Pauline Louie was the first Urban Waters Ambassador selected for the Los Angeles River watershed pilot project. Louie is also the sustainability officer for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Los Angeles Field Office in Region IX. Prior to this position Ms. Louie served in the HUD Los Angeles and Santa Ana Field Offices for over 14 years. During her time at HUD she has held a number of positions working with local governments, nonprofit organizations and the private sector for housing and economic development. As Ambassador Ms. Louie will serve as a catalyst to successfully complete on-the-ground projects in the short term, and build relationships and capacity to lay a foundation of continued success for decades to come.
Below are highlights from our conversation with Louie; you can watch the whole interview above:
On the impact of the river project:
If you improve the quality of an environment, you ultimately improve the quality of life for a community. This is especially true in urban areas that may be lacking in some of these environmental assets, especially in a way that is accessible to most of the people. There are a lot of recreational, public health benefits that can be accrued from environmental assets nearby. So you have benefits that are accruing on a local level, and with improved and happier community members, you have a happier community. Investment will follow that.
On how Los Angeles distinguished itself to receive the grant:
A $2.25 million dollar grant is pretty significant for this type of work. We felt like the potential was there.That Los Angeles was able to receive a grant pretty much says that HUD had a lot of confidence in this project. Because LA was able to clearly articulate how they were going to reach out to the community, how they were going to pull in other nonprofit or community organizations to be part of the process, how they were going to also get input from public agencies, from the city, I think that was really valuable.
On how communities will be affected by the project:
One thing I know HUD is concerned about is the idea that as revitalization happens we make sure that these benefits are being accrued to everybody in the community. It doesn't change who these communities are so we don't recognize them anymore. I think the idea of revitalization is that it brings benefits. It doesn't change them wholesale. I want it to be LA and as eclectic as LA is, I would like the LA River to be the same way.
On the potential negative consequences of the project:
I think displacement is a broader term, a broader risk than gentrification. Displacement as a concept is very real and is something to be paid attention to. This could mean displacement of the small businesses in the area. It could mean displacement of residents in their houses because the benefits may come, investment may come, and property values may increase. Hopefully, that's a good thing for the residents that are there. But hopefully it doesn't increase to the point where they leave and can no longer come back to the community if they wish to.
On what the river means to the future of Los Angeles:
I think that the LA River in terms of the bigger context of Los Angeles, I think people are beginning to see that it can be transformative, not just in an intellectual way but transformative in land use. I think that it's always funny to me when I talk to people who are not from Los Angeles what their impressions of Los Angeles are. It's sometimes even negative but it's rarely seen as the capitol or model of urban and environmental interaction. People don't recognize LA for that so I think the LA River is going to be really pivotal in terms of changing not only the attitude of Angelinos, but people from outside as well as to what LA can be.