The Bigger Picture: Competing Visions of the Los Angeles River’s Future

What will the Los Angeles River look like in 10 or 20 years? There are dozens of visions that offer possible answers: there are large-scale planning documents like the County’s “Los Angeles River Master Plan” or the City’s “Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan” and more focused ones like the Department of Water and Power’s “One Water LA”; or imaginative products like “LA River Gateway,” a report produced by the engineering firm AECOM that offers a vision of a future river that will offer “open space, housing, transportation, and commerce,” reconnect the city to the natural world, and “transform Los Angeles for generations to come.”  

It’s easy to look at all of this excitement and imagine that the river’s future has an actual shape. And a confluence of recent activity surrounding the river can make it feel as if the river is rushing toward some future version of itself — in 2017, the State Legislature devoted $100 million and the city allocated $60 million to purchase the G2 parcel as the centerpiece of its river revitalization efforts.  But within the plans and between the people responsible for them are fundamental disagreements over some of the most basic questions regarding the river: Should the concrete that defines its channel, and its image, be removed? How much water should flow through it? Should it be used to support plants and animals, or to provide the city with drinking water? Should the river be a park, an ecosystem, a commercial space, a reservoir? And who decides? The many plans reflect many possible future rivers, and even the process for choosing between them is undecided.

So when you hear a piece of news about the many plans swirling around the river, it can be helpful to ask: What version of the future river is being offered here? Which opportunities does a given plan embody, and which does it ignore? What follows is a guide to some of the values the river might hold for different stakeholders and the ways that these different visions and interests could come into conflict as the L.A. River continues to be remade.

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