Why there are plans to beautify the Los Angeles River
I've been reading about the recent plans to beautify the Los Angeles River. And since Los Angeles history fascinates me, I'm curious to see what they will do.
Of course, the most common thing I hear is "does Los Angeles have a river?" Most people are familiar with that big ugly concrete drain, but to call it a river just seems to make no sense. But it's a riparian river, like the kind we have in Phoenix, where I live now. And that means that it spends most of its time dry, or muddy, and then channels floodwater as necessary.
So, no, the Los Angeles River was never a gentle, flowing, idyllic stream. It was, like all rivers in the desert are, a temporary river. Really just a big wash. The city of Los Angeles was built next to it, because all cities need a source of water, but really you didn't want to be too close to it, as it flooded when there was heavy rain, and it was muddy and smelly most of the time. So the city of Los Angeles doesn't really plan to "restore" it, it's planning to beautify it. And like just about everything in Southern California, it will be an illusion.
Now waitaminute, I really do mean that as a good thing. If you know what Los Angeles looked like before it was artificially enhanced with palm trees, etc., you know that it was just a big smelly swamp. The ground was filthy with ugly black oozing tar, there were mosquito-infested lowlands. Yes, it was a long time ago, and through some amazing engineering and a huge amount of money, it has been transformed. Look up what the words "La Brea" and "La Cienega" mean, and you'll get an idea.
The situation in Los Angeles was so bad that it took a massive amount of engineering just to make it a place where people would even consider living. Swamps were drained off, storm drains were built. And the biggest danger to the area was the Los Angeles River, which flooded. And the solution there was concrete, lots of it. And it worked!
Of course, the miles of concrete worked, but they're ugly. And I mean really ugly. So much so that no one in their right mind goes anywhere near the LA River, even in areas nowadays which allow pedestrian access. It's filled with shopping carts and mud, it smells terrible. I know, I was one of those idiots who decided to take a little stroll along the river in Studio City a couple of years ago. I was there for about ten minutes, then I got out of there. Yuk!
Successfully taming the Los Angeles River was quite an engineering success. And like all successes of that type, the less people know about it, the better it works. It successfully allows a LOT of water to drain away safely to the ocean, and not flood the streets of Los Angeles. But the next step requires more than "form follows function". It will require art, and design. Luckily, there are a lot of talented and artistic people in Los Angeles. I look forward to seeing the magic.
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Posted by Brad Hall