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Arroyo Seco Foundation

News of the Arroyo


The LA River Dreams of Its Future





<b>July 10, 2017</b> - Larry Wilson talks about the future of the LA River, water quality, and a variety of other issues. Seven architectural firms take a crack at visioning plans for the future. See if you are as disappointed with Gruen's treatment of the Arroyo Seco Confluence as we are. What a lack of biology and vision!


Larry Wilson


Pasadena Star-News


Birds gather on the Los Angeles River east of downtown on Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo/Southern California News Group)

On some future scorching Southern California Sunday, imagine, Angelenos may be taking a cooling dip in our very own waterway, just as Americans elsewhere get to do, in the rivers dubbed Russian, or Hudson, or Colorado or Rio Grande.

Although, hold the phone, that part of the ongoing revitalization of the L.A. River might best be reserved for several half-lives from now, centuries or millenia, given the practically radioactive qualities of the heavy metals that pollute it, thanks to decades of industrial dumping. Factories up and down its length just ran their drain pipes straight into the stream.

Properly making a grand public park out of our river after ignoring its potential for generations canít undue the chemical dangers.

When I have twice kayaked the run from Frogtown to the riverís intersection with the Arroyo Seco thanks to fun events sponsored by the Friends of the Los Angeles River, I have been crazily fastidious about not even letting a splash of whitewater in the mini-rapids onto bare skin.

On my first journey down the river, a hefty young fellow in the section just ahead of me took a turn a bit too sharply and his plastic boat capsized. He plunged into the water ó I was amazed at how deep it was, even in mid-summer; he was completely submerged, and went down perhaps 10 feet to the bottom before springing to the surface. He dog-paddled straight to the concrete banks, leaving his kayak adrift, pulled himself out and declared, ďNo mas.Ē

I like to think his hospital stay was a short one.

Then, when I helped out the FoLAR folks with a kidsí fishing day last summer, all of the surprisingly bountiful catch ó bass, tilapia, carp ó was sent straight to a lab at Cal State Long Beach for toxicological analysis.

But just because leading us to water doesnít mean we have to drink it, I was very glad to see last month that, as part of the planning for the ambitious Army Corps of Engineers-backed revitilization in coming years, seven local architectural and landscape firms offered up their visions for what our waterway should look like so that we, too, can go down by the river.

It wasnít a competition; each firm was given a different section of the river to re-imagine in a program sponsored by the city of Los Angeles. As published on the architectural site, the plans cover the banks from the Pasadena Freeway south ó the Frogtown area already has a preliminary, grassy-banks design for it ó all the way down to 26th Street.

I love architectural imaginings; they are about the only utopian visions we have left in our cynical culture. Here Gruen Associates, WSP, CH2M, Chee Salette, Mia Lehrer + Associates, AECOM and Tetra Tech offer up hand-drawn and computer-rendered notions of splendid downtown-paralleling walking paths, observation towers, swooping bicycle bridges, an Egret Park (the birdwatching on the river is already terrific, and white egrets and blue herons abound), vegetable gardens, sculpture gardens, stormwater filtration areas, broken-concrete and stone walking paths across the river.

If there is a common theme to the plans other than making park space where now there is none, itís that they arenít in fact utopian, in the sense of proposing a never-never land. Few involve wildly ambitious and perhaps prohibitively expensive schemes for breaking up all of the concrete bottom and banks that line the river now for flood-control purposes, for instance. Money might better be spent on connectivity and access to the river we have now, although there is plenty of room for greening it all up.

The L.A. may never be the Arno, or the Seine. But itís our river, should we be bold enough to remake it.

Larry Wilson is a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. Twitter: @publiceditor

Reach the author at or follow Larry on Twitter: @PublicEditor.




Arroyo Seco Foundation, PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326