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LA River Case Study


In the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned Los Angeles' main inland waterway into a concrete channel to protect the surrounding developments from flooding. Though it accomplished this purpose, the project destroyed local ecosystems and cut off the LA communities' cultural and social connection to the river.

The goal of this case study was to explore innovative land and watershed restoration methods to reconnect the river with local communities and help regenerate its natural ecosystems. This ecological synthesis of human activity and wildlife habit can help revitalize the surrounding landscape and serve as a catalyst for urban regeneration and development.


Final Site Design.

The final site design achieved the case study's environmental, ecological, and cultural objectives by incorporating regenerative design principles and holistic water management practices. Through the synthesis of topography, hydrology, and native vegetation, this river restoration project transformed an uninhabitable open space into a destination park for the community, as well as a rich and diverse ecosystem for wildlife habitats.


Planting Design.

The overall planting design was organized into zones of native California plant communities based on the environmental and ecological conditions of their specific location within the site. By integrating the hydrological design with native vegetation, the design aimed to restore the river to its natural ecosystems and wildlife habitats while also providing a lush landscape for visitors to enjoy.


Hydrologic Design.

After developing the conceptual design, a multi-layered hydrological program was created for water quality improvement and environmental sensitivity. Varying levels of resilience along the river's edge encourage a natural succession of riparian and wetland environments. In areas of highest resilience, the river's concrete channel remains, whereas, the concrete is removed in low-resilience areas allowing natural riparian vegetation to thrive. Rain gardens and bio-infiltration wetlands serve as flood storage and will help slow urban runoff and filter pollutants before entering the river, as illustrated below.


Parks + Recreation Design.

This destination park provided zones for community engagement and recreation. The design featured an art and sculpture plaza, an outdoor fitness area, a wetland/rain garden, a water plaza, a hilltop vista, and multiple recreational parks. In addition, underutilized buildings along the river were converted or replaced by vibrant opportunities, such as restaurants, retail, artist lofts, and gallery space.


Circulation Design.

A major objective of the project was connectivity, not only within the site but to the surrounding communities and Los Angeles as a whole. The river and redesigned site provide improved access for multiple modes of transport including rail, bus, bike, and pedestrians, as illustrated in the layers below. A new river promenade sweeps through the park, choreographing the exploration of the space, and creating a unique experience for visitors. Bicyclists and pedestrians can enjoy their journey through this lush waterscape surrounded by native California flora.


Project Location.

The Los Angeles River is 51 miles long and flows from the Simi Hills, through the San Fernando Valley, through East Downtown LA, all the way down to Long Beach where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. This case study focused on an area of approximately 200 acres along the river east of Downtown Los Angeles. The project converted the existing rail system and metro maintenance area into a restored river environment with public open space adjacent to neighborhoods to support a diverse, vibrant community.


Site Analysis.

The site analysis focused on the major goals of the project: reconnect the river to the rest of the Los Angeles urban fabric, create access for the community, and connect the new site with surrounding open green spaces. The first map below features multiple modes of transport related to the river project location. These include pedestrian walking radii, bike routes, metro rail lines, streets, and freeways. The second map highlights all the existing open green spaces surrounding the new site and routes of connectivity.

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