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LA River proposed as the city’s next great public space

Bridges, overpasses and underused lots are seen as potential sites for permanent arts installations

Can a river have its own cultural master plan? Yes, indeed, if it’s the Los Angeles River, emerging from its concrete straitjacket to become the new recreational and social spine of the city.

A team of architects, landscape architects, city planners and arts administrators — including landscape architect Esther Margulies, a lecturer at the USC School of Architecture — has proposed a cultural master plan for the river, which the team calls “Los Angeles’ next great public space.” The plan, “The LA River Public Art Project,” is vying for a $100,000 grant from the LA2050 project. Voting continues through Sept. 16.

The master plan includes guidelines for short term, temporary and permanent arts installations along the waterway designed to link communities to the river. On the docket for potential sites for these installations are bridges, overpasses, pocket parks, property frontage, river access points and empty and underused lots from Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles.

“A vibrant and dynamic synthesis of recreation, restored habitats and curated art sites will transform the LA River zone into a globally significant and vital urban oasis,” the team stated in its proposal, promising that the plan would “expand and enhance our play at the river.”

Margulies, who has been teaching landscape theory and professional practice for landscape architects at USC Architecture for five years, has an even longer history with the river.

LA River graphic

(Graphic/courtesy of ERW Design)

In 1997, she co-chaired the first American Society of Landscape Architecture design charrette on the river. She also has led award-winning planning and site design projects for K-12 schools, university campuses, the Baldwin Hills Park master plan, Vista Hermosa Park and the Annenberg Community Beach House, and she has served as principal in charge of public realm projects for LA Metro, and the cities of Long Beach and Buena Park. Her landscape architecture firm is The Office of the Designed Landscape.

‘The time is now’

“The time for an arts and cultural master plan for the river is now,” Margulies said. “We need to leverage the $1 billion of investment in the river that will come in the next decade via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The habitat restoration work and associated improvements to the river are the catalyst to spark a comprehensive approach to arts and culture, bringing together our creative maker economies along the river.”

She said that a strategic plan for arts and culture along the river has the potential to address long-standing environmental and economic justice issues.

“This project illustrates the inequities of arts and culture institutions along the river, as well as the opportunities to celebrate riverside neighborhoods and activate them in the Los Angeles creative community.”

Other principals on the project are architect Elaine Rene-Weissman, principal of ERW Design and designer of Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibits, architect Tom Marble, who provides project management for art installation projects; graphic designer Molly Renda, an expert in designing exhibitions; and the nonprofit Los Angeles Nomadic Division, which curates public art. Graduate student Jean Yang MLA ’14 contributed to the proposal.

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LA River proposed as the city’s next great public space

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