Draft Los Angeles River Master Plan Revealed

A new draft Los Angeles Master Plan, created by Frank Gehry's firm, lays out a more active, natural vision for the river, in addition to addressing concerns about displacement in communities along the river corridor.

2 minute read

January 14, 2021, 12:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Los Angeles River Bike Path

clayton harrison / Shutterstock

Los Angeles County this week released a draft update to the Los Angeles River Master Plan.

Steven Sharp reports on the document, which is "intended to guide the development of new parks and water quality projects along the 51-mile corridor, while also accounting for potential displacement and equity issues in neighboring communities."

The Los Angeles River was infamously encased in concrete after a series of destructive storms in the early 20th century, but, as Sharp notes, "sparse rainfall in Southern California mean's that the river is only needed for its flood control functions roughly 2 percent of the time [.....] That creates an opportunity for recreational activities and public open space on much of the corridor."

Sharp summarizes some of the plan's approach to development potential along the river thusly:

Although the master plan does not effectuate any specific investments along the river, the document identifies 56 potential projects between the San Fernando Valley and the South Bay.  In addition to building off of existing proposals - such as a 42-acre park at the Taylor Yard or the Downtown leg of the L.A. River bike path - the plan includes a "kit of parts" outlining an array of improvements to the channel, ranging from more modest river trails to channel modifications and even flood plain reclamation.

The county hired architect Frank Gehry's firm, working with landscape architect Laurie Olin, to complete the master plan. An article by Louis Sahagún for the Los Angeles Times devotes more ink to the starchitect angle inherent to the release of the draft master plan. Olin's contribution to the plan, according to Sharp, is a vision for "100 miles of public trails along the river, as well as park projects that restore habitats and improve water quality."

Gehry's role on the Los Angeles River has been controversial in the past. Gehry's firm was working in the background without public attention early in the process, but Gehry's initial work focused on hydrology, so the scope of the planning work has clearly expanded since then. At the time, concerns included a lack of understanding about how Gehry's work fit in with the Los Angeles River Revitalization Mater Plan, approved in 2007, and a plan released in 2013 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that shifted the focus of planning and engineering along the river to include habitat restoration in addition to stormwater protection.

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