Sunnynook River Park Groundbreaking

July 25, 2012 § 8 Comments

Sunnynook River Park groundbreaking: golden shovels lifting ceremonial soil. Visible from left to right City Engineer Gary Moore, Councilmember Garcetti, Councilmember Reyes, Councilmember LaBonge, Recreation & Parks Assistant General Manager Kevin Regan, FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams, and State Assemblymember Mike Gatto

Before a crowd of about 90, the city of Los Angeles broke ground on Sunnynook River Park this morning. The new Atwater Village park will be located in the mostly vacant area on the southwest bank of the Los Angeles River, between Glendale Boulevard and Los Feliz Boulevard – immediately downstream of the Sunnynook footbridge. « Read the rest of this entry »

News and Events – 7 August 2010

August 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Lewis MacAdams, poet and activist and the Los Angeles' BFF


>In yesterday’s L.A. Times, Patt Morrison has an interview with Lewis MacAdams, founder of the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), and, as Morrison aptly puts it, the river’s BFF.

Below are two excerpts, for the full story, go here.

FoLAR turns 25 next year. As the ’70s phrase goes, is it still all about consciousness-raising?

When we started, I thought all I’d have to do is convince people the river can be a better place. I quickly began to understand that first I had to convince people there actually is a Los Angeles River. That took a long time.

Before the river was channelized, it moved across the floodplain. So that channel we see has nothing to do with what the river looked like before. Now the river has kind of reached people’s consciousness, and that makes it much easier to do what we do. So now we can go into specific issues.

I called it a 40-year artwork. I vastly underestimated how long it was going to take. My theory was, it took 40 years to screw it up; it’ll take 40 years to fix it. Somebody said no good idea is ever accomplished in one lifetime. Ultimately the river’s going to be there. My attitude is, if it’s not impossible, I’m not interested.

Is it the Donald Rumsfeld river — the river you have rather than the river you wish you had?

No, you start with the river you have and then go to the river you wish you have. One advantage when we started FoLAR was that there was not much room for nostalgia. There was no “backwards” to go. We really had to think: What is a postmodern river, a human-surrounded river? The L.A. River symbolizes all the damage that human ego has done to the natural world; it seems to have this symbolic presence.

>Urbanophile covers Cincinnati‘s nearly-complete riverfront revitalization, with some great-looking renderings. 

>Long Beach and other lower Los Angeles River cities are spending $10M in federal stimulus monies to install grates to keep trash out of the river. Watch ABC video coverage here.


>Tomorrow, Sunday August 8th 2010, at 7am, Audubon hosts a shorebird watching event, on the Lower Los Angeles River. It features Kimball Garrett, bird-expert from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. It’s free and starts at the Willow Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River in Long Beach.

News and Events – 16 July 2010

July 16, 2010 § 4 Comments


> Hector Tobar has an excellent piece in today’s L.A. Times, mostly about how Heather Wylie spurred on George Wolfe to lead the 2008 L.A. River expedition. It’s entitled A gamble on the river pays off and here’s a short excerpt, featuring yours truly:

Without Wylie and that law-defying boat trip, it might not have happened.

As proof that the river is indeed navigable, the EPA cited in its official report the July 2008 Los Angeles River expedition organized by Wylie, George Wolfe and others.

“The federal government is saying this is a real river,” said Joe Linton, a writer and activist who was also on the expedition. “I say that every day. But it’s good to be backed up by officialdom. It gives the river a certain legitimacy.”

The Los Angeles River has always been a real river. The city was founded on its banks and today — in spite of its concrete walls — it’s still the natural object at the center of L.A.’s existence.

Read the full article here. Also read more L.A. Creek Freak background on the 2008 kayak expedition and Heather Wylie. Updated: Credit too to LAist, which is the site that ran Wylie photos that got her in trouble with her higher-ups at the Army Corps of Engineers.

> The Next American City covers river revival as performance art, focusing on the leading roles played by Lewis MacAdams, poet and founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River. Also read a selection from MacAdam’s recent poetry book here.

Rending of future wetlands restortation at the Piggyback Yards. Image from

> For more coverage of the Piggyback Yards proposals, in addition to Creek Freek’s post earlier today, check out Piya Sinha-Roy’s article and lots of material and images at the “PBy” site!


> Act quick to get in on this Sunday’s Hidden L.A. River tour. Details at our post earlier this week.

