As a failure of civic will, the Los Angeles River is a thing of wonder.
Fifty-one miles of contiguous watercourse snaking through the one of the world’s great cities…linking mountains, canyons, the Valley, the Narrows, the Basin, with the Port of Long Beach…and pretty much all of it, with some notable exceptions, off-limits to the public. For a progressive city, Los Angeles has few developed public spaces. No greater resource is more undeveloped than the River itself.
There are scattershot plans to redevelop industrial fields near downtown. Artist renderings have been on the books for decades. Should they come to fruition, there might be -yes, for half a mile!- a fully realized greenway, with enough eco-restoration and bio-swales to bring the New Urbanists to a state of ecstasy. Conveniently tucked away in the least populated, most inaccessible location, cut off from the surrounding city by both railroad tracks and San Fernando Road, an Omaha Beach-like kill zone for bicyclists. If the Taylor Yards Restoration happens it will, like most things which get done in Los Angeles, arrive through the pathway of least resistance. Meaning few people were opposed to it in the first place. Because we’re speaking of orphaned ground, permanently disconnected from any other part of the river or any path network.
Fortunately, up in the Valley, we have miles and miles of shaded, landscaped river frontage, lined on both banks with walking and bike paths. A suburban Champs Elysees where one communes with nature in the purple evening air….oh, wait.
We sort of, kind of, have something like that.
Except no one is allowed to go there.
We can take its measure through the chain link fence, as we drive past on the boulevard.
We can imagine it. Not difficult to do, when it’s 80% built already.
Or we can be scofflaws. In the name of civilization we can hop the fence (Giles and I have done this many times. Only in the interest of blogging of course) and prowl about and think: wouldn’t it be cool? And the corollary: what the hell is wrong with liberals in LA?
Somehow cities with far fewer resources than Los Angeles, and I’ll just say it aloud, conservative politics, have managed to not only develop their urban rivers and abandoned railways but put them front and center. Let’s take a tour:
This one really annoys me. Even the narco-state of Nuevo Leon, the Bagdad-on-the-Border, headless torsos stacked by the on-ramp, modern-day Dodge City that is Monterrey, Mexico, has managed to offer the Little People something which looks suspiciously like a pleasant place to walk.
Not for the first time, I feel obliged to say it doesn’t have to be this way. Particularly in a city as geographically blessed as LA. Few us know today in 1930 the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead drew up a master plan for Los Angeles County designed entirely around creeks, rivers and greenways, connecting neighborhoods from Palmdale to Palos Verdes.