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Study Proposes L.A. River-Arroyo Seco Confluence as an Urban Riverfront Landscape

The NELA River Collaborative project builds upon the growing momentum of efforts already underway to transform the Los Angeles River into a "riverfront district" and to create a focal point of community revitalization. For more information on the collaborative visit www.mylariver.org


It only takes one look at the L.A. River-Arroyo Seco Confluence in Cypress Park to see why, despite increased support for revitalization around Los Angeles River, headway here has been moribund.

True to its name, at the Confluence, everything meets. As the river meanders its way downstream, the Metro Gold Line and Metrolink railways snake through its path, the 110 and the 5 dash across them. Industrial buildings line the riverside, making it more difficult for pedestrians to access the river. Layer after layer of infrastructure settles on top of the other, making matters more complicated for future redevelopments for the area.

"It's in a sad state now, candidly," said Timothy Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation. "But this proposal gives you an idea of how it can really be a gem for the whole Los Angeles river system."

The proposal in question comes from Yingjun Hu, a student at the University of Southern California's School of Architecture. For his thesis, Hu trained his eyes on this infrastructurally tangled space and proposed an urban riverfront landscape that would provide continuous green space, while still balancing the complex systems that exist in the area. Hu's study transforms a single-function flood control channel into a multi-functional corridor that would provide much-needed green space and habitat, while still fulfilling its role as a flood control channel. Hu employed a three-pronged approach to his proposal.

In the first phase, Hu increased the waterway's flood capacity by widening and deepening the channel south of the Pasadena Freeway from Pasadena Avenue to the North Central Animal Shelter. He posited a widening of the mouth of the confluence, where the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco actually meet.

It is a prospect that is "entirely do-able," said architect Arthur Golding, who gave his comments on the proposal after the presentation. Because the double-barreled San Fernando Street Bridge existed before the river was channelized, the bridge would still have a good foundation should the confluence mouth be widened.

A pedestrian and bikeway system would improve public access to the river, especially in the dry season when the water levels are low. During flood periods, two pedestrian bridges would be built west of Avenues 26 and near Cypress Avenue, which connect northern and southern neighbors, while adding connectivity to the Metro Gold Line.

In the second phase, Hu branched out of the riverside and re-designed sidewalks into vegetated bioswales that would help capture water and also bring in more green into the streets.

Finally, to add life and activity by the river, Hu used existing sites as anchors for redevelopment. Along Figueroa Street, where most residents already shop and dine, Hu proposed rebuilding two or three commercial buildings with first floor restaurants and coffee shops. Office space would be made available on the second and third floors. The light industrial area to the southeast of the confluence could be transformed into a residential area, so people would be close to the river. At Lacy Street Studios and Lofts, parking space would become open space and outdoor exhibition areas.

Responders to Hu's presentation lauded his skill at weaving in various elements to his proposal. "You've covered all the bases and were really able to understand the issues," said landscape architect Mia Lehrer. Urban planner John Arroyo praised Hu's ability to work with the pre-existing infrastructure without necessarily having to remove it.

While there was much praise, responders to Hu's presentation also expressed the need for having more strategies that would address adding density to the site. Golding pointed out that Hu could have also taken into consideration the Lincoln Heights Jail area, which is being developed by the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation. Overall, however, Hu's presentation provided a clear map of what could be. "It captures the spirit of what needs to be done," said Brick.

Read Hu's full presentation here.

Photos by Scott Cher. Renderings by Yingjun Hu

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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