Los Angeles River Restoration Going From Grassroots to Glam

As excitement around the L.A. River revitalization heats up, neighbors of the once-neglected channel wonder who will benefit from the billion-dollar redevelopment.

2 minute read

April 3, 2016, 1:00 PM PDT

By Elana Eden


Even partial restoration of the Los Angeles River has been promised to yield a bounty of benefits in the areas of public health, water conservation, and urban placemaking. But a piece in The Nation suggests that communities who lived near the channel through its less glamorous days may never reap those benefits.

The article explores what it calls "the striking alignments of interest among the mayor, the River Corp., and the city's power elite with regard to the project," noting the seeming conflicts of interest in the non-profit implementing the restoration plan, as well what looks like city cooperation with wealthy developers in buying, selling, and rezoning properties in the increasingly desirable area:

"[T]he fear of many current residents [is] that because real-estate interests have been free to speculate and exert influence without adequate public oversight, the very people who fought for open spaces in their neighborhoods along the river—among the least wealthy and least healthy in LA, and with the fewest public parks—may not be able to afford to stick around long enough to enjoy them."

Is there any chance that the influx of money around the river will reach existing river communities? Perhaps: The city has considered designating the area as a new type of district, where tax revenues would be dedicated to infrastructure improvements and community-based projects.

Community faith in the river's coming "rebirth" hardly improved with the news that architect Frank Gehry would conduct the restoration. Some viewed that decision—which wasn’t made public for nearly a year—as a betrayal to years of community work; activist Lewis MacAdams called it "the epitome of wrong-ended planning."

Kreitner's piece weaves these threads into a suggestive narrative that places fears surrounding the river project in the context of other casualties of L.A.'s relentless march toward progress—Chavez Ravine, Chinatown, Bunker Hill—and employs an informative cast ranging from local leaders and community members to St. Francis of Assisi and Mary Pickford.

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