Piggybacking on good news

July 16, 2010 § 16 Comments

"Broadened River" and new development concept for the Piggyback Yards. Source:

"River Strand" concept with new development at the Piggyback Yards. Source:

Even while LA River advocates were busy fighting to protect the river in a controversy over its Clean Water Act status, some of the same defenders were actively pursuing a vision for the river as it can be, balancing flood protection, habitat and development. Yesterday, Friends of the Los Angeles River unfolded this vision, put together by talented urban designers, architects, and landscape architects, at a press conference on the roof of the Sheriff’s Department parking lot – the perfect venue to see the target of all this visioning: the Piggyback Yards along the Los Angeles River.

Two alternatives explore the possibilities for restoring a reach of the Los Angeles River, providing off-channel flood storage, open space, urban connectivity, and infill development. Big props to Lewis MacAdams and FOLAR for conceiving and shepherding the vision, bringing the designers together with rail experts, hydrologists and hydraulic engineers, planners and agency folks – and big props to the design teams of Perkins+Will, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Michael Maltzin Architects, and Chee Salette Architecture Office. And, personal thanks to Mia Lehrer for giving me an opportunity to also be part of the team looking at riparian restoration issues! It’s exciting to see restoration design become integrated with vision planning for Los Angeles.

Check out the vision in detail at this beautiful website by Jackie Kain and her crew on the Piggyback Yards.

Sixth Street Bridge L.A. Times Editorial

April 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

The central span of Downtown L.A.'s 3600-foot-long 1932 Sixth Street Bridge - during the 2008 LA River Kayak expedition. Photo: High Country News

Lewis MacAdams and Alex Ward have written a very good L.A. Times editorial on replacing the ailing 1932 Sixth Street Viaduct – one of downtown L.A.’s most iconic historic bridges. The piece is entitled Beauty and the bridge and here’s an excerpt:

Currently, $200 million from the city’s Prop. 1B bond — about half what it will take to replace the bridge — has been set aside for the project. A draft environmental impact report has been completed, and a final report is expected soon. The Bureau of Engineering and its consultants have introduced five design alternatives, most of which attempt to replicate the current bridge’s signature arches. But not one of them comes close to equaling the current bridge’s singular drama. None of the designs has drawn much enthusiasm from the Bureau of Engineering’s neighborhood advisory committee, from the American Institute of Architects or from the Los Angeles Conservancy. None of the designs has stirred anybody’s blood or grabbed anybody’s imagination.

All over the Earth, bridges are important symbols of their metropolises. Everyone knows the Rialto Bridge in Venice, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate. Bridges rightfully come to symbolize a city’s aspirations, its hopes and dreams.

Ours is an age of magnificent new bridges. In the past decade a new era of artistry and technical mastery has yielded a new generation of brilliant structures. The next time you’re trolling the Internet, check out Ben van Berkel’s Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, Christian Menn’s Bunker Hill Bridge over the Charles River in Boston and Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge that spans the Sacramento River, the newest tourist attraction in Redding. Look at L.A.-based Buro Happold’s Mobius Bridge in Bristol, in Britain. All are different, all are amazing. The specific style of the replacement bridge is less important than assuring that the design be unique, appropriate and iconic.

To promote the highest level of design, Los Angeles should hold an international design competition juried by bridge design experts with strong local participation.

I think that the design competition idea is a good one. During her recent trip to Los Angeles, New York City’s transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan spoke of the sucesses that NYC has had with these sorts of competitions – not only do they produce excellent designs, but they foster a broader civic dialogue about the project.

Lyrics: New Poetry by Lewis MacAdams

December 26, 2009 § 2 Comments

Everything I did for twenty years I
hoped would follow me down to the river
as a blessing or a curse.

– Lewis MacAdams, from The Horse on California Street

Lyrics by Lewis MacAdams, Blue Press Books, 2009

Lewis MacAdams, founder of the Friends of the Los Angeles River, has a new poetry chap-book just out. It’s entitled Lyrics and available from Blue Press Books for $10.

Fans of “River Boy!” MacAdams are probably already familiar with his previous Los Angeles River poetry, including The River: Books One Two & Three (also available from Blue Press Books.) MacAdams defined the still-all-too-slender Los Angeles River school of poetry… and grandfathered the contemporary movement to reclaim, restore and revitalize the Los Angeles River. I count him as an inspiration, mentor, and friend.

