Posts tagged LA River

Photo: Community Conservation Solutions

Have you heard of the Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail? Neither had I until a friend who bikes and runs regularly enthusiastically mentioned there was a newly revitalized stretch of trail following the Los Angeles River over on the San Fernando Valley side lined with California flora across its entire length.

The Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail was made possible thanks to a fruitful partnership between the local non-profit Community Conservation Solutions and the L.A. County. Map by Community Conservation Solutions

The greenway opened earlier this month, accompanied with a festive event attended by an assortment of public figures, including L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Congressman Brad Sherman, Colonel Kirk Gibbs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rudy Ortega Jr. representing the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, Joseph T. Edmiston of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and Zev Yaroslavsky, the Former L.A. County Supervisor whose namesake now graces the half-mile, unpaved walking trail along the L.A. River.

Located in Studio City, the greenway won’t just benefit people, but also a myriad of wildlife that will surely benefit from this addition connecting previously sectioned off segments of the river trail into a “four mile continuous river walking trail loop, the longest in the San Fernando Valley”.

The Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail should also prove to be an insect paradise, its length selectively planted with over 3,000 native trees, shrubs and flowers – 40 different species, including two of my Cali favorites, California walnut trees and coast live oaks – each chosen for their locally evolved beauty and ability to naturally filter water that eventually finds its way into the L.A. River via natural and urban runoff. With urban sprawl continuing, setting aside land for the purpose of establishing micro-habitats like these will help native birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, and plants eke out an existence in a city that too often chooses landscaping with invasive ornamentals over the drought-hardy and climate adapted natives.

A beautiful handcrafted metal art River and Mountains Entry Gate welcomes walkers into the new trail, with River Story Fence Panels highlighting the river’s history before and after humans arrived in what would later become Los Angeles. Photos: Community Conservation Solutions

The Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail’s is admittedly short in length, but one should not consider its importance in isolation. By connecting two previously existing segments of L.A. River Greenway Trail into a continuous five-mile corridor along the river, Angelenos are one step closer to a (far) future when we can travel the entire river’s length, and we can all reconnect with the diverse wild inhabitants who’ve long called the L.A. River home.

As they say with a wink, “it’s not the length, but how you use it”.

The Los Angeles River. Photo by Clarence Lacy

It was after a recent visit along the great Los Angeles River I began thinking about the adaptability of the natural environment in response to large infrastructure interventions. My thoughts wandered from Los Angeles across 2,500 miles, along the Toronto waterfront to the Leslie Street Spit,  a protective barrier constructed over the past 75 years to control wave action along the city’s port and harbors. Leslie Street Spit is also home to Tommy Thompson Park, one of my favorite parks/open spaces.

Following Toronto’s growing prominence in the banking sector, skyscrapers began to climb and dominate the city’s skyline. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing well into the 1980s, international architects left their fingerprint on the formerly manufacturing and packing dominated cityscape. One of the most famous being Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Toronto-Dominion Centre.

With this construction boom, subway development, and the development of the underground city known as the PATH, construction and demolition waste needed a place.  Land reclamation and the construction of bulkheads extended the shoreline into Lake Ontario, and a new spit was created in order to protect the port from erosion and sedimentation.

The main structure of the spit is constructed with hard material. This structure holds embayments made to hold earth fill and dredgate from the harbours. In the mid-1970s, Toronto Region Conservation Agency (TRCA) began to push for a plan for the future use and designation for the land as an open space.

By this time the inactive portions of the Leslie Street Spit had undergone ecological succession. This purely accidental ‘Nature’ became a feature and amenity on the Toronto lakefront. Additionally, it became a stop for migratory birds, earning the designation as an Important Bird Area. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted at the Park, with over 40 being species breeding within the headland of the spit.

The Northern portion of Leslie Street Spit has been designated Tommy Thompson Park, with plans in the coming years to convert the entire Spit into part of the Park. Even James Corner Field Operations was involved in a Parks Master Plan for the Spit. It’s one of my favorite spaces in North America, showing the true tenacity and strength of “Nature” to reclaim and adapt to human constructed infrastructure.

The Leslie Street Spit. Creative Commons photo by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine

So, back to the Los Angeles River….

How can we use the Leslie Street Spit as a precedent for redeveloping the LA River? How do we begin to understand the ecological systems currently at play? How do we begin to deconstruct and design small changes, sowing the seeds that allow for succession of this infrastructure system? And how can we strike a balance  so it still functions efficiently, but affords ‘Nature’ a chance to thrive?

Even though some parts of Leslie Street Spit have become heavily vegetated and give the appearance of a natural landscape, the archaeology of the site presents a purely anthropogenic construction. Its less about creating a space that looks like a river or a forest, and more about the functionality of the conditions. The Leslie Street Spit is still a designated dumping ground, receiving brick, concrete, stone, rebar, and excavation waste from large projects across the Greater Toronto Area.

The current river has the potential to provide a diverse range of ecologies. We only need to augment the Los Angeles River to create the right conditions. If given enough time and opportunity, Nature’s resiliency will do the rest, creating a new adapted ecology unique to the river winding through our city.

