I recently took a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota to visit some friends. I found the city’s relationship with the Mississippi River endlessly inspiring, a true river town. The river’s edges were soft and meandering at stretches, hard at others, with ample pedestrian access points and dramatic views that celebrate the vitality of the river as well as the city. It gave me a chance to reflect further on the potentials of the Los Angeles River.
What might be the most obvious feature of the L.A. River is its channelized concrete banks. Although this feature limits the ecological potential of the river, it does provide easy access to people, both on foot and on bike. Remembering my last AHBE Lab post, ending with a call to action to develop hybrid technologies inspired by human and nonhuman cultures, I left wondering how to design a system and space with environmental conditions, material flows, and people all factored in.
Soil bioengineering – also called biotechnical slope protection – is the use of plants to control erosion along water banks. Plants can bind and retain soil and filter out sediment, unlike cement. Some endangered wildlife species, such as steelhead trout, are sensitive to fine-sediment disturbance from creek bank erosion. There are an estimated 500 left on Earth between San Luis Obispo and the Mexican border, and the last one seen in the Los Angeles River was caught off a bridge in 1948 in Glendale. Steelhead were once prolific in spawning pools within the river before it was transformed into a concrete flood-control channel in 1938.
Willow trees can be used to establish creek bank vegetation. They are easy to propagate and root readily. Living willow structures represent one way to visibly intertwine materials, plants, and organisms along the Los Angeles River. Two potential willows for the Los Angeles climate are Salix lasiolepsis, the Arroyo Willow, and Salix laevigata, the Red Willow. Who’s ready to experiment?