The new volume features a cover painting by Ed Ruscha. Pieces inside are more about bittersweet love than urban hydrology… but our maligned river and the Los Angeles in which it malingers are definitely there. There are taco stands, downtown street people, and even (not) a cornfield. It’s a collection of the melancholy of missing connections, punctuated by moments of sweet reprieve.

Here’s the poem I liked best in Lyrics:

Stranger Than Kindness
I still can’t believe
neither one of us knew any better.
I mean, that wasn’t the first time
a brick wall dressed up
as the Stairway to Heaven.
Now that we’re both numb
we don’t have to pretend
that it all made more sense
than it actually did
when the sunlight
poured through your
curtains like a caramel-
colored coffee,
and I rolled over to see your
wild curls poking out
from around
the face of a stranger.

(All this poetry is, of course, copyright 2009 Lewis MacAdams)

Hanging with Friends of the Isar River

October 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

Tonight I attended a forum on the Isar River hosted by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) and Goethe-Institut Los Angeles.  These groups flew out a half dozen Germans who told of their successes in die Revitalisierung der Isar in München.  The Isar River in Munich was channelized with concrete sides and has now been “renaturized”, with concrete removed, and both habitat and flood protection enhanced.

The Isar River in Munich, Germany

The Isar River in Munich, Germany

The forum began with introductions from FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams and Munich Vice Mayor Hep Monatzeder (more on him below.)  Then followed a brief promotional documentary film which showed how popular and successful the renewed Isar is.  One interesting part of the film showed that, during recent excavation, they actually found unexploded bombs from World War 2.  That’s one obstacle that we probably won’t have to face locally.  Similar to the US Army Corps of Engineers they built large-scale models of the their river so they could test various scenarios that were difficult to model via computer.  There was apparently a very tricky confluence that resisted computer modeling.

There were subsequent presentations by Ralf Wulf, head of Munich’s Engineering Department and Dr. Klaus Arzet, head of Munich’s Water Management Department (which seems to function somewhat analogously our regional water board – mainly charged with assuring waterway health.)  Both of these civil servants came off as genuinely proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish on the Isar.  They were fortunate to have a large grassy floodplain area along the river to work with – which they used to give the river channel a wider cross section (to do this in Los Angeles, we’ll need to purchase a lot of real estate – probably a good idea in today’s market, no?) They spoke of removing the concrete lining, but actually burying the broken concrete on-site as what they called “backward hidden protection” (basically the banks are still reinforced – the reinforcement is broken concrete riprap underground and further away from the river.)  They were happy that fish ladders (built to bypass a flood control dyke) served well as wading pools for kids.

They were followed by Larry Hsu, of the L.A. City Bureau of Engineering, who presented an overview of the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.  Hsu has a lot of technical expertise, but wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as his German counterparts.  The experts assembled then took plenty of questions from the audience.  The Germans told the story of how they learned a great deal about the project when large storms hit the halfway-completed project in 2005.  It held up well (with some minor damage to a pedestrian bridge) and it showed them how water behaved on the ground differently than it did in their computer simulations.  When asked about economic benefits of the project and Dr. Arzet responded that the project wasn’t so much about getting the city a “pay off” but that the results were good because the “people are happy.”

As things were winding down, Lewis invited me to join some FoLAR folks and the German crew for dinner and drinks at Pete’s.  I got a chance to talk more with Klaus Arzet and Ralf Wulf, who were very intrigued with why things have been done the way they have in Los Angeles.  They’re both very charming and it seems like the project thrives on an excellent balance between their skills.  Arzet is a water ecosystems scientist, Wulf a civil engineer.  They both approach the project with a matter-of-factness – as in, of course, it was our job to make this all work.

I’ll close with my impessions of Vice Mayor Monatzeder (pictured below.)  He’s a Green Party official whose long time in office has provided continuity for the multi-phase Isarplan project.  When I asked him what accomplishments he was proud of, he spoke of the Isar’s transformation, but also of increasing bicycling’s modal share from 6% to 14% (by building bike paths, bike lanes, and even bike service stations) and for increasing use of renewable energy.  Sounds like a lot of great work.

Hep Monatzeder, Vice Mayor of Munich

Hep Monatzeder, Vice Mayor of Munich

The Isar River team will be at FoLAR’s RioFest this Saturday night – rumored to feature all-you-can-eat bratwurst tacos.  FoLAR will also be releasing its recently completed study on local fish.  All this and music by Very Be Careful!  Creek Freek wouldn’t miss it.

(Post-script: Nate, from Amigos de los Rios, was also there and scooped me with his blog account here!)

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