Seeing the Los Angeles River in Whole New Way

We seem to have an app for everything. Now we have one that walks a viewer through the river’s history from the pre-historic era to the present.

2 minute read

August 19, 2020, 11:00 AM PDT

By Clement Lau

Los Angeles River Bike Path

clayton harrison / Shutterstock

The Los Angeles River is 51 miles long and spans through 17 cities and unincorporated Los Angeles County. The river encompasses an 834-square-mile watershed and flows from its headwaters at river mile 51 in Canoga Park within the city of Los Angeles to river mile zero at Long Beach, where the river meets the Pacific Ocean. The L.A. River was channelized between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries to protect lives and property from flooding as the L.A. region rapidly grew and transformed to a largely urbanized area. Today, one million people live within one mile of the river.

To help folks learn more about and better appreciate the L.A. River, there is now the "Rio de Los Angeles" app. This new augmented reality app was produced by RYOT, a production studio run by Verizon Media that specializes in interactive and immersive experiences, in collaboration with digital studios Vrai Pictures and Superbright. According to Jake Sally, head of development at RYOT, “The L.A. River is amazing, but it’s also hundreds of pages and graphs and data sets, and they are not accessible,” he says. “So can we build a depth of understanding? ... How can people who are in the immediate proximity to the river have a greater understanding of how their small piece fits into the larger context?”

The free app offers a fun, interactive experience for iPhone and iPad that walks a viewer through some of the river’s history from the pre-historic era to the present. Just point your iPhone or iPad at a flat surface and a 3-D map of the Los Angeles Basin loads up on the screen. From there, a menu of options walks the viewer through the river’s history, from the shifting waterway on a broad flood plain to the channelized water body encased in concrete. The app was developed using data from various sources, including historic archives and the L.A. River Index, a research database assembled by River LA, one of the groups involved in the planned redevelopment of the river through an update of the L.A. River Master Plan.

River L.A. has been leading the coordination of an extensive community engagement and outreach process for the Master Plan. This effort was launched by L.A. County Public Works to update the original 1996 master plan, synthesizing more recent ideas for portions of the River and bringing a comprehensive vision to the transformation of the L.A. River.

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