Story Research

Reviving the L.A. River

Elizabeth Chapin



The Los Angeles River recently became a summer haven for fishers and kayakers. In June, a 2.5 mile stretch called the Glendale Narrows opened up for public recreation–the first time in 80 years that the public could legally access any part of the river.

In an effort to combat devastating floods in L.A.’s low-lying neighborhoods, the entire river system was channelized in the 1930’s. Since then, the river has primarily served as a flood control channel—not a river.

Although efforts to revitalize the river have existed for decades, the new recreational activities are bringing them to life in a different way.

Cal Poly Pomona urban and regional planning professor Meredith McKenzie says the LA River Revitalization Project is not only about restoring the river, but restoring the public perception that there is a river—and it’s part of our natural ecosystem.

McKenzie created a proposal for the project, which focuses on revitalizing an area downstream from the Glendale Narrows: the confluence of the L.A. River and the Arroyo Seco tributary near Dodger Stadium.

McKenzie, who recently presented the proposal at the CSU’s Water Resources Policy & Initiatives (WRPI) annual conference, says that Los Angeles’ complex transportation infrastructure creates challenges for restoring the Arroyo Seco confluence. For example, the channel there is now blocked by a retaining wall.

“Eventually we need to have a better natural watershed or our infrastructure we will be useless,” McKenzie said.

Despite the challenges, her proposal provides solutions that turn this industrial intersection into an urban oasis.

McKenzie says the first step is to remove concrete. It makes water travel faster toward the ocean, and it picks up debris and pollutants along the way.

“Removing some of the concrete will create more permeable surfaces that allow our groundwater resources to be replenished,” McKenzie said. “It will also help restore the natural habitat that many different species used to call home.”

Her restoration project isn’t only about nature and infrastructure. It also creates a place where people can relax and enjoy nature.

McKenzie’s plans outline a park where people in the heart of the city have access to nature.

“Nature is here for all of us and it helps sustain us,” she said. “It’s time we give back.”