California Native Plant Garden. Creative Commons photo by Mechanoid Dolly

California Native Plant Garden. Creative Commons photo by Mechanoid Dolly

What should I plant? An introduction to California native plants for the garden with Barbara Eisenstein: This is the perfect time to prepare your plant for upcoming native plant sales and fall planting! This slideshow presents garden-worthy plants from woodland, scrubland, chaparral and desert plant communities. Barbara Eisenstein is a South Pasadena-based native plant gardener, horticulturist, writer and blogger. Her recent book, Wild Suburbia: Learning to Garden with Native Plants, guides new and experienced gardeners on a journey toward sustainable habitat gardening.
When: October 15, 2016 from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM (PDT)
Where: Theodore Payne Foundation, Sun Valley, CA

Full Moon Shinrin Yoku Walk: As the sun sets, the forest takes on new life. The trees become silhouettes, the temperature drops, the song of treefrogs fills the air, and moonlight fills the canyon. This is an invitation to join us for our monthly moonlit walk to the waterfall. Shinrin Yoku is a practice of simply being. No phone calls, no distractions, no stress. It’s a peaceful walk under the canopy while we awaken the senses and reconnect with the land. It might be the easiest thing you can do to revitalize your body and mind.
When: October 15th, 2016, 4:30pm
Where: Monrovia Canyon Waterfall

Los Angeles River Nature Walk @ The Frog Spot: Join Frog Spot’s Naturalists on our daily guided tour along the Los Angeles River Bike Path launching from the Frog Spot. This is your chance to start exploring the hidden ecosystem that runs through the heart of Los Angeles and ties us all together.
When: October 15, 10am – 11am
Where: Frog Spot, 2825 Benedict St, Los Angeles, CA 90039, USA

Hipster Botany: Crash Course in Plant ID: Learn how to identify the top 10 family of plants here at the Arboretum and which of those families have the best, and the worst, plants for gardens here in L.A. with instructor Frank McDonough.
When: October 15, 9 AM – 5 PM
Where: Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 301 N Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, California 91007

The City and The River:  The River & The City series is an extension of the 2015 lecture series Drought and Beauty. Consisting of four events each academic year. Each event includes two lectures from prominent landscape architects (one based in L.A., one from elsewhere) followed by a moderated debate on a theme that will change annually.  The series expands the conversation around urban issues critical to Los Angeles and familiar to designers and thinkers from all over the world. Guests are invited to share ideas, engage in dialogue, and speculate on future possibilities, questioning where we are now and where we are going. The series is co-hosted by USC’s Landscape Architecture + Urbanism Program, Cal Poly Pomona’s Landscape Architecture Program, UCLA’s Extension Program in Landscape Architecture, Arid Lands Institute and Mia Lehrer and Associates.
When: October 10, 7 PM – 10 PM
Where: AECOM, 300 S. Grand Avenue, 10th Floor, Los Angeles, California 90071

Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Jessica Roberts

Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Jessica Roberts

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.

Photo by Jessica Roberts

Photo by Jessica Roberts

Once abundant, the Southern California steelhead trout is now nearly extinct. Creative Commons photo of Fisherman with catch of steelhead in lower Sespe Creek, by William A. Brown, winter, 1911

Once abundant, the Southern California steelhead trout is now nearly extinct. Creative Commons photo of Fisherman with catch of steelhead in lower Sespe Creek, by William A. Brown, winter, 1911

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?




Over the weekend I finally biked the LA River Bike Path, more specifically, the Elysian Valley Bicycle & Pedestrian Path through the area known as the Glendale Narrows. It was one of those days that made me proud to call Los Angeles home.

Although lined with concrete and plant communities dominated by invasive species, the highly modified river is home to many. Hundreds of species of migrating birds use the LA River for food and shelter, and many of the birds you see in Los Angeles County can be seen along the channelized river. Great blue herons, egrets, red-winged black birds, and red-tailed hawks are just a few. In the soft-bottom areas of the river one can find many species of fish (even a fisherman or two), although few are native. In some portions of the river the federally threatened Santa Ana sucker and arroyo chub can still be found. Butterflies and moths flock to both native and non-native plants found along the riverbanks. Less glamourous urban mammals such as domesticated cats, skunks, rats, and raccoons find repose along the banks of the river.


Historically the river had a natural riparian edge much wider than what you see today. During floods the water would spread across the coastal plain and plant communities developed that were adapted to flooding. Meadows with a diversity of plants and a forest cover of cottonwood, alder trees, and willows provided habitat and river bank stabilization. As Los Angeles urbanized, becoming less permeable, flooding became a real problem. In 1934 the La Crescenta flood disaster caused LA to seek assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This resulted in a highly altered and channelized river condition – more than 30 miles of concrete – to develop between the years of 1938 and 1970. The 8-mile section of the Glendale Narrows was left with a natural bottom and researchers have found a diverse fish population, both native and nonnative, with surprisingly low levels of toxicity. This is thought to be in part because of the area’s natural bottom, but also because of the quality of the water coming from reclamation plants upstream.

Today up to 80% of the water found in the river during dry seasons is reclaimed waste water from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, the City of Burbank Water Reclamation Plant, and the Glendale Water Reclamation Plant. These water reclamation plants have actually reduced the levels of bacteria and other pollutants in the River. There is a dominance of organisms that are more tolerant of pollution in the biological communities downstream, further from the water reclamation plants upstream. In a way the abundance of life one sees in the LA River is a product of both human and non-human technologies, inevitably intertwined, for better or worse.


How can we adapt to, embrace, and enhance the present conditions of the highly altered LA River? We need to learn from the abundant life currently lining its banks. We need to look back while continuing to move forward. We need to develop hybrid technologies inspired by human and nonhuman cultures. It’s already happening. Beyond a fascination with how plants and wildlife can survive in highly disturbed areas we can embrace these species and their technologies to further improve the ecological function and beauty of our urban watershed.