Fifty-one miles: a walking exploration of the Los Angeles River

By Leslie Dinkin

Partnered with Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) and Nova Community Arts, and advised by professor Alexander Robinson, a core team of three landscape architecture graduate students – an ecologist, an urban planner, and a heritage conservationist, joined by a documentary filmmaker, plan to walk the entire Los Angeles River. The 51-mile, 6-day excursion will document the river’s current conditions with a particular focus on arts, culture, habitat, access, and human experience of an ecological-industrial landscape through mapping, photography, film, and narrative ethnography.
Over one million people live within a ten minute walk of the Los Angeles River, but the 51-mile concrete channel was not designed for people. Condemned to concrete in 1938, the river served Los Angeles behind the scenes only as armor for flooding. However, a strange intersection between the industrial, ecological and social has emerged. At times, residents fought for access to their river. In 1986, Lewis MacAdams writer and founder of FoLAR, cut a hole through a fence and declared the river “open for the people.” After the Army Corps announced the channel was unsafe for recreation in 2008, George Wolfe and Heather Wylie, a rebellious Army Corps engineer, kayaked down the river over three days and released a documentary called “Rock the Boat – Saving America’s Wildest River”., Two years later, the EPA declared the river as “traditional, navigable waters”
Today, the future of the river is in question. Many interests are at hand, and the landscape is changing rapidly. As one of the great tools Los Angeles has for mitigating risk from climate change, what we do with this channel will tell us how we see Los Angeles future. Creating a connected path from Canoga Park and Long Beach is paramount to sustainable planning at a city-scale, prioritizing the human experience. This path will serve as both a symbolic and literal linkage in a city known for its sprawl. In tradition with past acts of resistance to gain access to the Los Angeles River, we want to find a way to navigate the entire river on foot. In early August, we are going to demonstrate that walking the river is possible.