approval of an ambitious, $1-billion proposal to restore habitat, widen the river, create wetlands, and provide access points and bike trails along an 11-mile stretch of the LA River, north of downtown LA .
Having worked to protect land along the River since the 1980’s, The Trust for Public Land's LA office was thrilled, because this could be the breakthrough the entire city has been waiting for: a signature project that signals a new, greener era for all of Los Angeles.
The paved riverbed made so famous by films like Grease and The Terminator is emblematic of the city as a whole. A city where, despite all the efforts of officials and environmental groups, an astonishing 1.8 million Angelenos do not have access to a park or green space within a ten-minute walk of their home.
This is not a factor of population. In New York City, less than 300,000 residents lack access to natural places within walking distance. The imbalance between the natural and built environments has plagued Los Angeles for decades. We need to change decades of development and channel the energy of the most creative city in the world toward “unpaving” LA—starting with the LA River.
This effort would be much more than just beautification. It is well known that lack of access to nature results in compromised community health, fitness, connection, and well-being. But lack of green space also puts intolerable strain on our local ecosystem. The LA Basin is unique among our nation’s urban areas, with a densely populated urban core defined and encircled by a natural landscape of largely unspoiled mountain ranges that capture rain to feed our rivers and streams flowing down to the ocean.
Today, over 50 percent of LA’s square mileage is designated as “impervious”—we are living in a paved paradise. Stormwater—when it does come—doesn’t soak into the land to help sustain it through the next dry period. Where we could have green and water-permeable places cooling neighborhoods, capturing stormwater, replenishing water tables, and connecting people to the land and to each other, we instead have the concrete lining of the LA River channeling water directly to the ocean, leaving the basin nearly as parched as it was before.
River revitalization presents all of us with a grand opportunity: to consciously and thoughtfully link conservation of the natural environment with the natural vitality of a built environment to the benefit of all. Restoring and greening the LA River is the catalyst Los Angeles has been waiting for. It can spark the creation of networks of parks, greenways, green streets and alleyways, anchoring a natural infrastructure that will forever change our beloved City for the better. The children of Los Angeles deserve nothing less.
Jodi Delaney is The Trust for Public Land's Los Angeles Program Director