The water level of the Los Angeles River may be at a record low due to the drought in Southern California and this being the traditionally dry summer season.
But the words and promise of the 51 mile waterway that is not much more than a concrete scar across the cityscape continues to flood the region’s planning and politics trough.
Though having drank from that trough in my maverick past, my first article bemoaning the neglect of the river was nearly 40 years ago, I remain a persevering, yet conflicted, skeptic, as I comment on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net and other websites.
Over those four decades, in which I also have been involved in several site specific vainglorious proposals, the river has risen in prominence; an ambitious masterplan was approved and the waterway was included in President Obama’s so called Great Outdoors Initiative and the Urban Waters Federal program.
With an estimated price tag of $1.3 billion plus, the river’s restoration has attracted an army of advocates and sycophants, dedicated environments and urban grifters and gifted designers. Most notable: world renown home grown local architect Frank Gehry, who was retained to master plan the river nearly two years ago, at first secretly by L.A.’s star struck Mayor Garcetti, then publicly a year ago, to mixed reviews.
I had previously commented that Gehry’s involvement was disturbing for several reasons: he has had little design success beyond his iconic singular structures, which for all their publicity in turn have shown scant sensitivity to context, communities and climate.
In addition, he has displayed little flair for landscape architecture, in particular the profession’s increasing concerns for sustainability and public use.
But some river advocates urged Gehry be given a chance; that he could bring needed attention and prompt needed private funding; and he, or more likely the competent team he has assembled, might add something to the effort. So what if there is already an approved master plan, it can be improved.
That being true, I reluctantly agreed, especially if there is a chance it might benefit the river’s revitalization, my prime concern. I also thought a surprise from an earnest Gehry would be most welcome.
Now a year later a cautious Gehry sensitive to a skeptical public has disclosed, not a plan, but what I feel is an interesting process that may indeed prompt some interesting plans to serve the river and the city. It contains no fireworks for July 4th
Rather, it’s described as “an innovative and revolutionary new tool for planning and design,” that, for the first time centralizes in one place the “data, reports and findings relative to the river’s past, present and future along the river’s entirety.”
Like the river these days, the presentation is dry probably purposely so, with no indication of Gehry’s past propensity for flash and dance It can be labeled a primer, with comprehensive sections on flood risk management, water recharge, water quality, ecology, habitat and public space, public health and social equity, and transportation.
Said Gehry, Quote “we needed to invest in learning how to think about the river before we could begin to make recommendations, let alone design solutions.” Endquote. This included culling all data and past plan while listening to scores of movers and shaker with a history and interest in the river.
Whether it’s a planning, public relations or political tool is ambiguous, as is what specific projects it might generate, if any at all. Time will tell, hopefully not another 40 years.