Jon Christensen writes: Writer, environmental historian, and LA Urban Ranger Jenny Price is back in town after leaving LA last year for fellowships at Princeton University and the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany. The author of the book Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in America, the influential essay "Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A.," and occasional, cheeky, green advice columns here at LA Observed, Price has been busy scouting locations for a new project along the entire 51-mile length of the LA River and preparing to launch a new version of her beach access app "Our Malibu Beaches" in Spanish--"¡Nuestras Playas de Malibu!" When news broke that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to support LA's push for an ambitious $1 billion restoration effort on the river, we tracked Price down to hear the longtime river advocate's take on the news, learn about her new project on the river, see what else she's up to, and ask when she's coming back to LA for good.
Jon Christensen: How did it feel to be back in town, working on the river, and hear the news about the Army Corps?
Jenny Price: How fabulous I got to be here for that--and how surprised so many of us were, as the Army Corps hasn't exactly been known for being a fabulous listener, or for being the pro-active LA River partner. So three cheers for the Corps. And Garcetti. And Obama. And everyone who's been pouring heart and soul into this project--by the hundreds!--so that explaining how critical this project is for LA is becoming muscle memory now for the politicians.
Christensen: How does that change the picture for the river in the near future?
Price: Well, potentially quite a bit--and Godspeed on its way through Congress--as it infuses the LA River not only with critical funding but also with undeniable legitimacy as a project of local, regional, and (yes!) even national importance. The most exciting thing? This $1-billion, 11-mile study area extends into downtown, which is one of the most challenging stretches and therefore remains as yet almost untouched by revitalization projects. The good news is that it's 11 miles!--and the bad news is that it's 11 miles! The southern stretch, from downtown to Long Beach in particular, has so far received the least love and has the most underserved communities--and needs a great deal more attention. And one more essential "um, but, um"! What are the city and county willing to do to ensure this doesn't now become a gentrification project, which would be such a huge betrayal? I was very pleased to hear Garcetti address both the southern stretch of the river and gentrification at the press event this week.
Christensen: We hear you're working on a fun project called "Play the LA River." What can you tell us about that?
Price: Yes! Play the LA River launches in September, and is brought to you by the Project 51 collective! It's a 51-week event, and it will call all Angelenos--who will flock by the thousands, we hope--to the banks of the LA River to play. Sing, dance, eat, play games, juggle, dubstep, salsa, whatever you want. We'll have a free, playable 52-site LA River card deck--that doubles as a guide to the river headwaters to mouth. If you just haven't known where to go to hang out on the LA River, now you'll have 52 sites. And there's lots more. Keep checking Project51LARiver.com. The website will be up any day.
Christensen: You've got another project debuting this summer too. Your Malibu beach access app is coming out in Spanish. What's the story behind that?
Price: Yes, I and the good folks at Escape Apps launched Our Malibu Beaches for iPhone just before Memorial Day 2013, and now we're releasing the Android version--which you can download now--and a Spanish version that'll be out within a couple weeks. It's a one-pound pocket guide to everything you need to know to use the 20 miles of public beaches that are lined with private development. And, you know, in the long term, the best way to make the public beaches public--not just on paper but in practice--is to put the public on them.
Christensen: What else are you up to? What's taken you away from LA?
Price: I've been, oh, highly professorial at Princeton University--and will continue as visiting faculty through next spring--and also will return for summer to the wonderful Rachel Carson Center for environmental humanities in Munich. I'm doing a series of events with the lovely Princeton folk on how the arts and humanities are indispensable to grappling with climate change, food distribution, water management, and pretty much any other urgent environmental issue. I'm teaching. And I'm working on a very small and reasonably loud book--Stop Saving the Planet!--& Other Tips for 21st-Century Environmentalists. It's a critique of contemporary environmentalist culture, and it's heavily informed by all the good (and some not so good) things that are happening in LA. The actual title--it'll be in invisible ink--is 50 Easy Ways to Stop Saving the ******* Planet.
Christensen: It's so good when you're here. Good things happen! And we miss you when you're gone. When are you coming back?
Price: Wow, thank you. I miss a lot of things about LA--and not least the exceptional work that you and so many, many people are doing on issues of environment and public space. I like Princeton very much--I enjoy watching my car stay in the driveway--but the D&R Canal is no LA River. Things are just so much messier, surprising, quixotic, boundary-shifting here. And just try to get a decent taco on the other coast! It's very hard to make a living as a freelancer in public arts and humanities--and my solution just now is to travel. I'll just need another solution, and then I'd love to come back.