Friends of the Los Angeles River

A grassroots organization in Los Angeles aims to restore the city’s infamously concrete-lined river to its original glory and natural state.

Many people don’t know that the Los Angeles River wasn’t always a manmade ribbon of concrete. Prior to 1938, it was a thriving natural waterway, an aquatic habitat for a diversity of plant and animal species. It was flanked by an abundance of natural vegetation. And it flooded. A lot.

Between February 27 and March 3, 1938, the city of Los Angeles was pummeled by record-breaking rainfall, resulting in a massive inundation that claimed more than 100 lives and destroyed thousands of homes. One-third of the city was under water. The concrete “channelization” of the river that we see today—a deepened riverbed with reinforced cement floor and banks, fully stripped of all vegetation—was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ attempt at preventing further destruction from future floods.  

We want to see and experience an LA River that is as beautiful and active as it is safe for our city’s people and surroundings. And we believe we can achieve both.

While the channelization of the river has in some ways alleviated flooding over the years, it has also led to other problems, including deadly mudslides in the Los Angeles foothills due to a lack of surrounding plant life and other natural barriers. It has also removed from the city what was once a beautiful natural asset and source of public recreation full of life

We at Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) have been advocating for the restoration and revitalization of the LA River for more than 30 years, as we see unlimited potential in our city’s largest waterway. We want to see and experience an LA River that is as beautiful and active as it is safe for our city’s people and surroundings. And we believe we can achieve both. 

One of the lynchpins of our plan is the radical transformation of a 130-acre area known as Piggyback Yard, the city’s last active rail yard and one of the only remaining undeveloped large land parcels along the river. We envision Piggyback Yard as an urban oasis along the LA River—our city’s version of Central Park in New York City—that restores and reactivates the river’s ecosystem, provides boundless opportunities for recreation, education, and community engagement, and protects against flooding while respecting the landscape’s natural ecology.

In 2010, we worked with Perkins+Will, along with Michael Maltzan Architecture, Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Chee Salette Architecture, to develop the Piggyback Yard Conceptual Master Plan and Vision. This Master Plan and Vision allowed us to articulate our dream for transforming Piggyback Yard, supporting our vision with vital data, ecological and geological considerations, urban planning and design expertise, and imagery depicting the potential of the river and adjacent land. The Plan also helped propel the project one step closer to realization, having laid the groundwork for what would become a separate feasibility study in 2014 and inclusion of the property in the USACE’s recommended Alternative 20. The next step is to identify potential funds to enable the purchase of the Piggyback Yard, which will set the stage for redevelopment.

Thanks to Perkins+Will’s technical expertise, commitment to environmentally and ecologically responsible urban design, and passion for vibrant, healthy place-making, our vision went from being a “pie in the sky” idea to a well-researched, well-planned, and completely plausible plan to breathe new life into the LA River and Piggyback Yard. It created the momentum that’s carried the project this far, earning the support of key stakeholders and elected officials. And we’re sure it will continue to fuel the momentum that will eventually lead to the project’s realization. We are very grateful.

–Marissa Christiansen

ORGANIZATION NAME

Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR)

LOCATION

Los Angeles, California

MISSION

To bring the people to the River and the River to the people.

PROJECT STATUS

In Progress

MORE INFORMATION
AUTHOR

Marissa Christiansen, Senior Policy Director

FoLAR