Puro teatro at the Times

June 4, 2009 § 6 Comments

OK, if you’ve got GoogleReader you can delete my last post on this. 

Restore the L.A. River? It’s a pipe dream – Los Angeles Times.

I take it back.  Sort of.  Well, not really.

Mr. Turner’s words themselves weren’t so harsh as to merit the response I wrote and have since deleted from the Creekfreak.  It is the meaning – the sense of impossibility, and the demeaning of our city’s already demeaned waterway that elicited such a reaction.  And he did it with pretty words and the validity of first-person experience.  Who can argue with one’s personal experience, after all?

The reality is LA as a whole is a neglected landscape, a hodgepodge of bad planning decisions and developer-driven initiatives.  That the river reflects this should be no surprise.  

But why the scorn for it, as opposed to, say, the people who made it that way and would not seek to improve it?  

The LA River means a lot of things to many people.  There is humankind’s contempt for nature in it.  There is also nature’s extraordinary resilience – you give it wastewater, it grows a little paradise.  And then there’s this wellspring of love and appreciation, that you find in the hearts of people who frequent the river, and recognize that resilience.  

“this is a nature experience only for those who have never actually experienced nature.”

Sure, it’s no Thames – but have you ever actually looked at the Thames as it courses through London?  The East River?  The Seine? Pretty degraded habitat, as are most urban rivers. Oh, and I think there’s plenty of dogshit and battery acid washing into all those rivers.  (We should really do something about that.)

But since we’re speaking of personal experiences here, Mr. Turner, here’s one for you.  I found your article to be a dispiriting distraction, what the singer La Lupe called puro teatro. It does not inspire meaningful dialogue, and it gives no direction for the future.  It has wasted the time and psychic energy of a lot of good people who have the audacity to care about this river, and the future of this place we call home.  

It was journalism only for those who have never actually experienced journalism.

§ 6 Responses to Puro teatro at the Times

  • Brent says:

    It’s too bad that I didn’t see the editorial when it came out because that means I’ve missed the opportunity comment on the Times site about the article’s faulty logic. It seems that many respondents in the LA Times comments section missed the faulty logic as well. However, Jessica’s got it about right when she says, “But why the scorn for it, as opposed to, say, the people who made it that way and would not seek to improve it? ”

    Briefly, the logical fallacy employed in the LA Times article goes something like this, “Unless degraded habitats can be restored to perfection, then the job is not worth doing.” Huh?

    Why let best be the enemy of better?

    As a science professional, environmentalist, and father I settle for “good enough” all the time. “Good enough” doesn’t have to be a vague term, either. When launching rockets we state that there is a (for example) 90% chance of success with a 60% level of confidence. These are well quantified numbers, but not perfection. Nonetheless, it’s good enough.

    When doing a “restoration” you can count number of natives or diversity of species and demonstrate with certainty that you have increased species diversity or number by a known amount. Do you feel like a failure for not getting every pre-Columbian species back in the ecosystem? No, because it’s good enough.

    When painting a house, I might not clean up every drip or make every cut line perfect. Why? Because it’s good enough.

    So go out and make a small difference and don’t worry too much that it’s not perfect because it may well be good enough.

  • Joe Linton says:

    It’s worth reading the comments at the LA Times website: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-edw-lariver3-2009jun03,0,372739.graffitiboard

    Thanks Jessica for responding to this disheartening opinion article! (I’ve been way too busy with the river play that -plug- opens tonight – see http://www.cornerstonetheater.org )

    I have to say that sometimes I do relate with some of Dan Turner’s tone (though not with his conclusion.) Our river is in pretty bad shape. Major freeways along the river really detract from its environs. Restoration and revitalization will be herculean efforts, requiring serious commitments of time and resources.

    I was glad to see that Turner observed and wrote about wildlife he saw: “it is reassuring to see wildlife thriving in the midst of such blight — the waters teem with great blue herons, egrets, black-necked stilts and other beautiful birds” The scrappy life that has hung on tenaciously in this river is a testament to the persistence of nature, despite humanity’s best efforts to pave, obliterate, and neglect it.

    The river is better off today than it was when I when I got involved in the early 1990’s, though we still have a long way to go. Community and governmental efforts to restore its health will continue, regardless of Mr. Turner’s pessimistic opinion.

    I invite you, Mr. Turner to come back and ride the river again in five years – let’s set a date in 2014 to ride it together if you want… and to see if the changes you will observe give you cause for some measured optimism. If you want, we can ride sooner – and I can show you some of the nicer places to bike that aren’t yet officially open to the public.

  • “Who can argue with one’s personal experience, after all?”

    I’ll argue with it. I’ve spent 30 years of my life appreciating — and defensively so — the Los Angeles River.

    Maybe Turner’s spent more time on its banks, but he doesn’t say that in his column, which he makes clear is based on a single ride that probably didn’t take more than 30 minutes.

    That the river may not make a great first impression is a given. But that Turner pedaled aaaaaaalll the way from Griffith Park to Atwater Village, and in that grand quest found nothing worth redeeming and everything worth demeaning? FAIL.

  • […] L.A. Creek Freak towards healthy Southern California streams, creeks, rivers and neighborhoods « Puro teatro at the Times […]

  • Jeff says:

    I think this is one of the most telling statements, as to his disconnection to LA as a whole:
    this is a nature experience only for those who have never actually experienced nature

    Has he been in the neighborhoods that line the Los Angeles River, or any neighborhood for that matter? Kids are growing up “denatured”. They have no nature experience and the river, even in its present state, provides at least some connection.

    One of my most memorable experiences growing up was playing in the storm drain system that fed Eaton Wash. I remember seeing a racoon in there… the eyes glowing from our flashlight..even in our urbaness…there is nature.

  • […] quixotic for the Santa Clara River By Jessica Hall Let’s say you’re one of those people who thinks the LA River is a sewer, that it makes for a pretty poor nature experience.  And let’s say you know a thing or two […]

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