I'll be talking about the river a lot here, since I do think its revitalization is an extraordinarily ambitious 40-year project to remake L.A. But there's something far more important than talking about the river.
Seeing the river. Going down to it, and walking along its banks--and looking at it from the 10 doesn't count. About five years ago, my friend Alan Loomis and I began to give tours of the river for our friends, and then it was friends of friends, and soon all kinds of interesting people we'd never met were showing up. I first went down to the river myself about eight years ago (a year after I'd moved to L.A.), and I love to watch the same light bulb go on when people see the river up close. And the first thing I always say is to feel free to ignore all my talking, and to wander off instead, because most of all we just want you to see the river. It's hard to really get the great significance of renewing the river unless you stand on its banks, but it's pretty hard not to get it when you do.
Yet how many Angelenos have done this (and especially, how many of my fellow Westsiders)? I think the public's reacquaintance with the river generally has lagged behind the fast-multiplying plans to revitalize it. With all the media attention, everyone seems to know that something is going on. But where is the river? And where should you go? And what, exactly, is happening?
So a few quickie answers. The river flows 51 miles through the heart of L.A. County. It divides roughly into four sections: the narrow box channel through the southern San Fernando Valley; the verdant, more trapezoidal Glendale Narrows channel across from Griffith and Elysian parks; the heavily industrial downtown stretch; and the super-wide channel through southeast L.A. and Long Beach out to the harbor.
Where should you go? Well, the three prettiest stretches are where the riverbed is not concrete (yes, no concrete!)--the Sepulveda Basin in the Valley, the 8 miles in the Glendale Narrows (my own favorite spot), and 3 miles of tidal estuary up from the harbor. These stretches are very green and full of ducks and other birds. And the birds, it should be said, have always known where the river is.
And what's going on? There are new parks, bike paths, and outdoor art pieces up and down the river, and big future projects on paper for parks, promenades, bikeways, art, and wetlands restoration, and for semi-naturalizing the concrete channel--all of which promises to enhance air and water quality, local water supplies (can you hear the West cheering?), parks and public space, and connections among communities across the county.
Which is why my out-of-town visitors often don't see Hollywood or Disneyland or Universal CityWalk. They always see the L.A. River--and, if we have time, maybe some of the lesser sites, like the beach or the Getty Center....
[To tour the river, contact The River Project, Friends of the Los Angeles River (and I do some FoLAR tours), or me. Or just self-tour the river with Joe Linton's excellent new FoLAR guidebook Down By the Los Angeles River.]