The Arroyo Seco was the environmental and geographical spine of one of Los Angele's first suburbs, Highland Park. It was also an inspiration to East Coast transplants looking for a respite from the city's growing industrialization. Muse to its artists and intellectuals, the Arroyo Seco offered vistas to Plein Air painters as well as building materials to local architects. The dry creek's charm however, would also hasten its ultimate demise. As population ballooned along the river banks and the cycle of seasonal flooding continued, the Arroyo would eventually be channelized in 1938, nearly extinguishing local wildlife and flora and transforming the landscape into a cement eyesore.
The Arroyo's identity evolved as the neighborhood became more urban. Graffiti artists took unexpectedly to the active watershed, using the cement walls as their canvas and, for good and ill, increasing the Arroyo's visibility. Efforts aimed at cleaning-up the Arroyo Seco have been underway for decades, and are now joined by government-led revitalization plans like the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. Restoration efforts, however, go beyond historic and ecological preservation. In a dense city lacking public space, the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River open up the possibility for the creation of a unique "central park" that could knit together communities along the River's 52-mile length, providing pocket parks at the edges and public art projects to adorn the cement walls.
Above, urban planner John Arroyo illustrates how artists brought forth awareness of issues to the Arroyo Seco; Director of the Audubon Center at Debs Park Jeff Chapman details restoration efforts for the Arroyo Seco and the benefits of protecting its ecology; Board of Directors chair for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Timothy Brick shares insight and thought on the Arroyo Seco revitalization.
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