How Do You Envision a Riverfront District?: Don Ward

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 visit

KCET Departures is the media partner of the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative.

On April 27, 2013, the Northeast L.A. Riverfront Collaborative hosted the River Bike + Walk Spectacular at Marsh Park in Elysian Valley. During the festivities, community members and visitors shared their stories and experiences of the river as part of the KCET Departures StoryShare event. Here are their stories.

Name: Don Ward
Occupation: Bicyclist; Graphic and Website Designer

What has been your experience with the L.A. River?

I've grown up around the L.A. River. My parents brought me here a long time ago, when I was probably five years old. It's one of the earliest memories I have. Riding along this path. Back then it wasn't a totally developed bike path, but my parents would put me on the handle bars. We'd go for a ride around Griffith Park and Travel Town. Growing up around it, there was a ramp in Atwater called the Atwater ramp, on the other side of the river, there was a path there for a while. Just always loved coming down to the river.

How would you envision a "Riverfront District" in Northeast L.A.?

If I was going to envision a riverfront I'd want to see these banks taken out. I'd want to see more dirt, more trees, you know, like rivers are in other parts of the world where they have actual banks where you can actually sit down. It's coming along well, I'm glad to see all this greenery coming back. There should be places to sit along the banks of the river. I want to see the river with less pollution in it. I just saw someone catch a giant fish. I hope that fish is going to make a decent meal tonight but it probably has some kind of contamination in it. That's the kind of reputation this river has.

You know it's funny because FoLAR did a study of the fish and they found that it's cleaner than some of the fish you can buy in stores.

That's good news! I'm glad to hear that.

If there was one place in Northeast L.A. that you would change, where would it be and how would you change it?

There was an area that used to be called the "Burbank Wash" and that was a place where graffiti artists would go to paint and I have a background in graffiti art and I used to paint down there. There were pieces in the river that graffiti artists would preserve that were decades old. There was graffiti crews in the '80s that painted there and because some of those guys were very talented and very legendary the next generation of artists would touch up their paintings and preserve them. You'd see a piece that was up for 10, 15, 20 years. And sadly all of that's been erased. And it costs a lot of money to erase that and I'm thinking 'you guys just spent 10 million dollars to erase that. Were those paintings really bothering anybody? I don't know. I'd like to see some allowance for art to continue here.

How do you think these changes in the L.A. River will affect your community?

Positively speaking, I think that a lot more people are going to be down here. But maybe on the negative side there might some gentrification issues, pressure for real estate prices going up, and then people lose their community and that's always a negative thing. So if there was some way they could mitigate that without pressuring people out of this neighborhood, I mean, this a little pocket here of a community. I don't know too many people here but I think they should definitely continue to work to keep that in tact. I hate to see neighborhoods broken up.

Fill in the blank: "I want my L.A. River to be..."

I want my L.A. River to be friendly, to be filled with trees and birds, and lots of fish, I want to see people fishing, lots of kayaking, give me a spot to sit, put my feet in the water. Those workout machines are actually pretty cool too. Let's get people down here. You know what this river needs? It needs to connect to the valley and it needs to connect to Long Beach. Because if you do that you can connect it to Pasadena, to Marina Del Rey via the Ballona Creek, we need that so let's do this.


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