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Los Angeles could finally get its river back

Exploring the L. A. River Bikepath, just north of Rattlesnake Park \Photo credit: Flickr user Kent Kanouse

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


The real thing that is going on is a Full swing Gentrification of the Elysian Valley and the LA River, among other cities, NOT a "beautification". The problem the people in charge of this gentrification is far the concern of the health and preservation of the LA River en all the wildlife living there, the problem is not the concrete that helps the river to channelize the water during the raining season preventing floods, we can not retain any water because all the streets around LA are paved, so the water stand no chance to soak in to the land, the concrete they put in the LA River has being working as planed, so I do not see why destroy the fragile LA ecosystem AGAIN ! It does not make any sense to destroy the LA River Ecosystem again ( flora, wildlife, etc.). People need to get EDUCATED and INFORMED First and then introduce them to Nature, specially in a fragile and already disrupted environment as the LA River environment. 3 Three activities already in use RIGHT NOW 05-27-2014 , to "revitalize and beautify" ( Kayaking, Fishing, Wandering along the LA River) during the nesting season, are killing and forcing the wildlife to migrate to some other places away from this area, forcing them to abandon their nests and offspring killing future generations of beautiful wildlife that used to live in the area. I been taking pictures, documenting, walking and enjoying this beautiful paradise along the LA River for many years , the ONLY place that all the wildlife living there has to live, procreate, feed and to survive, and now all they have is threatened by this Irresponsible and Unethical "plan to beautify and bring people closer to nature" when in reality all they want is to Gentrify the LA River for the abuse and enjoyment of a bunch of rich , irresponsible and moronic individuals.
Alejandro makes very important points! Keep the rents and property prices down so everyone can enjoy living in LA. That's how LA is supposed to be.
Alejandro is correct. When I was a kid, there was a joke. A woman answered the phone. The police told her that her husband fell into the LA river. she told them to dust him off and send him home. Los Angeles is part of the Southwest desert. It's prone to flash floods and periods of no rain-which is different than drought. What the animals need is peace-where are they supposed to go during this destruction and then construction? You can be in the middle of the Mojave-Nevada, AZ onto Utah and West Texas, and when it rains it pours. The dry hard ground can't soak up the water. Then so many paved streets allows less water to soak in. Look at Las Vegas- that also happens in small dirt street New Mexico towns with less than 300 people in them, ditto for West Texas, Utah, AZ. You forget that NYC is a group of islands. Los Angeles is a coastal desert city. The Army Engineer Corps just wants to keep itself in business. It wasn't so long ago that it decided to remove all trees from the Rio Grande River in NM, because they use water. It also wanted to remove the bends and make the Rio a straight run. The only people it would have benefited would be Texans that are always suing NM about water, we either release too much or not enough. We are not anymore in control of rainfall than Texans are. The engineers didn't care that their plan would completely destroy wetlands in a wildlife sanctuary for migratory geese and cranes, destroy the farming communities. We had to get river and water experts from Israel and Australia to stop that hair-brained idea. As a person that grew up in Los Angeles, and is a member of the Audubon Society and groups to preserve wetlands, I think that you are way off. It's not conservation, but gentrification. We're fighting this here. Our mayor wants to turn the river into a tourist trap with cafes, little paddle boats, kayaks. We already have about a 100 miles of trails that run from Bernalillo to Belen through Albuquerque-picnic areas-cultural centers- like a farming center- a spanish cultural center. The mayor never heard the joke that the nearsighted farmer plowed up the Rio Grande. Send the Corps back to New Orleans, they are really needed there.
Thank you for this article!! I grew up near the L.A. river north of downtown. There were still some spots with pools of water and a couple of plants, but most, especially toward Glendale and Burbank were completely barren. Even though I no longer live in L.A., I have answered every action to try to save this river. Thanks again for the update.

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