The Forbidden River

If it's the Valley, the answer is NO
Shaded, sort of landscaped and off-limits

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.

Let's take another look
Let’s take another look

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:

San Antonio
San Antonio Riverwalk
Charlotte, NC
Sugar Creek Greenway,  Charlotte, NC
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Paseo Santa Lucia, Monterrey, Mexico
Paseo Santa Lucia, Monterrey, Mexico

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.

The Olmstead Plan
The Olmstead Plan

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.

Just so we can feel really sorry for ourselves
One more,  so we can feel sorry for ourselves just to make you angry

7 thoughts on “The Forbidden River”

  1. My property backs up to the LA River in the SFV. We walked the mile loop between the two busy streets nearly every day. I even jogged once in a while. There were trees and shade. There was probably some sign that said No Trespassing but no one in the neighborhood paid any mind. There was no fence. If they really wanted to keep us out, they’d have a fence, right? Everyone walked their dogs and their babies and jogged along the informal path. We watched great blue herons and snowy egrets. And ducks. We smiled at each other and felt lucky we had this hidden treasure in our neighborhood.
    Then one day a flyer was left on our door. It was full of typos and seemed to be written by someone not completely familiar with English. It said they were going to build us a bike path along the river. They said a park. They said it would be beautiful and shady and raise our home values. Just give us six to nine months they said. There was no contact info other than a 310 phone number. I called it. It went straight to voice mail every time. I thought a neighbor had gone rouge.
    Finally, I spoke to a fellow from the councilman’s office. Yes, there will be a bike path, a park and landscaping by an award winning landscape artist. Just give us 6 months they said. Its gonna be great. You are very lucky.
    But but but . . . why are you putting it on this side of the river where there are houses? Why not the other side where the river borders a street? Why a ½ mile long bike path? Who will ride on that? How will you cross the street with no light or cross walk for blocks and blocks to get to the ½ mile bike path? Are you planning to cut the trees? Where will people using the park park? What about vagrants? We already have a big problem with vagrants here, you know. And dumping too. Will there be trash cans? Who will empty them?
    Shush shush it is gonna be great. No trees will be harmed. The bike path will connect up the entire length of river someday. It has to be on this side of the river because it has to. Just wait six months. Maybe 9 months, tops. It will be beautiful. You are lucky.
    There was a ground breaking. Men in suits wearing hard hats scooped up a shovelful of dirt for the cameras. They made sure the neighborhood children were in the shot. They left.
    Then the equipment came. And the trees were cut down. And everything was dusty. And the so called park is a construction dump. And we can’t walk down by the river and see the birds anymore because of the construction equipment and the dust and the holes and the rocks. There is no more shade anyway. And its been a year and a half. There is no end in sight. Sometimes a few weeks go by with no work and then there are bulldozers and piles of fill dirt and huge trucks rumbling down our street, cracking the asphalt.
    We just want our trees and our path and our peace back. We don’t understand why this is costing $6.5 million. We are not sure this is an improvement. Maybe we are selfish and impatient. Maybe we lack vision. Maybe we are NIMBYs. We don’t feel lucky right now.

  2. Kristine, I know the development you’re talking about. The 18-month process has mystified me as well. I also don’t understand the point of these little half mile sections here and there. Unless it all connects, only the immediate neighbors will make use of it.
    As far as privacy, I know the city provided concrete walls for properties which backed up along the Orange Line bike path. Did it offer anything similar in your case?

  3. No offers of concrete walls or the like. My house is on top of the bank and technically not directly adjacent to the path so I guess that is good enough for government work. There are so many things that mystify me about the project. I ranted on your blog about it and I hope you can forgive me. I am sure it will be lovely when it is finished. Your sentence about things being 80% of the way there struck me. Even 80% of the way done and we still have to spend $6.5 million.

  4. Sorry for clogging your blog with my comments but I also want to add that I do support development of the river side for recreational use, in a responsible way. We are frequent visitors to the Sepulveda Dam area and the long bike path near Griffith Park. But this project has me worried about how federal funds that everyone is so thrilled to be getting will be used.

  5. I’m happy to have your observations here. No apologies needed. Perhaps one day….next year…we shall run into each other down there, where the terns and egrets gather.

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