Just south of Victory Boulevard near the Sepulveda Basin in Van Nuys, I found one of the sites where Los Angeles River's soft-bottom gives way to indomitable concrete -- and it sat unremarked and unnoticed at the back of the Van Nuys National Guard Armory. The contrast between the natural river and man-made flood protection structure is a precious educational opportunity the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and DakeLuna Consulants is hoping to capitalize on when designing the future Los Angeles River Veteran Tribute Park.
The park -- one of more than 240 projects outlined in the Los Angeles River Revitalization Masterplan -- sits on a J-shaped two-acre plot of land hugging the Van Nuys National Guard Armory, a facility that aptly runs a program that sends care packages to over 150,000 U.S. service personnel every year. The land is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"We wanted veterans to have a place of respite, but also have it be a multi-generational facility that benefits the people in this community," said Larry Smith of the L.A. Conservation Corps.
To achieve this goal, the L.A. Conservation Corps and DakeLuna are setting up three workshops, starting February 15, to determine what the community wants to see in this new park.
"Everything is fair game with caveats," explains Smith, as we walked around the future site of the park. The park is meant to be a place of rest, so much of it will be dedicated to passive elements (i.e. no sports facilities). It should also include restorative elements that could help smooth a veteran's transition to society. Finally, all the features should be appropriate for all age groups, considering that neighboring facilities include families with children, the elderly from OneGeneration, and personnel working at the Armory.
The site offers some provocative possibilities. One is an educational element featuring the L.A. River's natural and man-made features (as explained above). Another possibility is adding an L.A. River-adjacent bike path, similar to the one in Elysian Valley. Smith explains that even water conservation features are possible, if they are able to come to an agreement with the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, who oversees the triangular, empty lot right beside their proposed site.
The community's inputs will be taken into consideration to make a blueprint on how to develop, and then operate and maintain, the park. "It's such an important part of the process," said Smith. "In our experience, a project is dead in the water if you don't get support and you're not able to outline how to make it sustainable."
Alongside these community meetings, DakeLuna is also running a design program in the charter school High Tech High Los Angeles. "We're getting the students interested in the planning process," said Miguel Luna of DakeLuna. Over the school year, the students have developed about 14 designs for the park. Student representatives will be attending the community meetings to gauge how useful their proposals are and how they could improve it further. The L.A. Conservation Corps and DakeLuna are also consulting with veterans groups all over the city to understand what their needs are.
The project is still in its very early phases, and it could take anywhere from three to five years to materialize, but Smith says it's all part of laying a good foundation for the future.
Join the community workshops starting February 15, 9-12:30 p.m. at the Van Nuys National Guard Armory, 17330 Victory Boulevard, Van Nuys.
Photos courtesy of L.A. Conservation Corps and DakeLuna Consultants