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Renderings courtesy of Studio MLA/KG&A.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on April 16, 2018 with newer renderings.
After releasing its draft plan late last year, the Lower LA River Working Group has now revealed new renderings directly associated with the project that reveal more what the final product will actually look like.
When it comes to the 1.2M Long Beach stretch of the river south of Willow, boardwalks will criss and cross along the extension of the river, including under a proposed bridge park at Hill St. that will be elevated above the river so visitors can have high-reaching views of the river’s entire southern extension.
Additionally, channel improvements like amphitheater-style pedestrian hangouts and bike path improvements are being proposed.
According to Perkins+Will (P+W), the firm leading the project, a huge partnership has organically grown and created what will be one of the largest infrastructural and public projects for a community that has long suffered from disinvestment.
P+W worked with Tetra Tech, the Working Group, the San Gabriel and Lower LA Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and the LA County Department of Public Works on “the public realm plan to set goals, explore the feasibility of improvements and develop concept designs for three signature open space sites and three signature design templates for infrastructure improvements.”
These signature projects are focused on not just transforming the river into a more viable public space but, perhaps even more importantly, reintegrating it back into the South LA community, one which suffers from a lack of park space and health issues thanks to the truck-ridden 710 freeway that cuts through it and, as mentioned before, an overall disinvestment over the course of decades.
“The signature projects are probably some of the largest open space opportunities that LA will ever see,” said P+W urban designer Martin Leitner in a statement. “Los Angeles is not about mega-projects; it is a city of diverse communities, cultures, and moments. We worked [collaboratively to ensure we created] concepts that serve the communities first.”
The river has long been the contention of environmentalists and urban designers alik: one man even proposed a way to connect the large gap along the bike path that bicyclists hit at DTLA while Golden Road, long before it sold out to macro beer, helped raise money for the revitalization by creating a special brew in honor of it.
And the same kind of care and creativity went into the stretch of the river that runs through Long Beach.
Former director of Long Beach Park, Recreation & Marine Phil Hester sat in front of a bunch of urbanerds and bicyclists, pedestrian-oriented folks and designers, and discussed an idea that is both brilliant and needed on a community level: the 2002 RiverLinks projects. RiverLinks would vastly use the underused L.A. River by connecting the west sides of Districts 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to the river via biking/ped/green utopia.
That project inspired then-Councilmember and current Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia to draft support amongst the Council to reinvigorate the river by not only including some of his own bold proposals—remember his enthusiastic and brilliant idea to adaptively re-use the Shoemaker Bridge?—but also largely mimicking Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s own reclaiming of the river by calling on municipalities along the underutilized river to join forces.
“Underutilized” is putting it nicely: the Long Beach stretch of the river could provide hundreds of acres of much-needed park space in a city which has a shoulder-shrug of a number when it comes to park space per resident.
Citywide, Long Beach has about 5.2 acres per 1,000 residents. Even worse, when we examine the Westside—precisely where the LA River sits in Long Beach—we hit depressing numbers: 1 acre per 1,000 residents. That’s less than a football field of park space for every thousand people, prompting me to ask you to imagine shoving one thousand people onto a football field and telling those people, “Okay, now play!” The more affluent Eastside, on the other hand, has a beyond-awesome 16.7 acres/1,000 residents, far beyond the legal definition of a Healthy City, which stands at 10 acres of park space per 1,000 residents.