Dreaming the LA River

A first for Native Intelligence: a tag-team post, as I tag along after Denise Hamilton's wonderful musings about the L.A. River. I've seen the river twice this past week--first on the Los Angeles episode of PBS's Edens: Lost and Found series about remaking cities, and then in person last Saturday when Joe Linton and I led a busload of intrepid Angelenos on an all-day Friends of the Los Angeles River tour.

People are "dreaming a different city" on the river, narrator Jimmy Smits said on PBS. "A place to create the world anew," Denise writes. And Joe and I couldn't agree more. In fact, if you wanted to see that new and different city happening, you could also just talk to the people who were wandering around the concrete, egrets, trash, and willows on Saturday. Our bus-ful on this tour included leaders from the Verde Coalition, which works for the neighborhood parks that L.A. needs desperately; the Liberty Hill Foundation, which helped fund and develop the GREEN LA blueprint that a huge coalition of activists, academics, and public-agency advisors just handed to the mayor; and North East Trees, which built the new riverside mini-park where we ate lunch, and which plants trees, builds parks, and restores waterways across the L.A. area. I also met a blogger for WorldChanging, the Seattle-based website that just launched an L.A. branch. One thing I love about living in the American city with the worst environmental troubles is that there are so many people here who are on the cutting edge of problem solving. I mean, it's a lot less exciting to "create the world anew" in Boulder, Colorado, or even, say, Seattle.

When I was a kid in suburban St. Louis, I wanted to grow up to be a park ranger, or maybe I would live off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness. The L.A. River didn't exactly figure into my plans. And I doubt it figured into PBS's plans 6-7 years ago, when the channel aired the prior Living Edens series about the last wildernesses of the world. That series featured Denali, Glacier Bay, Yellowstone, Patagonia, Ngorongoro, Madagascar--and Peru's Manu National Park, a great chunk of the lowland Amazon rain forest. As a college student, I spent many amazing months in the rain-drenched Manu, studying white-winged trumpeters (I kid you not) for my senior thesis and living happily in a green 2-person tent. My post-college plan was to travel the wildernesses of the world--Patagonia and Ngorongoro included--and to write about them. And after that?--the cabin in the Alaskan outback.

Unlike the Living Edens series, I never got to Madagascar or even Alaska's Denali. But like PBS, I did find my way to the Los Angeles River--because as a wilderness-lover, I became convinced that the future of wild places depends on how sustainably we can live in places like the cities the Edens: Lost and Found series has been featuring--Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, and especially L.A. And as someone who has now come to love L.A., I have become convinced that the future of the city itself depends on figuring out how to live well and fairly in the ecosystems that L.A. inhabits--and on the work of North East Trees, the Verde Coalition, Liberty Hill, Friends of the Los Angeles River, the Green LA coalition.

Or as the actor Ed Begley said in the Edens: Lost and Found episode, "The environment is not just in Yosemite or Yellowstone....It's in all the cities that you come from....That's part of the environment too. And if we can save Los Angeles, Yosemite's gonna be just fine."

And as Jimmy Smits ended the program: "Stay tuned. Anything can happen."

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