How Do You Envision a Riverfront District?: Lupe Vela

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: Lupe Vela
Occupation: River Advocate

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

Working in the river has been such a spiritual change for me. I think that working on projects, on getting funding, on being the political strategist for the river, I've learned a lot about what it takes to get a project of this magnitude done. And over the years I learned, how do I put it, that if you love the river, it loves you back. It responds in a way that is amazing, in terms of the nature that it creates, and the way it really provides a sort of spiritual state of mind for people. I mean we haven't done significant projects yet, but look at the buzz. Look at what's happening. It's amazing.

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

I would imagine a "Riverfront District" by basically saying that if you live in Elysian Valley or Cypress Park or Glassell Park, and you feel that you can walk out the door and say that I live next to the Los Angeles River, and it's my playa, it's my beach head, I can do whatever I want, that to me is a Riverfront District. If people can come into the area and see signage that says, you know you're close to the L.A. River, Elysian Valley is part of the LA River community, that tells me that you're part of the river and it brings you closer. I think the phase that we've been working on the river has been about water, this next 10 years is gonna be about the neighborhoods and how we make those connections and get people to see that this is really such a great resource for them.

All those people flipping homes in Atwater and Cypress Park and Elysian Valley, they know what's here. We just need to let the...and the community knows what's here...but you know I think now it's getting to the point where people are saying you know what this really makes sense, this connection. This restoration, this revitalization. So that's the reason why I'm doing these things, because I like this. And I like the fact that kids from the Northeast don't have to go an hour and a half to the beach now. They can go here, they can start kayaking in the summer, they can start fishing, they can do what they want to do. And the street vendors will come, the people will be sitting on the banks just watching everybody, and that's what's gonna make this happen. You know not doesn't have to change physically, it just changes in your head.

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

I think people still have to see major changes, and those things are gonna come in the next few years. But I do think that...this is an urban river so you still have to protect the communities, you're gonna see some changes in certain parts of the river, when the Army Corps reveals its plans for this area. But you know I think at the end of the day if the Mayor of Paris can put sand near the Seine and have everybody sit and pretend they're at the beach, we could market this river and just say this is what it is for now. Learn how to enjoy it. Think of it as a public space, and then just figure out how to make that more pleasureable for you, for your family. This is already a great place, you know. Maybe we're the capital of entertainment, let's learn to entertain ourselves. Disneyland, they hire Imagineers, not engineers. So we just have to be more "Imagineers" about this river. That's what I think.

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

I want my L.A. River to be loved.

Tell us your vision for a Riverfront District using the form below. Click here to see more interviews.

How would you envision a Riverfront District?


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